The pressure of favouritism can sometimes be overwhelming, some athletes wilt under its unrelenting pressure. Our women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Team stepped up to the blocks in Rio with not just favouritism but an expectation of victory. Surprise victors in the event in 2012, they arrived in Rio to defend their title having been beaten just once in the intervening years.
Headlined by 100m World Champion Bronte Campbell and her sister, Cate, the World Record Holder in the event, the team was imposing enough. With the addition of the world’s fourth ranked 100m swimmer Emma McKeon and Brittany Elmslie it is a team jam packed with class.
They announced their intentions in the heats. With Maddi Wilson swimming in the place of McKeon, to allow her to prepare for the 100m butterfly heats, the team broke their Olympic Record to qualify fastest for the final.
Consigned to the grandstand for the final, after being replaced by McKeon, she would be more than just an interested observer – Wilson would also qualify for whatever medal the team won in the race. The 21 year old from Yepoon, 700km from Brisbane, is a popular member of the Dolphins team. Known to volunteer at children’s hospitals, Wilson will also compete in 100m Backstroke at Rio.
Emma McKeon led the champs off in their quest for gold. From a family full of swimmers, her brother David is also in Rio as part of the swim team. Her father Ron is coach of the Australian Open Water Swim team and owner of four Commonwealth Games Gold. Her mother Susie also swam at the Commonwealth Games and her Uncle Rob Woodhouse won Olympic Bronze at the 1984 LA Games.
It is fair to say swimming is in the blood.
Neck and neck with Simone Manuel the whole way, McKeon handed over to Brittany Elmslie a meagre 0.07 seconds behind the American.
Just making it to the blocks in Rio was a win for Brittany Elmslie. 12 Months ago the 22 year old from Noosa, winner of a gold and silver medal in London, had to step away from swimming to fight a breast cancer scare. In the stands in Rio were her father and boyfriend, who had flown in that morning, as she battled to stay with a blistering swim by Abbey Weitzel. A determined effort saw her hand over to Bronte Campbell only 0.61 behind the USA.
The world champion in pursuit of her first Olympic Gold turned the race on its head. After a sensational swim that left both her and those watching breathless, post-race she commented that she “had just enough to cheer her (sister Cate) home” her sister Cate joined the race with 0.42 second lead. Game over.
The yellow line representing the current World Record was the only challenger for Cate Campbell as she powered away from the field. The sisters’ main rival for the 100m crown, Katie Ledecky, fought valiantly but Campbell extended the margin on the way to claiming gold and a new world record with the US and Canada left behind to claim the minor medals.
The world record wasn’t the only record claimed, Cate Campbell also equalled Fraser’s achievement of medalling in the 4 x 100 Relay three Olympics in a row. The victory also meant for the first time in history the Australian team won a medal in the event four Olympics in succession. After Mack Horton’s earlier victory, it was also the first time the Australian team had won two gold medals on the opening night of racing since 2004.
It was a special moment for Cate and Bronte Campbell, their mother Jenny remarking with joy “I’m going to have two daughters together on a stamp – that is so cool.”
Cate acknowledged the pressure the team felt in the lead up to the race when comparing the victory with her 2012 win, “this one is different because it was expected and it’s a lot harder to do something when it is expected”. She also expressed her pride “I am so incredibly proud of all the girls I am standing next to; they all did an incredible job; we stood up we performed to best anyone has ever done before and that is something incredibly special in itself…and we came away with a gold medal and a world record.”
“It doesn’t get better than that” sister Bronte said explaining the feeling of winning gold with her sibling “There is nothing better than this in our sport, this is it, and I can’t believe we finally achieved it after all these years of dreaming of it”.
Brittany Elmslie took a moment to reflect on the hurdles she overcome to claim her second Olympic Gold “It has been a long four years but I wouldn’t change any of it; it has made me the person I am today,” she said “I am thankful for the hardships so you can enjoy moments like this. They mean a lot more.”
Cate likened the team to family “This whole team is like family. We have two other sister standing here who did a brilliant job. We are all Queensland girls, we train in Queensland.” Cate said.
Bronte expressed the feeling of claiming her first Olympic gold “When I was a little girl, when I was seven years old, this is what I wanted and it feels very surreal to be standing up her right now.”
The sister’s having won gold together, now become rivals as they chase individual gold in the 50 and 100m events.
But for now though, let’s celebrate their team glory. 2016 Women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Olympic Champions – Bronte Campbell, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie, Emma McKeon and Madison Wilson representing Australia!!