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Olympics

[OLYMPIC IMPRESSIONS] Emma McKeon Emerges as One of the Greatest Swimmers of All Time

The Australian superstar now owns more Olympic medals (11) than any athlete from her nation.

Ed Odeven

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Australian swimmer Emma McKeon captured four gold medals and three bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. (Marko Djurica/REUTERS)

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Emma McKeon arrived in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics with a sterling reputation. She was already recognized as one of the world’s elite female swimmers of the current era.

The 27-year-old from Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia is now recognized as one of the greatest swimmers of all time.

In addition to the four Olympic medals that McKeon collected at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, she hauled in seven medals at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, making her the top medalist at the Summer Games in Japan.

When the Olympic swimming program wrapped up on Sunday, August 1, McKeon left the pool with two more golds (her third and fourth) here. Appropriately enough, the versatile aquatics sensation completed her Japan visit with victories in the women’s 50-meter freestyle final (23.86 seconds, an Olympic record) and the 4×100 medley relay (she swam the butterfly leg for the Aussies).

In a thrilling spectacle spanning eight days, McKeon’s medal haul also included gold in the 100 freestyle and 4×100 freestyle, as well as three bronze medals: 100 butterfly, 4×200 freestyle and mixed 4×100 medley.

McKeon, like so many of her fellow medalists at this Olympics, reminded us all that achieving something special on the global stage, with the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic all around us, doesn’t need to elicit a single emotion. Tears of joy and euphoric smiles are natural responses to earning an Olympic medal ー or seven in her case.

Speaking to Australian TV’s Channel 7 after winning the 100 freestyle on Friday morning, July 30, McKeon said:  “Honestly, my emotions are a bit all over the place right now.”

McKeon secured her sixth medal, the 50 freestyle, by 10:37 a.m. the next morning. And less than an hour later, she had claimed medal No. 7.

Matching a Record from 1952

Not only is McKeon one of the most successful Olympians of our lifetime, but her seven-medal haul also matched the all-time record for a female athlete ー a mark established eight decades ago.

Soviet gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya took home two gold and five silver medals from the 1952 Helsinki Games.

With an unquenchable thirst for winning, McKeon pushed herself to accomplish something incredibly special.

Her final individual gold medal was a triumph of mind over matter.

As McKeon explained in an interview last weekend, according to Swimming World magazine, “I never thought I would ever win a 50-meter freestyle gold medal after training for the 200 meters all my life, but after my 100 meters was so good, and I’d been training so well, I definitely had that belief in myself … and if I put it all together I knew I could win it.”

Former Australian Olympians Ian Thorpe and Leisel Jones, both swimmers, shared the previous national record for total medals (nine).

With two more medals on her sparkling CV, Emma McKeon has now set a new standard for all Australian Olympians to aim for ー and not just Australians, but all swimmers and all Olympians, really.

What a splendid legacy.



Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.