Revealed: Olympian’s secret torture in triple Tokyo miracle

TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 31: Gold medallist Kaylee McKeown of Team Australia poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 200m Backstroke Final at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Triple Olympic champion Kaylee McKeown has revealed she swam through pain to achieve her Tokyo heroics, having torn cartilage in her shoulder on the eve of the Games.

McKeown, who won the 100m and 200m backstroke and was a member of the gold medal-winning medley relay team in Tokyo, tore the labrum in her shoulder in a gym session at the Australian swim team’s pre-departure camp in Cairns just ahead of the Olympics.

But she “just put up with the pain” and came away from Tokyo with four medals — including three gold — in an Olympic debut that now seems miraculous.

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“I tore the labrum in my left shoulder … we’ve come to the conclusion that I did it here in Cairns and just put up with the pain,” McKeown said after returning to the far north Queensland city for a Speedo swim clinic with local juniors.

Triple Olympic gold medallist Kaylee McKeown shows off one of her medals to junior Cairns swimmers during a clinic at the Woree Sports and Aquatic Centre. Picture: Brendan Radke
Triple Olympic gold medallist Kaylee McKeown shows off one of her medals to junior Cairns swimmers during a clinic at the Woree Sports and Aquatic Centre. Picture: Brendan Radke

“Honestly it didn’t affect my Olympics at all, I was in quite a bit of pain, especially the last two days heading into the 200m backstroke and the relay but there wasn’t anything I could do to make it better, so there was no point complaining about it.”

She is still dealing with the injury though and a 2022 program she still hopes will include both the world championships and Commonwealth Games could be affected, with McKeown set to miss December’s Queensland state championships as she is relegated to kick sets until the end of the year.

McKeown celebrates winning with Emily Seebohm after the final of the women's 100m backstroke in Tokyo. Picture: AFP
McKeown celebrates winning with Emily Seebohm after the final of the women’s 100m backstroke in Tokyo. Picture: AFP

After consulting with Australian swim team doctor Luke Eggleston, McKeown rejected a surgical option to repair the damage.

“Surgery was an option that was put on the table but I’ve had the best of the best tell me that’s not the best option to go with because it won’t be the best thing with my stroke,” McKeown said.

“So it’s a matter of getting it strong again and getting it ready to go.”

McKeown has decided against surgery on her injured shoulder after being advised it could affect her stroke. Picture: Alex Coppel
McKeown has decided against surgery on her injured shoulder after being advised it could affect her stroke. Picture: Alex Coppel

Instead, rest and a gradual rebuild of strength will be the course of action McKeown takes before getting back into full training ahead of trials for the world championships and Commonwealth Games next year.

That will happen on the Sunshine Coast, where McKeown has decided to stay, despite the move of her former coach Chris Mooney to Bond University on the Gold Coast.

The 20-year-old spent a few sessions with Mooney and also trialled with Michael Bohl on the Gold Coast and Dean Boxall in Brisbane before deciding to stay at the University of Sunshine Coast where Mick Palfrey will take over from Mooney.

McKeown hugs coach Chris Mooney, with whom she has parted company, after winning gold in Tokyo. Picture: Alex Coppel
McKeown hugs coach Chris Mooney, with whom she has parted company, after winning gold in Tokyo. Picture: Alex Coppel

“I’ve decided to stay on the Sunshine Coast, I’m nursing a bit of a shoulder injury at the moment, so the best team for me is the people who know my body and that’s been a huge part of my decision to stay there with Mick Palfrey,” McKeown said.

“Mooney and I left things on really good terms obviously, he’s taken me to the highest level pretty much any sport can get to, so there’s never going to be bad blood there and he’s said he’s going to welcome me with open arms whenever, so that’s also really good on his behalf.”

Palfrey arrives from Western Australia with Olympians Brianna Throssel and Tamsin Cook to take on the University of Sunshine Coast squad, ensuring an elite training atmosphere will remain despite the departure of Mooney.

McKeown celebrates her gold medal swim in the 200m backstroke in Tokyo. Picture: Alex Coppel
McKeown celebrates her gold medal swim in the 200m backstroke in Tokyo. Picture: Alex Coppel

“I’m really looking forward to having a group that wants the same thing – chasing that Olympic dream and being on the international stage,” McKeown said.

But she left the door open for a possible reunification with her former coach or another move in the future if it was best for her swimming.

“We’ve had really good conversations and I like Mick’s work and the way he goes about the sessions, so I’m really confident he’ll take me where I want to get to,” she said.

“Whether that’s a two-year thing, a three-year thing or beyond that, I’m not sure.”

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