Commonwealth Games: Sister act bidding to be Gold Coast's golden girls

They would sit in the back of the family car shuttling to and from their local swimming pool, dreaming of the day the...

Posted: Apr 2, 2018 12:28 PM
Updated: Apr 2, 2018 12:28 PM

They would sit in the back of the family car shuttling to and from their local swimming pool, dreaming of the day they represented their country at major events like the Olympics.

The dream came true for Australian sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell, who boast three Olympic gold medals, five world titles and have five times finished on the top step of the podium at the Commonwealths.

Campbell sisters go for Commonwealth Games swimming glory

Suffered heartache at the Olympics in 2016

They will very much be poster girls on the Gold Coast for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with their every move pored over by their national media.

"It's a double-edged sword being an Australian swimmer," says Cate, at 25 the older of the pair by two years. "There's more pressure but people are excited about your sport, it unites people and it's just part of the Australian DNA. I wouldn't want it any other way."

The oldest of the Campbell sisters -- there is also the youngest sister Abigail and a brother Hamish, who suffers from cerebral palsy -- knows the spotlight will firmly be on her and Bronte at their home Games.

At the Rio Olympics in 2016, Cate was deemed by many a shoo-in for gold in the 100 meter freestyle but, having set Olympic records in the preceding two rounds, faded badly in the final and finished sixth.

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"It's strange as in that moment my world stopped but everything around me kept moving. They blew the whistle and I had to get out of the pool, I went to warm down and had dinner.

"Life was happening whatever the result and I could either wallow in it or move on. As a swimmer, you work out the worst-case scenario and this was the rock bottom I was afraid of. Swimming, to which I'd given so much, had broken my heart."

Olympic gold

For months, Cate was too ashamed and embarrassed about her shortcomings in the pool, unable even to talk about it with Bronte, with whom she had shared a house for three years.

"Giving her space was my strategy," says Bronte. "She was very upset after Rio and needed to work through that in her own time. She's come through that and is loving the sport again."

The Australian public assumed that it was Olympic heartache too for the younger of the two swimming siblings but, having been injured in the build-up to the Games, Bronte had relished the Rio de Janeiro experience.

"Most people expect me to say my experience in Rio was quite negative," says the 23-year-old Bronte. "But Rio was good considering my lead-up. A lot of people thought I'd be upset, that I had expectations to do better but I still ended up with an Olympic gold medal."

That's a reference to the sisters spearheading Australia to glory in the 4x100m freestyle relay, although Bronte admits 18 months on there is some element of what might have been at Rio.

"It's frustrating as I know if I hadn't been injured I could have done more," she explains.

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After those Games, both took time away from the sport, Cate traveling to New Zealand, while Bronte took a trip to Vietnam, experiences they both relished.

For Cate, there were even suggestions she might walk away from the pool altogether.

"I don't think I ever considered retirement but I knew something had to change," she says. "I couldn't go back to the way things were but I couldn't move on as I didn't know what the future would look like."

Part of the process for Cate was working out what she would do when she eventually stops swimming competitively -- most likely to come after the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2020

"I'm now more prepared for life after sport," says Cate. "It's allowed me to come back to the sport that I love. I've got a new passion for it, and I'm a much better person for what happened in Rio."

Swimming with hippopotamuses

Despite often being rivals in the pool racing over the same distances, the Campbells have rarely shown fissures in their relationships.

Long-term housemates, Bronte has since moved out -- "it's nice to have your own space," she says -- although they still spend hours together each day in training and the bond between the two of them as tight as ever.

Bronte says that Cate is the perfect, supportive older sister, who "surprisingly isn't that bossy," while their parents have always played a key role in keeping the pair's relationship strong.

"Mum and Dad made it so that we weren't defined by swimming, to think of yourself as a person, not as swimmers," says Bronte

The girls' mother, Jenny, and sister Abigail look likely to be colorful additions to the crowd on the Gold Coast, the pair having dressed up as Minions in the past to watch their fellow Campbells compete.

The girls learned to swim in Malawi -- often with hippopotamuses for company -- where their father Eric worked as an accountant.

The golds may have been lacking in the individual events for both in Rio but the expectation is for the Gold Coast to act as the fairytale for Aussie swimming golden girls.

"It would be wonderful," says Cate, the more ebullient of the pair while Bronte, seemingly more laid back adds: "To win a medal watched by the whole of Australia. What could be better than that? It's a continuation of the dream."

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