EXCLUSIVE! Aussie Swim Star, Daniel Kowalski, Reflects on a Fabulous Career


By Daniel Kowalski

(Yesterday, Australian swimming legend, Daniel Kowalski, announced in Melbourne that he was hanging up his swimsuit and goggles, and ending his career at the age of 27. What a career it has been!

Kowalski won Olympic gold as a member of Australia's 800 meter freestyle relay in 2000 and was a silver medalist in the 1500 in 1996 behind teammate Kieren Perkins. Over the past decade, he won numerous medals at the World Championships, Pan-Pacs, Commonwealth Games and Australian Nationals.

He ends his career as the fourth fastest man in history in the 800m free (7:50.28) behind three other Aussies–Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett and Kieren Perkins; and the fourth fastest man in history in the 1500 meter freestyle (14:53.42), with three sub-15-minute efforts to his credit.

Here, Daniel describes the reason he is saying goodbye to the sport he loves so well, and reflects on his career.
— Phil Whitten

There comes a time in every person’s life when it's time to move on. My time came last week. After years of dealing with chronic shoulder pain, two shoulder reconstructions and endless hours of rehabilitation, I have had enough and decided to hang up the trusty Speedo and go cold turkey on the chlorine fumes.

In recent times I have been troubled by neck pain that is causing loss of feeling in my mouth and severe pins and needles in my hand. I’m passionate about our great sport but not to the point of possibly doing further damage to my body.

I will miss the sport immensely and everything that it represents. I have had an incredible journey that started at the age of six. I can still remember, as a nine-year-old, sitting in my lounge room watching the ‘84 LA Olympics and knowing: that’s what I wanted to do in life.

After an average age group career, I dropped close to one minute off my 1500 time and came third at the Australian Olympic Trials in ’92, going 15:15 as a 16 year old. From there it has been one incredible roller coaster ride.

My first team was Pan Pacs in ‘93 in Kobe, Japan where I won three silver medals — all behind Kieren Perkins — in the 400, 800 and 1500m free. I spent most of my time running around getting autographs from other swimmers; I was in awe the whole time — especially seeing Janet Evans and Jeff Rouse.

Apart from wins at the World Short Course Championships, it’s mostly been minor medals for me at the Olympic, World, Pan Pac or Commonwealth level behind Perkins, Grant Hackett or Ian Thorpe or Kiwi Danyon Loader. My personal highlight was the silver behind Perkins in the 1500 in Atlanta. It was an end of a great week and to finish second to a great friend and an absolute legend made it that much more special. It was the race that literally stopped the nation and I was so honoured to be a part of it.

What I will miss most are my teammates at the Miami Swim Club. My coach Denis Cotterell has been amazing, and to train alongside the likes of Grant Hackett, Giaan Rooney, Michael Klim and a host of youngsters has made a very frustrating three-year period a little easier.

The sport has given and taught me lot about who I am. Two non-swimming highlights have been addressing the UN General Assembly in New York City in 1999, delivering a resolution on behalf of the IOC, as well as my role as a UN ambassador visiting refugee camps. Swimming has also provided me with great life skills but, most importantly, it has provided friendships that will last forever.

So much is made of the rivalry between the Australians and the US. For me it was always so hard to buy into. Don’t get me wrong: I wanted to be a part of the world’s number one swim team. But I never got the whole rivalry thing. I have so many friends in US swimming. Kristy Kowal is one of my closest friends; in Sydney I was cheering for her, muc to the dismay of my teammates. I keep in close contact with Courney Shealy, Nate Dusing ans Ed Moses as well as coaches Eddie Reese and Mike Walker at Texas and Mike Bottom at Cal. Anytime I can help, I will — just as I would any swimmer or coach, whether they be Australian, American or European.

I would love to take part in the dual meets scheduled to begin next year, but it will be in some capacity other than that of competitor. What I do know is that if out sport is going to be “all-world,” then it needs to be embraced by the USA, and everyone has to play his or her part to ensure this happens.

I will never lose the passion and love I have for our great sport. I have been so lucky to compete for Australia, an amazing country, with a great tradition and fanatical supporters.

To the current stars and future champions, I say: continue to fly the flag for the greatest sport in the world, work hard, but most importantly enjoy the ride.

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