Aussie Olympic Golden Girl Kaylee McKeown Makes Stunning Revelation: ‘I Swam Through Tokyo With A Torn Shoulder’

kaylee mckeown, olympics, Jul 31, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kaylee McKeown (AUS) celebrates after winning the women's 200m backstroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
TOKYO MAGIC: The moment Kaylee McKeown realised a lifetime dream with Olympic backstroke gold, hiding the fact that she was swimming in pain in an extraordinary display of mental toughness. Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports.

Aussie Olympic Golden Girl Kaylee McKeown Makes Stunning Revelation: ‘I Swam Through Tokyo With A Torn Shoulder’

Australia’s triple Olympic gold medalist Kaylee McKeown has revealed how she swam through the pain of a torn shoulder muscle in one of the most remarkable postscripts of physical and mental toughness to emerge from the Tokyo Games.

Speaking at a junior coaching clinic in Cairns this past weekend the Speedo ambassador told how she had torn the labrum muscle in a gym session in the Far North Queensland city during the Dolphins pre-Games Staging Camp.

She returned to Cairns four months later where she spent the day talking about her Olympic experiences to 60 youngsters at the Woree Sports And Aquatic Centre, making an inspirational impression on the next generation of swim stars from the Far North Queensland nursery.

KAYLEE IN Cairns Post

STUCK IN THE MEDAL: Tokyo golden girl and Speedo Ambassador Kaylee McKeown shows off her Tokyo gold to the kids at Woree Sports And Aquatic Centre she hopes to inspire for Brisbane 2032. Photo Courtesy: Brendan Radke (Cairns Post/Courier Mail/News Ltd.)

Little did they or anyone know of the painful secret she took into the Games in an extraordinary revelation after the clinic as she spoke of the road ahead under new coach Mick Palfrey.

It was an injury that could well have so easily derailed the 20-year-old’s Olympic dreams – that would eventually see her become Australia’s first female Games backstroking gold medallist in the 100 and 200m backstroke and her key role in Australia’s 4x100m medley relay gold medal.

McKeown has told Swimming World of the pain she went through and the option that has seen her dodge an operation after a stressful post Games process to settle on a new coach and the program now of managing the injury that will prevent her from swimming for another four to six weeks

“I tore the labrum (muscle) in my left shoulder during the Staging Camp while in the gym and we came to the conclusion that I did it here in Cairns and I put up with the pain with (the help) of anti-inflammatory (tablets),” revealed McKeown.

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

But as soon as she arrived home and left quarantine after two weeks it was time to have an MRI scan to and see what was wrong with the shoulder and it was torn,  with the decision made after consultation with Swimming Australia doctor Luke Eggleston, not to operate.

“Luke played a big part in the decision not to have the operation and I trust (him) and trust the processes, knowing they’ve got the best knowledge out there,” said McKeown.

“I’m not swimming and I’ve got about four to six weeks of just kick…. and then slowly building up the gym and then slowly bringing the arms back into the swim.

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kaylee McKeown (AUS) celebrates her gold medal in the women's 100m backstroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

PODIUM QUEEN: Kaylee McKeown shows off her Tokyo Olympic gold. Photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today.

“My shoulder is the main priority right now and I will maybe return to competition early next year….it’s dependent on where I’m at with the training and (hopefully) be there at (World) Trials and see what I can do….

“You have to look after yourself or you won’t last in the sport….. I’m glad next year there’s many options (World Championships and Commonwealth Games) and with this injury there’s nothing worse than seeing your team mates go away and you not being a part of it.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to be amongst those Dolphins.

“The goal of any athlete is you always want to better yourself and that’s still (my goal) I want to be the best in the world…and amongst the best athletes out there so I’m going to do whatever I can to maintain my position.”


(The labrum is the cup-shaped rim of cartilage that lines and reinforces the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder and is the attachment site for the shoulder ligaments and supports the ball-and-socket joint as well as the rotator cuff tendons and muscles. It contributes to shoulder stability and, when torn, can lead to partial or complete shoulder dislocation).

McKeown has also revealed she will stay on the Sunshine Coast at the USC Spartans under new coach Palfrey, who has joined the USC HP Hub from his successful WAIS program, replacing out-going coach and the man who steered her to her Tokyo successes, Chris Mooney who has been recruited to the role as head coach at Bond University on the Gold Coast.

“I have decided to stay on the Sunshine Coast…with the shoulder in injury the best thing for me is to look after my body and that has been a huge part of my decision to stay on the Sunshine Coast, with a new coach in Mick Palfrey,” said McKeown.

“Chris Mooney and I left on really good terms..he has taken me to the highest level pretty much any sport can get to – there is never going to be bad blood there and he’s always there to welcome me with open arms when ever I like…that’s really good on his behalf…”

“I’m really looking forward to having a group that will include (dual Olympians and Tokyo team mates and WA girls) Brianna Throssell and Tamsin Cook (who will continue under Palfrey’s guidance). We are all chasing that Olympic dream and racing on the international stage and I’m excited to see what it brings at the USC and the (HP) Hub….”

Asked about the longevity of her decision she replied: “Honestly it’s hard to say for now…I’m just taking it day-by-day…week-by-week…we have had really good conversations….I like Mick’s work ethic and the way he goes about the sessions so I am really confident he can take me where I want to get to whether that’s a two-year thing, a three-year thing or beyond that I’m not sure….”

McKeown had trialed with celebrated Olympic gold medal coaches Michael Bohl for about three weeks at Griffith University, Dean Boxall for two weeks and she also spent a bit of time also at Bond University with her previous coach Chris Mooney and Kyle Samuelson, before making her decision to stay on the Sunshine Coast with the arrival of Palfrey from WA.


Aug 1, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Australia relay team of Kaylee McKeown (AUS), Chelsea Hodges (AUS), Emma McKeon (AUS) and Cate Campbell (AUS) during the medals ceremony for the women's 4x100m medley relay during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

SWAM THROUGH THE PAIN BARRIER: Kaylee McKeown (left) with 4x100m medley team mates Chelsea Hodges, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell. Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports



  1. avatar

    Well…. For all those who criticized her decision to not contest the 4IM at Trials and drop the 2IM at the Olympics, there you go… Huge props to her on her Olympic success prior to this news, now… Wow… Just wow…👏👍

    • avatar

      Totally agree. She’s so tough. So happy for her success .

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