From Pop Star to Elite Swimmer: Cody Simpson Stamps Pool Comeback With Huge Breakthrough

Cody Simpson
Cody Simpson -- Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

From Pop Star to Elite Swimmer: Cody Simpson Stamps Pool Comeback With Huge Breakthrough

It’s a familiar refrain you have surely encountered on the internet. Some famous figure was once a swimmer, only to give up the sport as they got older to focus on music or acting or their endeavors in another sport. Surely this person would have qualified for the Olympics, the story says, if they had continued on in the sport. Perhaps that makes you cringe: qualifying for the Olympics is really hard! It requires years upon years of focused training, careful attention to detail and mental toughness, and simply showing aptitude in swimming in one’s youth does not put that person “on track” to make an Olympic team.

Well, that trend does not apply to Cody Simpson. He is an Australian pop music star. He toured the world for performances and released acclaimed albums, and he even made some appearances on television and in film. But before all that, until he was 13, Simpson had been a competitive swimmer. His career in music and acting took priority for a decade, but in 2019, Simpson began training again.

In the most unlikely of plot twists, this longshot comeback succeeded almost immediately. As Simpson proved he really did have elite-swimmer prowess. In 2021, he qualified for the 100 butterfly final at Australia’s Olympic Trials, finishing eighth. He spoke of his goal to swim at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, and in a stunning turn of events, that was no longer a pipe dream.

And now, Simpson is heading to the World Championships. At the Australian Swimming Championships, Simpson placed third in Wednesday’s 100 fly final. His finals time of 51.96 matched the qualifying standard for the World Championships (and he had been quicker with a 51.79 in prelims). With runnerup Kyle Chalmers announcing he planned to skip this year’s Worlds and focus on Commonwealth Games, Simpson will likely earn that spot on the Australian team. Three swimmers can represent a country at the Commonwealth Games, so Simpson will be selected for that team as well.

Simpson has still been releasing music, but he has put in the requisite training time to show that his return to competitive swimming was not an attempt to grab some headlines. “It never was,” Simpson said in an interview after his race Wednesday.

After that, Simpson is the most famous swimmer in the world, albeit mostly not for his accomplishments in the pool. Almost all of Simpson’s worldwide following got to know him for his talents on stage and in the recording studio, not in a 50-meter pool, but Simpson will head to Budapest with 4.4 million followers on Instagram, compared to 3.4 million for 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.

Simpson will be the first swimmer to compete at a World Championships that became internationally known for reasons outside his own competitive accomplishments. But now that he has booked a spot on the international level, his appearance might not be a simple cameo. His 51.79 in the 100 fly was a personal best by more than a second, and a mark that quick would already put him right on the edge of qualifying for the semifinals at the World Championships.

Winning a medal at Worlds this year would be a big stretch, even as a relay alternate, but given his current rate of improvement in the water following a long layoff, another leap over the next two years is definitely possible.

But right now, give Simpson some credit. How many people that had already made it to fame and fortune would put all that on the backburner to dedicate himself or herself to the arduous and against-all-odds task of transforming into an elite swimmer? After almost a decade away from the sport?

Talent is important but inconsequential without colossal effort and will. His efforts this week showed that Simpson fully committed, and his reward is to join one of swimming’s premier international teams for the biggest meets in the world.