Historic Seven-Medal Performance Earns Emma McKeon Female World Swimmer of the Year Honors

Aug 1, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Emma McKeon (AUS) with her gold medal during the medals ceremony for the women's 50m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Emma McKeon -- Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

Historic Seven-Medal Performance Earns Emma McKeon Female World Swimmer of the Year Honors

Weeks before her 18th birthday, Emma McKeon missed out on qualifying for Australia’s Olympic team for the 2012 London Olympics. She finished one spot away from a relay berth in the 100 freestyle. But beginning the following year and continuing since, McKeon has swum on every single Australian relay at a major international competition. Her country has been able to count on her to provide strong freestyle legs over 100 or 200 meters and a killer butterfly split on the 400 medley relay. And in 2016, McKeon won her first Olympic gold medal as she led off Australia’s world record-setting 400 freestyle relay at the Rio Games.

But while McKeon’s relay talents were never in doubt, she continued to be overshadowed somewhat for her individual skills. She reached the Olympic medal podium in 2016 with a bronze in the 200 free, and she won her first World Championships medal in the 100 fly one year later. However, she was not yet excelling in the individual sprint freestyle events, where she was overshadowed by Australian sprint star Cate Campbell and her younger sister, Bronte, who also had individual world titles to her name.

Not anymore.

After the 2020 Olympics that were rescheduled for 2021 due to COVID, McKeon is an undisputed star. She is still a clutch relay performer, but now she has two individual Olympic gold medals to add to that tally. Consider the amazing Olympics the 27-year-old from Wollongong, New South Wales, put together this year: She had the fastest split (51.35) on the 400 free relay as she led Australia to gold and a world record. She then added bronze medals in the 100 fly and 800 free relay.

Next came individual gold, as McKeon took the 100 free final by storm and never looked back. Her time of 51.96 was the second-fastest mark in history. The next day, she anchored Australia’s mixed 400 medley relay to another bronze. And on the meet’s final day, McKeon won double gold, smashing a 23.81 in the 50 free to win by 26 hundredths—an enormous margin for the one-lap race—and then putting up a strong butterfly split (55.91) on Australia’s 400 medley relay on the way to another triumph.

That left McKeon with four gold medals and seven total medals, breaking a mark shared by East Germany’s Kristin Otto and the United States’ Natalie Coughlin for the most medals ever by a female swimmer at one Olympics (previously six). Sure, McKeon had more relay chances than either of her predecessors, but this was the event schedule on the table, and she took full advantage.

McKeon’s four gold medals plus her one gold from the 2016 Olympics tied her with Ian Thorpe for the most career gold medals by an Australian Olympian in any sport, and her 11 career Olympic medals smashes the previous record for most by an Aussie Olympian, with Thorpe and Leisel Jones having shared the previous mark of nine.

With her stunning, MVP-esque Olympics that she delivered, McKeon becomes the first Australian to be named Swimming World’s Female World Swimmer of the Year since Stephanie Rice in 2008. Since the award’s debut in 1965, the only Australians to win top honors are Shane Gould (1971-1972), Samantha Riley (1994), Jones (2005-2006), Rice (2008) and now McKeon (2021).

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