Mollie O’Callaghan Eager to Lead Australian Assault on Olympic Games in Paris

Mollie O'callaghan of Australia reacts after winning the gold medal in the 200m Freestyle Women Final with a New World Record during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 26th, 2023.

Mollie O’Callaghan Eager to Lead Australian Assault on Olympic Games in Paris

At just 19, Mollie O’Callaghan—affectionately known as Mollie O—is a name Australia is quickly recognizing as a member of the country’s latest group of swimming golden girls of the pool.

Olympic champions Emma McKeon, Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown, the Campbell sisters, Cate and Bronte—and Mollie O’Callaghan, along with Shayna Jack—have catapulted Australia’s women to the top of the world.

Mollie O, as O’Callaghan is affectionately known, is the baby of the group who has been on a trajectory toward swimming greatness since her mum, Toni, launched a fund-raising appeal to send her daughter to Melbourne for the Australian Schools Championships in 2014.

Mollie was just 10 years old and attending Greenbank State School, located in a small working class rural residential suburb in the City of Logan, 40 kilometers (a little less than 25 miles) southwest of Brisbane.

The O’Callaghan family had to raise $5,000 to get their budding young Mollie to nationals after being selected on the Queensland team—a lot of money for any family.

But the community dug deep and got young Mollie her first Queensland tracksuit and her first proper racing suit.

“A proper racing swimming suit can be more than $300,” Mollie’s mum said at the time…and then there’s return airfares and uniforms.

Collection boxes were placed at The Coffee Club stores at nearby suburbs in Jimboomba and Browns Plains, kickstarting the appeal with the family overwhelmed with people’s generosity.

And Mollie’s take on her first trip away?

“I’m a bit nervous, but looking forward to it—it’ll be a good experience. The challenge will be racing faster swimmers because I like to push myself to be the fastest,” said Mollie back on the eve of those championships in 2014.

It was the start of a career that has seen Mollie O reach swimming’s greatest of heights as she now prepares for her second Olympics in Paris later this year and a career where she has swum her way into the hearts of so many everyday Australians.


For Mollie, who will turn 20 in April, it’s been nearly a 10-year journey with this determined little redhead who remains the same coy kid…who still gets nervous before she races…and who has certainly lived up to her own words as a 10-year-old, pushing herself to be the fastest.

BACK ON DECK: Mollie O’Callaghan happy to be back racing.Photo Courtesy Wade Brennan Photography

Mollie O is now…

  • A two-time Olympic gold medalist from the Tokyo Games in 2021 (4×100 medley and freestyle relays);
  • A two-time world champion in the 100 meter freestyle (2022 Budapest and 2023 Fukuoka);
  • A world record holder in the women’s 200 free (1:52.85) when she broke swimming’s oldest WR among women (Federica Pellegrini’s 1:52.98 from July 29, 2009) last year at the Fukuoka Worlds; and
  • A key member of Australia’s three world record-breaking relays, leading off in the 4×100 (3:27.96/52.08) and 4×200 freestyle (7:37.50/1:53.66) and anchoring in the 4×100 mixed freestyle (3:18.83/51.71).

She was recently unveiled as the pinup girl of the 2023 Hancock Prospecting Queensland Championships that concluded at Chandler’s Brisbane Aquatic Centre in December—notoriety that Mollie O is still getting used to receiving.

“It was pretty cool to walk into Chandler and see my photo everywhere. Last year, I wasn’t here—I was at the World Short Course in Melbourne—so it’s a bit of a weird feeling to come back after a few years and see myself everywhere.

“I’m not very used to this, but it’s kind of nice to have us swimmers posted everywhere—and I hope it’s inspirational to the younger swimmers.

“I remember as a kid coming into this meet and seeing the likes of Cate Campbell, Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm.

“Coming into the pool, you would see all the teams—it was very inspirational as a young kid and saying, ‘I want to do that…I want to be a butterflyer…or I want to be a backstroker.’ To see those swimmers right in front of you…it was so inspirational.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to (the notoriety of) it. It’s so special to be considered as one of Swimming Queensland’s idols. I think that’s amazing…and to be honest, I’m not used to it yet!”


And how has Mollie managed to transform from age group champion to world champion?

“I am just taking things day-by-day and step-by-step; (the notoriety and what lies ahead) is not something I think about,” said Mollie, as she met the media at a pre-event press conference.

“I tend not to think about the future too much—I say to myself, ‘I can’t control that yet’…even though I put a lot of pressure on myself.

“I’m especially thinking there’s a lot more expectation on me to perform, so I take a step back a little bit and start from the beginning again.”

And her secret?

“Over the years, I’ve learned to love training and then learned to love racing…and every time I step up to race, I learn something new, and I love it just that little bit more—it’s just a great experience in general, you know,” said Mollie.

“Even swimming at these Queensland Championships—although it’s completely different to an international meet—the standards here are quite high because you have the best women in the world in the lanes next to you.

“No matter what race I’m in, there is always someone there.”


Mollie’s journey as a swimmer kicked off at the Waterworx Swim Club in Springfield (a suburb in the City of Ipswich, Queensland) under Coach Paul “Cowboy” Sansby, a respected technical genius, and the late skills coach, Pete Cherry, before linking up with her current coach—Olympic gold medal coach Dean Boxall—after attending the St Peters Lutheran College campus in Springfield, training at the famous Indooroopilly campus in Brisbane.

Mollie O'callaghan of Australia stands with the bronze medal after compete in the 50m Backstroke Women Final during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 16th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Sansby relied on Cherry to weave his magic, saying, “All I wanted was for Pete to do whatever he was doing at his previous squads to make my kids swim fast—and he went to work.

“We had been together ever since (until Pete passed in 2021). We were like brothers, and he has developed the skills of so many great champions, including kids like Mollie.

“He was one of the real forerunners in (mastering) underwater work. He had underwater kicking technique right down to a fine art, imparting his knowledge with our age-group programs.

“But when Pete came in, we also introduced a lot of race speed and race-pace work, and his sessions were almost 100% IM and kick sets.

“He liked to do a lot of kicking, and he wanted his kids to be across all four strokes, especially when they were younger.

“Everything he did he timed—he knew what every kid in the squad had to hit at the 15-meter mark and the 25-meter mark.

“He was big on setting times for their breakouts, and if you can achieve those times, he told the kids, ‘You’re in the race.’

“And everything he did was about winning, whether it was breeding his budgies (a small gregarious Australian parakeet) to coaching those kids. He wanted winners.”

And the impact on Mollie O was career changing, setting her up for Boxall to add his own magical touches.

“Mollie came through our program and become a national champion, like so many others,” said Sansby. “A kid who came to us when she was 8 until she was 15…and we always knew what she was going to do and what she was capable of.

“What a brilliant kid—we brought her through hard, she knew how to work. She had that built-in ability to do a lot of underwater work and fast underwater work, and she was always super-quick doing fly kick underwater on her front or on her back.

“A real good technician—she had a superb kick, a kid who’s got that ankle flexion that you need. She was born with a range of movement that you need to be fast, and Mollie had that.

“I know Pete remembered her fondly when she swam at the Olympics, and like so many of us, so pleased for Mollie—she always had that good work ethic…and she was a good kid to boot.”

As Boxall told Swimming World Magazine recently, Mollie O is managing by just being herself. “She does not care (about anything else)…she has not changed one bit…not at all…she just wants to swim…she just wants to come to the pool and swim…she does not care about the other stuff!”


When asked what her likely Olympic program would be and whether she would try and add backstroke into the mix with the 100 and 200 freestyle, O’Callaghan admitted, “It’s a hard one. I haven’t thought about it too much.

Mollie O'Callaghan stroke AUS CHAMPS 23

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia)

“I think the first thing is to try and get on that team, no matter what event it is—I’ll try and swim it.

“So, when it gets closer, Dean and I will discuss what the program looks like, but at the moment, my main goal will be the 100 and 200 meter freestyle. The relays are the second goal, and then the backstroke comes third.”

* * *

Mollie has come a long way since her mum handed out those collection tins in the coffee shops 10 years ago.

As Australia’s most successful swimmer at the Worlds in Fukuoka last year, Mollie O walked away with a whopping payday of $A253,250 (~$172,463 U.S.).

Claiming $A142,000 for her medal haul of five gold and a silver and four world records from the World Aquatics payment scheme…and with Australia’s generous Gina Rinehart Patron’s Funding Medal Scheme, the girl from St Peters Western added a further $A111,250 to her bank account.

It was a massive and deserved payday for Australia’s brightest new swim star as Paris awaits. Her next major goal will be adding her name to a who’s who of Olympic champions in the 100 and 200 meter freestyle.

Gold in the 100 freestyle would see O’Callaghan join other fellow Australians to win the blue-ribbon event:

  • Fanny Durack, the first woman to win Olympic gold in the pool (1912);
  • The legendary Dawn Fraser (1956,1960,1964);
  • Jodie Henry (2004); and
  • Emma McKeon (2020).

And in the 200:

  • Shane Gould, a remarkable 16-year-old schoolgirl who was the first Aussie to win the women’s 200 freestyle (1972);
  • Susie O’Neill (2000); and
  • Ariarne Titmus (2020).

Certainly, greatness awaits Mollie O, the kid from working-class Queensland who just loves to swim…faster than anyone else!

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