Sitting in quarantine upon return from Tokyo, Kyle Chalmers has had a lot of time to reflect on his journey so far and to plot his path ahead.
- Kyle Chalmers says his Tokyo silver medal in the 100m freestyle feels more special than his Rio gold
- He says he has been surprised at how Australia celebrates gold compared to how much they celebrate silver
- Chalmers has launched the Enough is Enough campaign aimed to encourage people to call out racism
After years of relentless preparation and rehabilitation, all with another Olympics assault in mind, Chalmers has been afforded the rare opportunity to hit pause.
That break, he says, has put his achievements at Tokyo 2020 — where he won silver in the 100m freestyle and two bronze medals in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays — in greater perspective.
“The quarantine has been a really great opportunity for me to be able to reflect on what I’ve just achieved,” he told ABC Sport.
“Rather than going straight back to Adelaide and seeing everyone, having media commitments and people almost telling you how you should be feeling, [I’ve been] able to sit down and just reflect.
“I feel fantastic. I was so close to winning a gold medal after such a bumpy ride over the past few years and especially this last year leading into the Olympic Games with my shoulder surgery.”
Chalmers won gold in the 100m freestyle at the Rio Games in 2016, setting the stage for his duel with American Caeleb Dressel in Tokyo.
Dressel won that battle by a grand total of 0.06 seconds, but Chalmers says his road to that silver medal made it even sweeter than the Rio gold.
“It feels so much better,” Chalmers said.
“In Rio, I went in as an 18-year-old kid — I probably didn’t really know what I’d achieved and how much it meant to everyone.
“I’d only really trained for a year properly leading into that. This time around I’ve had to train so hard and sacrifice so much for five years.
It’s a feeling that Chalmers says has not been reflected by the wider Australian public.
“It’s a funny one. I win gold in Rio and come back a national hero and everyone wants a bar of you.
“The appearances and things I was doing were out of this world and things I couldn’t have even dreamed of.
“And then you win silver and it’s such a massive achievement — I was half a second faster than I was in Rio, I swam a PB but was touched out by 0.06 of a second.
“It’s just funny the change in how much Australia celebrates gold compared to how much they celebrate silver.”
At just 23 years old, Chalmers’ career should still technically be in its infancy, but a combination of injury, illness and family disruption has complicated things.
Despite the challenges, Chalmers remains determined to keep fighting and says Paris 2024 is the next major goal.
“I’ve always had a pretty close family network and then in 2019, my parents divorced. Now my mum and brother live with me, which is always a very big challenge when you have that stuff go on in your family,” he said.
“I feel like if I can have a real clean run at Paris in three years’ time, I’ll back myself in.
“Next year’s the Commonwealth Games, then I’ll have a hard year of training and then the Olympics will be halfway through that following year so it’s all about to kick off again.
“Swimming’s been my stability. It’s always there no matter what. In a way, swimming’s an escape from all that stuff.”
But while his focus on the pool has never been greater, Chalmers has also used his time in quarantine to broaden his scope of influence, most notably with the Enough is Enough anti-racism campaign.
Chalmers released a video from inside quarantine last week and says he wants to do more to educate Australians and start a conversation.
“A lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people try to stand up and educate, but it should be us,” he said.
“Me as a white Australian, I should be the one standing up and trying my best to educate myself but also people around me and call out racism.
“We need to stamp that out by calling out our friends, calling out our family members.
“I know it’s a journey for everyone and I just really hope that we can be a united Australia and this starts to be a thing of the past.”