Cate Campbell has been competing against her sister for 10 years. Here's what she wants you to know.

When I was nine, and my younger sister Bronte was seven, we dreamed of going to the Olympics together. 

We’d sit in the back of the car on the way to swimming training and talk about all the things we were going to do after we had been to the Olympics. 

Oblivious to the fact that the odds of qualifying for an Olympics in Australia is less than 0.002 per cent, we dreamed of pulling on the green and gold. Of lining up behind the starting blocks in an Olympic final and standing triumphant atop the podium belting out 'Advance Australia Fair' at the top of our lungs.

WATCH: Cate and Bronte talk about their relationship. 

Video via ABC

It was a crazy dream, an outlandish dream, an ambitious dream. And yet, despite the odds, that dream became a reality. But, as we soon found out, dreams are more complicated when they become reality.

In 2012, Bronte and I became the first siblings to qualify for the Australian Olympic swim team in 75 years. 

In 2016 we became the first Australian sisters to ever win an Olympic gold medal, a feat we repeated five years later at the Tokyo 2020(1) Olympics. 


We both swim the 50m and 100m freestyle which means we quite literally compete against each other. We also compete with each other as members of the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team.

Swimming is an unforgiving sport. Our win/lose margins are tenths and hundredths of a second – literally less than the blink of a human eye. 

Only one person emerges from the pool a winner, only one person can achieve that ultimate goal of becoming Olympic champion – the rest, well, they fall short. 

Too bad, so sad. Come back again and try again in four years' time. 

This is a daunting enough prospect at the best of times, but imagine if one of the people standing in the way between you and your life-long dream is also your sister? And she also has the same dream. 

She is both your greatest support and your biggest rival.

The question I am asked most often is: ‘Can you tell us about your sibling rivalry?’ When asked this, I used to plaster a smile on my face, and wave my hand airily; seemingly unconcerned. But really, I’m trying to swat the tiresome question away like I would a pesky fly. ‘If I can’t win, the next best thing is watching your sister win’, I’d happily trill, my voice going up an octave. 

This care-free response hides the truth. It hides the tears we have both shed. It hides the heartbreak we have both felt. But it also hides the true depth of our relationship, which, like any relationship is complex and layered.


This is what I’ve learned from competing against my sister for over 10 years.

It doesn’t get easier, it gets harder.

At the beginning, when Bronte and I qualified for the 2012 Olympics together, it felt like a dream come true – and it was a dream come true.

Once the novelty wore off however, it became more difficult to manage one person winning and the other person losing. 

Each victory was tinged with sadness, and each defeat was bitter sweet. As the years wore on, we had to work harder and harder to keep feelings of resentment and jealousy at bay.

It is important to have a strong sense of self.

When we qualified for our first Olympics together were both still quite young, I was 20 and Bronte was 18, and we wanted to share everything. 

Willingly we merged into ‘The Campbell Sisters’ persona. We lived together, trained together and moved in the same social circles. We presented a united front to the world and forgot to explore who we were as individuals.

Bronte and I are actually very different. I am your stereotypical eldest sister: quiet, responsible and cautious. Bronte, on the other hand, is wildly intelligent, terrifying fearless and infectiously vivacious. 

Yet for years she was not given the space and permission to be herself – she was not known as Bronte in her own right, but as Cate Campbell’s sister and, as such, was expected to behave in the same way as her mild-mannered older sister.


Establishing ourselves as individuals, being clear on who we were as people and exploring our strengths and weaknesses outside of the pool, allows us to navigate the constant comparison we receive from others. 

We make sure we value each other for traits independent of our performances in the pool. We celebrate each other’s differences and have made a conscious effort to live our own individual lives – including having separate social groups and different hobbies. 

Listen: Cate is the host of Mamamia's newest podcast, Here If You Need.

We try to not compare ourselves. 

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Well, comparison can also potentially lose you a sister, and it has placed a huge strain on our relationship. 

Bronte and I have had to learn not to compare our lives or results. This can be difficult as people constantly want to pit us against each other. 

As weird as this sounds, this means we deliberately never compete against each other. 

Apart from the inevitable head-to-head in the pool – both in training and in races - we don’t play other sports against each other, rarely sit down for a game of cards or a board game and certainly steer clear of Mario Brothers Go-Karting. 

Pretty much anything where we will be in direct competition – and therefore leaves the door open for comparison – we subconsciously avoid. 


I can’t ever remember making this decision consciously, we just both found our relationship is much healthier when we don’t compete against each other. 

Mind you, everyone else is fair game, including other members of our family.

We are sisters until we line up behind the starting blocks.

As mentioned, Bronte and I trained together, travelled together and roomed together. We would eat our pre-race snack together, catch the bus to the competition pool together, warm-up together and go the final call-room together. 

Yet the moment I step out onto the pool deck before my race, Bronte ceases to exist to me. 

Our lifelong bond is severed, she occupies no more space in my mind than the other six athletes who are also in the race – which is to say, none at all. 

This complete compartmentalisation of our relationship allows both of us to shift into the single-minded headspace needed to perform on the world stage. 


It also ends the moment my hand touches the wall and the race finishes. I frantically scan the boards, searching for my result, and then check for Bronte’s. 

While this might seem callous and cold-hearted, we both easily transition from ‘sister’ mode to ‘competition’ mode and back again. All’s fair in love and war....and sport.

After a race, we give each other space to grieve or celebrate our result.

In the immediate aftermath of a race, we give each other space to celebrate or commiserate separately. 

This allows both of us to fully lean into, and process our emotions without having to consider the other person. 

When you compete against one of the people who you love most, winning becomes bittersweet and losing can feel more painful. 

We luckily have a wonderful support team who understand this and who we can turn to. Whether we need to celebrate with someone or cry on someone’s shoulder – we don’t rely on each other for this immediately after a race. It detracts from the joy of victor and doesn’t acknowledge the pain of the loser.


After we have both processed our results individually, we can re-connect. One person has to dim their joy and the other person has to downplay their pain. It’s a juggling act and we haven’t always got it right.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to simply race at an Olympic Games without having to line up against my sister – but not often. 

We both dreamed of going to the Olympics together when we were kids, and how many people can say they actually achieved their childhood dream? Not many. 

I am the swimmer I am today because I had Bronte pushing me every stroke of the way. But, more importantly, I am the person I am today because of how we have learned to navigate and manage, what at times, has been a challenging relationship.

The love and affection I have for Bronte cannot be overstated, she is one of the most incredible people I know, and it has been a joy to share the Olympic stage with her for all these years. Hopefully we can both do it one more time in Paris 2024.

Now when people ask me how we manage our sibling rivalry, I answer honestly: “It isn’t easy, we have to work at it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Feature Image: Quinn Rooney/Getty.