In August 2016, sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell competed in the women’s 100m freestyle final at the Rio Olympics.
Cate was the clear favourite for gold after breaking the world record the month prior. Bronte, too, was expected to walk away with a medal.
But with all of Australia watching on, the sisters both missed out on a place. Bronte came fourth, with Cate finishing sixth.
In a heartbreaking post-race interview, 24-year-old Cate described the outcome as “possibly the greatest choke in Olympic history.” Now, she’s told The Daily Telegraph what she believes triggered the ‘choke’ just moments before she was due to swim – an encouraging text message from a good friend.
“I’m so excited to watch you race,” read the message. “I’ve booked out a boardroom in the office so we can all watch you.”
It was after reading this text, Cate said, that she started to feel “nervous and anxious” and became acutely aware of the weight of Australia’s expectations.
“I remembered thinking this was bigger than just me. I was responsible for other people, I have to do this for other people as well,” she said.
"I don't blame the friend, as they were genuinely there to support me," she told the publication. "They don't even know that this message was what triggered the meltdown to come."
She said the message was one of hundreds she received in the lead up to the race.
One of Australia's leading sports psychologists Jeff Bond spoke to Mamamia about how a simple text message could result in a stumble for an athlete.
"It shifts the inner voice from 'what do I want to do?' to 'what don't I want to do?'" he said.
An external or internal source can lead athletes to start focusing on "the horror of making a mistake, of letting someone down", which then triggers a chain reaction, "leading to psychological and physical processes that predispose them to make a mistake".
Bond said this preoccupation with failing, rather than focusing on the task ahead, explains a lot of what we see when athletes don't perform their best in major moments.