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Cate Campbell has shared the text that made her 'choke' at the Olympics.

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. 

Cate during an emotional interview after Rio. Image via Channel 7.

"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.

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"It shifts the inner voice from 'what do I want to do?' to 'what don't I want to do?'" Image via Getty.

And there are countless triggers for this shift in attention. "A common cause for a lot of athletes is thinking about their parents," said Bond.

I asked what we can do as fans, friends or family members, when it comes to supporting elite athletes. Should we avoid sending text messages? Are there certain things we should say, and certain things we shouldn't?

"It's probably important to say you have our support no matter what happens," said Bond. "But you want to equip athletes to be able to cope with those things that come through. You want athletes being trained well enough mentally and psychologically to refocus and get back on track. Because it is possible to do."

In fact, Bond was adamant that it's important the "responsibility... sits with the athlete".

Olympic gold medalist Lydia Lassila talks about her Olympic lifestyle on I Don't Know How She Does It. Post continues after audio.

At the Olympics, there are countless potential distractions, and in terms of performance, it's quite an adverse environment. From the media, to the Australian Olympic Committee placing pressures on athletes for a high medal count, to the influence of social media, Bond said, "from a performance context, the Olympics is a nightmare".

But part of winning is refocusing when faced with these distractions. He said it would be important for Cate to consider, "if the same thing happened to me, what would I do?" rather than concentrating on eliminating the (inevitable) triggers that exist in the environment.

Bond also said he wasn't entirely comfortable with the word "choke".

"To me - in a pure sense - when someone 'chokes' they 'choke' so badly they can't perform. They freeze," he said. Cate didn't choke, and he worries the term has connotations of weakness and ineffectiveness.

Instead, he'd rather talk about athletes hesitating, or stumbling, or thinking about the wrong thing. And most importantly - having the capacity to overcome those hurdles in the future.

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