real life

Cate Campbell: "I’ve had a long time to process what went wrong and why I choked."


This open letter originally appeared on Exclusive Insight and has been republished here with full permission.

Dear Keyboard Warriors,

Hi it’s me, Cate. You may remember we had a bit of a run in about two years ago and have had brief encounters ever since.

I don’t think we have ever actually spoken directly, you’ll talk about me, then I might have a brief passing comment about you in return and the cycle continues.

But I think it’s time we talked – not face-to-face, because let’s not forget, you are faceless, while I very much am not – but at least directly to one another – no intermediaries. No journalists.

Let’s revisit the initial incident where we got well acquainted. 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The final of the 100m freestyle. I was the undisputed favourite.

The World, Olympic and Commonwealth Record holder in the event.

The sure bet (as many of you have subsequently told me “I lost money on you!”), I was all but guaranteed that Olympic gold medal.

It would be another gold for the Australian medal tally, another reason to gloat to your Pommy friends, another reason to down that can of XXXX gold.

But I was also just a person. And as it turns out, I wasn’t the sure bet. I wasn’t a contributor to Australia’s medal tally.

I wasn’t another great Australian asset to boast about. Although I probably was still the reason you downed that can of XXXX – sadly it probably tasted more like VB.


I’ve had a long time to process what went wrong and why I choked (yes I am still going to use that word).

And there are many, many reasons, none of which I feel now I have to justify to you. I did at the time.

"When you see someone choking, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care too much." Image via Getty.

But I just want to let you know, that you could not possibly be more disappointed in me, than I was in myself.


You could not have been more ashamed of me than I was of myself. You could not possible have judged me harsher than I was (and to an extent still am) judging myself.

In saying that, I did feel your disappointment, I did feel your shame and I felt your judgement.

For future reference, when you see someone choking, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care too much.

And I cared. I cared because I knew that my performance could bring joy to so many people – you included.

I cared because my performance could reflect the brilliance of my coach and my amazing team. I cared because I wanted to be this image of myself that everyone else could see and yet I could not.

I cared because of all the sacrifices that my family has made over the years for me.

I cared because I had worked harder for this, wanted this more and given more of myself to this than anything else in my life.

I cared because it had become part of my identity. I cared because that’s what I do. I care.

So judge me.

Sit in your chairs and judge me. Judge me because I choked. Judge me because I couldn’t take the pressure.

Judge me because I had under 60 seconds to fulfil, not only my dream, but the dreams of a nation, a swim team, a coach, a family. Because you are right.


In some way I do deserve your judgment here (but could you reserve it, or at least some of the ridicule?).

Just don’t judge me because you think I didn’t care enough. Of that I am innocent.

It was a surreal experience coming back from Rio. I went into the Games as one kind of role model and came out a very different one.

I went in as a herald for achieving your goals, for making your dreams come true, for being a winner and I came out as Australia’s poster-girl for failure.

I felt that in failing, I was a failure. The two were synonymous. I have since learned that they are mutually exclusive.


I say I became Australia’s poster-girl for failing. I became the real personified version of Buzz Lightyear’s quote from Toy Story when he says “that wasn’t flying, that was falling with style”.

And if I have learned anything throughout this whole experience, it’s that the flying might not be as important as the falling.

Fear is a powerful thing. It’s what makes your heart beat faster when you are standing on the edge of the cliff.

Even though your feet are firmly planted on the ground, you fear falling. In life, instead of falling, we fear failing.

I let the fear of failure destroy the possibility of success.

Yet I missed the crucial point that only in a place where failure is possible, is success possible. Most of our fear of failure comes from fearing what others will say about us.

How we will be judged. Especially because of you, my faceless Keyboard Warriors, we are now exposed to more judgement than ever before.

Things that were once said behind our backs, now leave a permanent cyber brand on the World Wide Web, but more importantly, are etched in that same black text in our hearts.


Don’t worry, I’m not blaming you, I take full responsibility for my actions and performance (or lack thereof).

So here’s the point that I want to make. Let’s change the way we view failure.

It’s seen as a dirty word, something that we should be ashamed of. But let me tell you, it takes a hell of a lot of time, effort, diligence, perseverance and above all courage to get to a place where failure is possible.

Because it is the same place where success is possible. Instead of shaming people, let’s applaud their courage to go and do something that we were not brave enough or capable enough to do ourselves.

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

Like it or not, I still did a better job out there than any one of you could.

I have one thing to ask of you before I go. And that is to be kind. Think before you type.

Before you begin to limber up your thumbs, ask yourself if you are qualified to level the criticism or insult that is at your fingertips.

Ask yourself what that person you are watching has had to sacrifice to get to the position they are in? What have they done?


What have they given up? Would you be willing to put yourself in their place? Not just for the few moments that you get to see, but for the moments that you don’t.

For the blood, sweat and tears that they have shed to place themselves in this position. A place where failure is possible but so is success.

If the answer is no, and it almost always will be, then maybe change your tune.

In the months following Rio I am so immensely grateful the many thousands of messages of support I received. For the people who believed in me when I no longer believed in myself, thank you.

Thank you for your kindness, your understanding and for seeing qualities in me that I could not and sometimes still struggle to see.

And so, dear Keyboard Warriors, thank you for listening. In closing I’d just like to say: A little kindness goes a long way – but the reverse is also true.

Don’t you want to make this world just a little bit better? Even if that is only 280 characters better.

Yours Sincerely,

Cate Campbell

Exclusive Insight is an Australian media platform for athletes and entertainers to share their stories through a trusted newsroom, engaging directly to the fans and the wider public. You can follow Exclusive Insight on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter