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‘It blows my mind’: How Australia’s greatest Olympian nearly quit swimming

by ZwemZa on September 1st, 2021

Emma McKeon is Australia’s most decorated Olympian. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

She won’t admit it, but Susie O’Neill may have unwittingly been just the tonic to unleash Australia’s greatest Olympian.

Back in 1999, ‘Madame Butterfly’ O’Neill gave her togs from the 1999 Pan Pacific Championships to a five-year-old Emma McKeon.

By 2013, with McKeon on the verge of quitting and letting her immense potential wash away down the drain, her parents asked O’Neill to talk to the young swim sensation.

“We had this celebrity swimming event at North Sydney Pool where they had four past swimmers as captains like myself, Dawn Fraser, Daniel Kowalski and Linley Frame and current swimmers including Emma,” O’Neill revealed to News Corp.

“And just at the end of it, her parents came and spoke to me because I knew them through Rob [Woodhouse] and they wanted me to talk to Emma because she was thinking about quitting swimming at the time.

“For some reason she wasn’t really enjoying it, I don’t exactly know why and I was on the bus with her back to the hotel and chatting to her about it.

“I didn’t know what she was going to do. I thought she was going to quit, but she came onto the scene and got better and better.”

On the eve of the Games, O’Neill wrote to McKeon.

In that, O’Neill revealed she had the backing of McKeon’s grandparents more than 20 years earlier as she claimed gold in Atlanta and won the hearts of Australians before later cementing her name by winning in Sydney.

Now McKeon is Australia’s greatest Olympian, after sweeping the pool by winning another seven medals in Tokyo.

The duo hugged and embraced on the pool deck in Tokyo.

“I can’t believe she’s done it,” O’Neill says gleefully.

“I saw her at the pool the night after she won her seventh medal. She doesn’t say much and I don’t say too much either, but I gave her a big hug.

“I just can’t believe she’s won seven medals. It blows my mind.

“I saw her before she went into her last press conference and it was funny just seeing people around her, awestruck by her, it was a bit bizarre to see that first-hand.”

With the Games coming to the conclusion, O’Neill saw a picture on Speedo Australia’s Instagram page.

It was McKeon wearing O’Neill’s togs.

“I saw it a couple of days ago and I was like, I’m pretty sure they’re my togs,” O’Neill said.

“So I messaged Emma yesterday and I said, ‘Are they my togs?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, because they’ve got your name on the back of them.’

“I was managed by Rob Woodhouse back then and we were friends as well, we spent a bit of time with the McKeons, so after the Pan Pacs in ’99, through Rob, I gave her a pair of my togs.

“I’m not taking any credit for her performances, I just think it’s pretty cool that she was wearing my togs in 1999.”

Christy Doran | Fox Sports

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