Triple gold treat: Olympic hero happy at home

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Kaylee McKeown is back on the Sunshine Coast after a stunning return in Tokyo – and wants to stay there.

Backstroker Kaylee McKeown shows off some of her Tokyo bling. Photo by Lillie Hull

But McKeown, the world-record holder in the 100m backstroke, faces a big decision when her coach Chris Mooney leaves the USC Spartans and moves to Bond University in October.

“I have swim trials in the Gold Coast and Brisbane and then I’ll be back in November to see if USC has a new coach here,” McKeown said after a High Performance Sport presentation.

USC is looking for a new Spartans mentor and McKeown said they were hoping for someone on the same level as Mooney.

“I plan on staying on the Coast as long as I can,” she said.

McKeown’s friends, family and the beach are a large part of her life, but so is competing.

The 20-year-old has worked with Mooney since joining the USC squad, with her career peaking in Tokyo with gold in the 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke, and women’s 4x100m medley relay.

McKeown also claimed bronze in the mixed 4x100m medley relay.

After such a busy time leading into the Olympics, McKeown can now relax.

She has decided to take a break for another two to three weeks to rest and prepare for next year’s competitions, including the Commonwealth Games.

“I have no coach, so no one to really tell me what to do,” she said.

Having completed quarantine after the Olympics, McKeown is currently weighing up her 2022 schedule.

The world championships are in Fukuoka, Japan, followed by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in the UK.

“It would be eight out of the 12 months living out of a suitcase on the other side of the world, away from all my friends and family,” she said.

Kaylee McKeown, a member of USC’s Spartans swim team, is congratulated on her three gold medals by Professor Tim Wess, USC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). Photo by Lillie Hull

Competing in Tokyo during COVID was a weird experience for McKeown. She said the athletes were caged off from the rest of the city and she only saw a few people outside of the Olympic village.

She said it was strange being in the pool and looking out to the empty stands, which would typically be packed with people.

Not only was the venue empty, but so was the village, and the athletes had to social distance at all times and wear masks.

Entering the cafeteria was a different world, where everything was sterile and competitors were alone, even though there were still people everywhere.

“We had to wear gloves in the cafeteria and there were clear panels around where we sat,” she said.

Since returning home she has been spending time at the beach with friends and family.

Pre-Olympics her training schedule with Mooney was very demanding, with 17 days on and four days off.

During her sessions she said she could hear Mooney whistling around the pool, and it was weird not having him there.

Now she has to decide if she wants to stick with the world-beating partnership or stay closer to home.