The 29-year-old has overcome adversity in her battle to qualify for her fourth Olympic Games as she bids to win her first gold medal in Tokyo
It looked like the death knell for an illustrious career. When Emily Seebohm failed to make the Australian team for the 2019 Fina World Championships in Gwangju it appeared the swimmer may struggle to figure on the global stage again, as a pair of bright young Australian backstroking talents threatened to force her out of the picture.
True to form, Emily Seebohm’s quality and longevity have won out. 15 years on from her debut at Beijing 2008, Seebohm has fought to make a fourth Olympic Games and join Leisel Jones and teammate Cate Campbell as the only Australian swimmers to travel to four Olympics.
It continues a remarkable career of triumph over adversity for Seebohm. The backstroker suffered knee damage in a horse riding incident in 2015 and fought through severe pain to take a fifth Olympic medal despite being diagnosed with endometriosis shortly before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The 29-year-old has also publicly revealed her battles with eating disorders.
For Seebohm, qualification for Tokyo 2020 came as a surprise, beating out 2019 World Championships silver medallist Minna Atherton to secure the second 100 and 200 metres backstroke spot behind burgeoning star and new world record holder Kaylee McKeown.
“I think one of the hardest things is trying to come back after failure and trying to get back to that top level that you need to be at,” Seebohm explained to Sportsday WA. “After missing the team [for the FINA 2019 World Championships], this was such a massive moment.
“That night I was so emotional and I’m not a very emotional person at all – I barely ever cry. It was just something that really meant so much to me.”
It is odd that a swimmer of such quality has just one individual Olympics medal from her three previous visits to the Games, having been pushed into silver by a stunning come-from-behind win from Missy Franklin at the London Aquatics Centre in 2012.
Having scorched the field in the heats in London, Seebohm holds the rare distinction of possessing an Olympic record, in the 100m backstroke, without ever having taken a gold medal in an individual event – though Seebohm has been part of two victorious relay quartets.
A triumph now, 15 years on from her Olympics debut, would appear unlikely, particularly with compatriot McKeown surging into record-breaking form, but Seebohm can never be ruled out in what is often an unpredictable and open event at major championships.
Seebohm has provided an insightful behind-the-scenes look at life as an athlete in the unique Tokyo Olympic Village with regular updates on Instagram since arriving in Japan. The swimmer has also indicated that a fifth Olympics involvement may not be out of the question.
“I’ve always said I’d go to four and that’s it, I’d retire,” Seebohm said. “But now that it’s only three years until the next one, I’m like ‘can I do five?’ Three years sounds way better than four years. But, do I really want to still be doing this at 32?”
Tokyo 2020 may not be the final Olympics farewell, then. Having overcome so much, Seebohm will enter the pool for the backstroke heats on 25 July (100m) and 29 July (200m) with plenty more to give.