The swimming is officially over at the Commonwealth Games and while Australia dominated with a towering medal tally, there was plenty of attention on the Dolphins over what was happening outside the pool.
Kyle Chalmers slammed the media for delving into a reported “love triangle” between himself, Emma McKeon and Cody Simpson, saying all the attention and “clickbait” focused on his personal life might drive him out of the sport.
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Chalmers was romantically involved with McKeon before she started dating Simpson, whose incredible comeback to swimming from his music career has been one of the biggest storylines in Birmingham.
The swimmers involved have repeatedly denied there’s any bad blood between them, while Chalmers went on the offensive and ripped into the media. His father Brett did the same, blasting the national obsession with Simpson as he complained that not enough credit was being directed to other swimmers and their achievements in Birmingham.
Candice drops truth bombs on Kyle
Ex-Aussie swimmer turned popular TV presenter Johanna Griggs said earlier in the week Chalmers was “feeding” the media frenzy by constantly engaging with it, and former Ironwoman Candice Warner is on the same page.
Warner said she was “really surprised” by how Chalmers handled the headlines, saying she expected someone who dealt with the attention thrust upon him in 2016 when he won gold in the 100m freestyle at the Rio Olympics to be better prepared for the media barrage.
“He knows how to deal with the pressure. Why is he allowing the media to make these comments?” Warner told the Fox Sports program The Back Page this week.
“Why hasn’t he put a self-imposed media ban (on himself) until the Games are over? I’m just really a little bit confused by the situation and why he’s engaging with the media.
“He’s not in the wrong, but he also has the power and ability to stop it and also just to focus on his swim events.
“Should he know how to deal with this pressure? Should he know how to deal with this completely?”
Reports of possible friction between Chalmers and Simpson first emerged at this year’s national championships in Adelaide, leading Warner to question why the 24-year-old wasn’t more prepared for the questions he’d face in Birmingham.
“Would there not have been a strategy put into place before these Games? We haven’t just started talking about this now, we’ve been talking about this love triangle before the Commonwealth Games,” Warner said.
She added Chalmers’ team and Swimming Australia should have “put some sort of strategy into place knowing this could have been a possibility”.
Warner also said Chalmers — who she described as an “alpha male” — would understandably be affected by McKeon’s relationship with Simpson given their history, suggesting “his ego would be burned a little bit”.
‘He likes the attention but not the scrutiny’
Chalmers has been irked by attention being lavished on Simpson and his personal life at the expense of other swimmers whose feats also deserve praise. Courier-Mail Chief sports writer Robert Craddock suggested Chalmers craves positive headlines about himself but can’t handle it when coverage isn’t so rosy.
“It appears to me as if he likes the attention but not the scrutiny — and there is just a fine line between them and they often overlap,” Craddock told The Back Page.
“I think he’s one of those guys who can’t live with it and can’t live without it and finds it very awkward.
“He’s on Instagram, he’s out there, he’s happy to put himself front and center but like a lot of swimmers, when it’s big time, when it’s Games time, the force of the coverage hits them hard.”
Australian swimming legend Susie O’Neill had a different take on how the situation has affected the national team in Birmingham.
O’Neill — who was in Tokyo for last year’s Olympics — was adamant there is no rift among the Dolphins and said it’s harder for athletes these days to block out negative publicity because of social media and the insatiable news cycle.
“I think what they’re struggling with is, if you think about swimmers, they spend 30-40 hours a week trying to improve one one-hundredth of a second — such specific, objective goals,” she told The Back Page.
“So when they get asked subjective questions not even to do with their sport, you know, reality TV stuff, they’re confused and I think get offended by that.”
Why Chalmers is kicking up a stink
Meanwhile, SEN boss Craig Hutchison believes Chalmers is struggling in adjusting to the increased scrutiny because he’s been so used to positive coverage for the majority of his career.
“He has had a charmed run as a young man with the media. That rarely happens to the bulk of society and you get a disproportionate comfort that you are … a figure that gets a lot of adulation,” Hutchison said on his media podcast The Sounding Board.
“So when things go wrong, you’re not emotionally equipped to necessarily handle the negativity.
“Then it often sways the other way because you overreact, or react a certain way.”
Journalist Damian Barrett told The Sounding Board: “What he (Chalmers) doesn’t get… you can’t control the media. No matter who you are and what run you’ve got.”