Australian triple gold medal swimmer Kaylee McKeown has broken down in tears while paying tribute to her late father.
The backstroke ace was one of the stars of the pool for Australia at the Tokyo Olympics, winning the 100m and 200m finals.
She then teamed up with Chelsea Hodges, Emma McKeon, and Cate Campbell on Sunday to win gold in the 4x 100m women’s medley relay.
After the medal ceremony, McKeown burst into tears during a post-race interview while thanking her late dad Sholto, who lost his battle with brain cancer last August.
Kaylee McKeown (pictured) was one of the stars for Australia in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
‘I really wish my dad could have been here but it’s amazing to have the support of my family back home and I just know they’d be so proud,’ she told Channel Seven while being comforted by her relay teammates.
Her dad was diagnosed with grade-four glioblastoma in June 2018, undergoing round after round of chemotherapy hoping to see his daughters grow up and perhaps win an Olympic gold.
Had the Games been held as originally scheduled this time last year, Sholto would have had the chance to witness Tuesday’s golden moment, but the Covid pandemic delayed the event and he died aged 53.
McKeown reflected on the deep impact the loss has had on her, mum Sharon and older sister Taylor, who competed at the Olympics in Rio five years ago, where she won silver.
McKeown has a tattoo on her foot in memory of her dad, which says ‘I’ll always be with you’.
‘The past 18 months has definitely been tough,’ she said.
‘As well as Covid, I’ve tried really hard to compose myself this week and not get caught up in the emotions. It hit me in in the relay.’
Kaylee McKeown (pictured) became choked up with emotion while thinking of her late dad
‘I wish he could have been there to celebrate with me and I know he would be watching from above and probably cracking a beer up there as well. I know he is proud of me.’
Earlier in the week, McKeown blew a kiss to her late father in the pool after winning her first gold in the 100m backstroke, saying she hoped she made him proud.
She then dropped an F-bomb during her post-race interview when asked if she had a message for her sister and mum cheering her on back home.
‘The hardest trainer I’ve ever seen in my 15 years of swimming and the most resilient. So well deserved,’ Taylor posted on Instagram afterwards
‘We’re proud and dad’s shining in heaven! She stuck to her race plan (a hard thing to do in the heat and pressure of an Olympic final) and executed it perfectly! Her reaction was priceless and the entire race will go down in history.’
Sister Taylor (left) and mum Sharon (second left) rallied around Kaylee McKeown (right) in the lead up to the Tokyo Games, with her father Sholto (second right) dying before he could see his daughter win her first gold medal
At the medal ceremony for the 200m backstroke several days later, she invited her childhood hero Emily Seebohm to join her on the gold medal podium after the fellow Australian competing at her fourth Olympics won bronze in the same race.
‘Emily has been there a long time,’ McKeown explained.
‘There has been a lot gone on between her first team and now and I thought to myself what better way to share the podium with than someone as decorated as her.
‘It was a special moment and she was so proud to be up there with me singing the national anthem.’
AUSTRALIA’S PERFORMANCE IN THE POOL AT TOKYO OLYMPICS
* Nine gold medals, three silver and eight bronze
* Previous gold benchmark: Melbourne, 1956: eight golds
* Benchmark by medals: 20 – Beijing, 2008 (six gold, six silver, eight bronze), Tokyo 2021
* Emma McKeon’s seven medals, equal most of any female athlete at one Olympics with Russian gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya (1952)
* McKeon the first Australian to win four golds at one Olympics
* McKeon’s 11 career medals an Australian record, bettering the nine of Ian Thorpe and Leisel Jones
* Cate Campbell and Emily Seebohm win medals at fourth consecutive Olympics
* Gold medallists
Emma McKeon (50m freestyle,100m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle, 4x100m medley)
Kaylee McKeown (100m backstroke, 200m backstroke, 4×100 medley)
Ariarne Titmus (200m freestyle, 400m freestyle)
Zac Stubblety-Cook (200m breaststroke)
Women’s 4x100m freestyle (McKeon, Meg Harris, Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell)
Women’s 4×100 medley: (McKeown, McKeon, Chelsea Hodges, Cate Campbell)