Love in the fast lane

They’re the Olympic sweet­hearts with big dreams – and the com­bi­na­tion of Kyle Chalmers and Madi­son Wil­son is turn­ing out to be a win­ning one, both in and out of the pool

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy MATT TURNER In­ter­view JES­SICA HAL­LO­RAN

With big dreams and a work ethic to match, Olympic sweet­hearts Kyle Chalmers and Madi­son Wil­son are prov­ing to be a win­ning team in and out of the pool.

At the be­gin­ning when you start dat­ing some­one, there is of­ten a ques­tion of how you’ll get along with their fam­ily and friends. For swim­mer Madi­son Wil­son, there were more than a few snakes to deal with when it came to fall­ing for Rio Olympic cham­pion Kyle Chalmers. Lit­er­ally.

From pythons to lizards, there are 52 rep­tiles in to­tal that Chalmers calls his crew, and he houses them all in Wil­son’s granny flat. Not without in­ci­dent, ei­ther. Wil­son tells Stel­lar about a re­cent night of watch­ing Chalmers wran­gle a seven-kilo­gram, three-me­tre python from the top of a nearby chair. “I have learnt a hell of lot about rep­tiles, more than I’ve wanted to,” Wil­son says, while Chalmers, who came from nowhere to bring home gold at the last Olympics, grins. “I am ob­sessed with them,” he says. “I would sleep be­side them… if I could.” He can’t, Wil­son says defini­tively.

When the cou­ple aren’t sur­rounded by scales, they’re work­ing to­wards a shared dream of com­pet­ing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Two coun­try kids – Wil­son from Queens­land and Chalmers from South Aus­tralia – they met through swim­ming and, rep­tiles aside, have plenty in com­mon, not least win­ning medals.

Yet for Chalmers, the reign­ing 100m freestyle Olympic cham­pion, this sec­ond Games could be his last. The 20-year-old, dubbed “an ac­ci­den­tal swim­ming star”, has an­other sport­ing dream to ful­fil: to be­come an AFL foot­baller. Chalmers has never hid­den his de­sire to fol­low in the foot­steps of his fa­ther Brett, who played AFL for both Port Ade­laide and Ade­laide.

“It’s some­thing I would love to do and be­cause it is my dream I would give ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing to see if it takes off,” Chalmers says. “I know how hard it can be to be an ath­lete in re­gards to train­ing and com­mit­ment. I think I’ve got that back­ground knowl­edge in it, and if there was a sniff I could play AFL foot­ball, I’d train all day ev­ery day to see if I could get drafted.”

Chalmers says he wouldn’t want to be one of those guys to get picked up “just for at­ten­tion for a club” or to be “just a list filler”. He’d want to be more than just com­pet­i­tive, and he knows it will be a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence trav­el­ling from Olympic star to AFL hope­ful. “It would be hard for me to go from be­ing at the top of the swim­ming world to po­ten­tially be­ing a rookie on a footy list,” Chalmers ad­mits. “There’d be a big shock, but I’d do ev­ery­thing I could and give ev­ery­thing up to pur­sue that dream be­cause it has been a dream of mine since I was small.”

He grew up play­ing foot­ball in Port Lin­coln – a seven-hour drive from Ade­laide – and then ju­nior footy when the fam­ily moved to Ade­laide. He also played bas­ket­ball and com­peted in ath­let­ics, so swim­ming was “just an­other sport”.

Then, at 15, he smashed Ian Thorpe’s 100-me­tre freestyle record. At 17, with 12 months of se­ri­ous train­ing, he made Aus­tralia’s Olympic team. Within months, he’d won gold.

Wil­son, 24, and Chalmers clearly sup­port each other, and not just on the rep­tile front. Chalmers missed the 2017 world cham­pi­onships fol­low­ing a heart op­er­a­tion for tachy­car­dia. While he’s re­cov­ered well,win­ning gold in the 200m freestyle at the Gold Coast Com­mon­wealth Games in April, and most re­cently the 100m freestyle at the Pan Pa­cific Cham­pi­onships, he ac­knowl­edges that he needs to stay on the ball.

Wil­son is, says Chalmers, a “morn­ing per­son”, who nudges him out of bed in the early hours for train­ing. The two full­time ath­letes, who count Adi­das among their spon­sors, help keep each other ac­count­able, from train­ing to eat­ing clean. And to­gether they’re dream­ing big out­side the pool: the cou­ple just launched Strive Swim Clin­ics in Ade­laide last week­end.

Wil­son has big Olympic dreams, too, af­ter leav­ing Rio with Olympic gold and sil­ver medals as a heat swim­mer in the 4 x 100m freestyle re­lay and in the 4 x 100m med­ley re­lay. She also fin­ished eighth in the 100m back­stroke – her first Olympic fi­nal. She’s aim­ing to make the Aus­tralian team again as a back­stro­ker.

“I have re­alised back­stroke is what I was born to do, and I have been train­ing a lot more back­stroke,” she says. “I am fo­cused on the world cham­pi­onships and get­ting back on the team.” She com­peted in 100m and 200m freestyle, and 100m back­stroke at the Aus­tralian Short Course ti­tles in Mel­bourne in Oc­to­ber. Mean­while, Chalmers swam in the 50m and 100m freestyle, and won the 200m.

While Chalmers slipped into the Rio Olympics as an un­known, if he makes the Tokyo team, he’ll be on ev­ery­one’s radar. But he in­sists not much has changed. “I think I am still the same swim­mer I was in Rio,” he says. “I re­alise that swim­ming is not my whole life. There’s a lot more out­side the pool I want to fo­cus on and do. I want to take that re­laxed at­ti­tude to the next Olympics and see how things go.”

Still, he’s not too re­laxed. “I know I haven’t achieved the best swim that I can achieve yet. I think that’s mo­ti­vat­ing me – to see how fast I can go and where I can get to.”

“I want to take a re­laxed at­ti­tude to the next Olympics”

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