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
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”