Australian swimmer Cate Campbell has hit out at “keyboard warriors” in an emotional open letter about the shame and harassment she experienced in the wake of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Campbell, 26, was the overwhelming favourite to take out the 100 metres freestyle final, but suffered a shock sixth placing.
She also finished in fifth place in the 50 metre event days later.
The swimmer described her performance at the time as the “greatest choke in Olympic history”.
In a letter published online on Wednesday, Campbell said it took her a long time to process what went wrong.
“You could not have been more ashamed of me than I was of myself,” she wrote.
“You could not [possibly] have judged me harsher than I was [and to an extent still am] judging myself.
“In saying that, I did feel your disappointment, I did feel your shame and I felt your judgement.
“For future reference, when you see someone choking, it’s not because they don’t care – it’s because they care too much.”
‘Poster girl for failure’
Campbell said coming back from Rio was a surreal experience.
“I went into the Games as one kind of role model and came out another a very different one … Australia’s poster girl for failure,” she wrote.
Campbell told ABC Radio Brisbane she struggled with the weight of the nation’s expectations and the backlash upon her return, which she described as “the worst side of society”.
“People would come up and say, ‘I bet on you, you lost me money’ – how do you respond to that?” Campbell said.
“Australians love winners – I felt like the only way I could endear myself to the Australian public was to come back with one of those shiny gold medals.
“It is tough when you’re expected to consistently be the best in the world year in and year out – it gradually and slowly does just eat in to your whole life.”
Campbell said writing the open letter was a cathartic experience and she had since been overwhelmed by the response.
“I’ve been contacted by athletes from all over the world, but also by normal human beings,” she said.
“I’m a much stronger person [since Rio], and I’ll be a person a lot longer than I’ll be a swimmer.”