Meet Australia’s golden girls setting Tokyo Olympics alight: Titmus, Campbell, McKeown and McKeon

Judging by the early evidence from the Tokyo Olympics, winning gold medals for Australia is very much women’s work.

Australia’s golden girls of the pool have already claimed three gold medals – and have their sights set on a record haul as the country heralds in a new era of swimming superstars. 

The team is led by Ariarne Titmus, 20, who stunned the world by beating America’s great Katie Ledecky to claim gold in the 400m freestyle on Monday. 

Her race came after sisters Bronte and Cate Campbell, Emma McKeon and Meg Harris claimed Australia’s third consecutive 4x100m relay crown on Sunday.

Kaylee McKeown, 20, made it three days of gold in a row for Australia, flying home first in the 100m backstroke on Tuesday and breaking the Olympic record.

And with Aussies ranked first in 13 different swimming races for the Games, officials are quietly confident they could be looking at a record meet.  

Australia’s golden girls have carred the country so far through the Tokyo Olympic Games, owning all three of the country’s gold medals and adding a world and Olympic record (pictured Emma McKeon)

Kaylee McKeown made it three days of gold in a row for the country, flying home to claim gold in an Olympic record in the 100m backstroke

Kaylee McKeown made it three days of gold in a row for the country, flying home to claim gold in an Olympic record in the 100m backstroke

The team is spearheaded by Ariarne Titmus, who catapulted herself into the international lexicon with a stunning win over America's greatest ever female swimmer Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle to claim gold on Monday

The team is spearheaded by Ariarne Titmus, who catapulted herself into the international lexicon with a stunning win over America’s greatest ever female swimmer Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle to claim gold on Monday

Ariarne Titmus 

The 20-year-old became an international household name on Monday, kicking clear of the great Ledecky to claim gold in the 400m after an astonishing final quarter of the race.

American broadcaster NBC pre-empted Titmus’ success, quietly sending a camera crew out to Brisbane to follow the prodigy’s preparation for the Olympics.

They were aware of her reputation and threat to the USA legend, word that hadn’t spread as far as Ledecky’s teammate Lilly King who proclaimed the USA would win every single individual swimming event – echoing the arrogance of Sydney 2000 Olympics bad guy Gary Hall Jnr.

Hall Jnr famously said USA’s 4×100 relay team ‘would smash Australia like guitars’ before Ian Thorpe hunted him down to win gold for the Aussies, break a world record and the team celebrate poolside by playing air guitars.

King quickly retracted her words after she saw the trial form of the young Aussie team, saying ‘she wasn’t trying to start anything up.’

Titmus meanwhile was going about her work, despite constantly being disparaged by her arch-rival Ledecky who would only refer to the young Aussie as ‘she’ in interviews and said ‘you don’t win medals in trials’ when told of her form.

Titmus celebrates the momentous win after beating US rival Katie Ledecky for the top gong in the 400m freestyle

Titmus celebrates the momentous win after beating US rival Katie Ledecky for the top gong in the 400m freestyle

Golden girl: Titmus beams as she holds up the gold medal for the women's 400m freestyle

Golden girl: Titmus beams as she holds up the gold medal for the women’s 400m freestyle

The Tasmania-born star and her family uplifted their roots from the island state when she was just 14 and already a triple age champion, with her father Steve saying they had to move north to chase her Olympic dream.  

‘Tasmania does not provide the structure for a swimmer who has reached Ariarne’s level and wants to explore their full potential,’ her dad said in 2015

‘This has been a very difficult and stressful decision for the whole family, because we love Tasmania and the people, but we have no choice. The decision is also not just based on Ariarne’s swimming, but long-term opportunities for the whole family.

‘The regrets in life are not what you did, but what you didn’t do and we want to give, not just Ariarne, but also her sister Mia, the best opportunities in life, not just in sport but for their future education and working careers.’

The move was a successful one, with Titmus adding gold in the 400, favourite for the 200 and to heavily contest for the 4x200m relay and 800m.

A beautiful embrace: Titmus was spotted hugging Boxall after the race while fist-bumping another coach

A beautiful embrace: Titmus was spotted hugging Boxall after the race while fist-bumping another coach 

Titmus celebrates the momentous win after beating US rival Katie Ledecky for the top gong in the 400m freestyle

Titmus celebrates the momentous win after beating US rival Katie Ledecky for the top gong in the 400m freestyle

20-year-old Kaylee McKeown has become Australia's latest gold medallist after storming home to win the 100m backstroke in Tokyo

20-year-old Kaylee McKeown has become Australia’s latest gold medallist after storming home to win the 100m backstroke in Tokyo

Kaylee McKeown

Like Titmus, McKeown won her first gold medal at just 20 this week, storming home in a tightly contested 100m backstroke final against two world class competitors.

McKeown sent shockwaves through the swimming community by smashing the world record in the Australian trials last month; the first world record to be broken since the pandemic. 

The young swimmer from Redcliffe in Queensland’s south-east became an immediate darling of Australia’s Olympic Games with refreshingly honest and open interviews, including screaming ‘f*ck yeah’ to her family back home following her win.

Her joy is tempered by the family tragedy inspiring her success; the loss of her father to brain cancer last year. 

Sholto McKeown passed away after a battle with brain cancer in August last year, with McKeown getting a tattoo as tribute saying ‘I’ll always be with you’ on her foot. 

‘I hope you’re proud, and I’ll keep doing you proud,’ she said after the win.   

Kaylee’s father was diagnosed with grade-four glioblastoma in June of 2018, undergoing round after round of chemotherapy hoping to see his daughters grow up and perhaps win an Olympic gold. 

‘I use it every day that I wake up,’ McKeown said of her dad last month. ‘I know it’s a privilege to be on this earth and walk and talk.’ 

The family have rallied around Kaylee in the lead up to the Tokyo Games, with her father dying before he could see his daughter win her first gold medal

The family have rallied around Kaylee in the lead up to the Tokyo Games, with her father dying before he could see his daughter win her first gold medal

McKeown's gold is Australia's third so far at the Tokyo Olympics after Ariarne Titmus and the women's 4x100m freestyle relay team

McKeown’s gold is Australia’s third so far at the Tokyo Olympics after Ariarne Titmus and the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team

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 sadly passed away aged 53 in August.

‘My dad always said he would love to have seen us swim at the 2020 Olympics together,’ McKeown told the Sydney Morning Herald

‘It’s amazing, we would have been able to race at the Olympics if it had gone ahead, then come home and be able to see him. He timed it perfectly… he had the run of his life to have potentially seen us race at the Olympics.

‘That’s my biggest goal, to tick that box off for him. He always wanted to see that and you never know what they are doing up above; whether or not he can see that. It’s always in the back of my mind. That’s something he wanted to see us achieve.’ 

She became the second McKeown daughter to take home a gold after sister Taylor won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the 200m breaststroke and a silver medal in the 4×100 medley relay at the 2016 Olympics.’ 

Her sister said while she doubts Kaylee, a proud Queenslander, will still be swimming at the Brisbane Olympics in 2032 she hopes she’ll be involved.

‘She will be the Emily Seebohm to the next Kaylee McKeown,’ Taylor said. 

Aussie swimming prodigy Kaylee McKeown has won her first ever gold medal, flying home to win the women's 100m backstroke

Aussie swimming prodigy Kaylee McKeown has won her first ever gold medal, flying home to win the women’s 100m backstroke

Canada's Kylie Masse held a strong lead heading into the 50m turn and was 0.19 seconds ahead of McKeown's world record time but the young Aussie stormed home to take gold

Canada’s Kylie Masse held a strong lead heading into the 50m turn and was 0.19 seconds ahead of McKeown’s world record time but the young Aussie stormed home to take gold

The Campbell sisters have been the gold standard in Australian swimming, with Cate debuting at 16 and boasting three gold medals while younger sister Bronte has added two herself

The Campbell sisters have been the gold standard in Australian swimming, with Cate debuting at 16 and boasting three gold medals while younger sister Bronte has added two herself

Cate and Bronte Campbell

The Campbell sisters have been the gold standard in Australian swimming, with Cate debuting at 16 and boasting three gold medals while younger sister Bronte has added two herself.

Cate, 29, claimed two bronze medals as a teenager at the Beijing Games and has since anchored the record-breaking 4×100 relay team which has won three-consecutive golds. 

Bronte, two years Cate’s junior, has followed in her big sisters footsteps, dominating the sprint formats and becoming a dual Olympic gold medallist in the relay team.

The pair, who grew up in Malawi, were naturally competitive, particularly as the younger Bronte began to shine.

‘When I was seven and Cate was nine, we went to a swim meet. I won every event in my age group and she won bronze in the backstroke,’ the younger sister told the Sydney Morning Herald.

‘In the days after that, I was being annoying and wearing all my medals around the house, so Cate stole them all and hid them under her bed. 

‘Mum sat her down and said, ”If you want medals, you have to work for them.” So she started training harder.’

Bronte, who says she is much more numbers driven than Cate who will often forget her times, says their differences brings them closer together and helps both their swimming.

The sisters will take more gold home after their relay triumph, with the possibility of individual medals to come.

The Campbell sisters have won two gold medals together as part of the women's 4x100m relay team at the Rio and now Tokyo Olmypics

The Campbell sisters have won two gold medals together as part of the women’s 4x100m relay team at the Rio and now Tokyo Olmypics

Australia's new sprint queen Emma McKeon looks most likely to dominate the short races in Tokyo, and is set to become the country's most decorated Olympian

Australia’s new sprint queen Emma McKeon looks most likely to dominate the short races in Tokyo, and is set to become the country’s most decorated Olympian

Emma McKeon

Australia’s new sprint queen Emma McKeon looks most likely to dominate the short races in Tokyo, and is set to become the country’s most decorated Olympian.

She is currently the fastest woman on earth at both the 50m and 100m freestyle, while also boasting the fourth-fastest butterfly time.

She won four medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but has the potential to take home seven in Tokyo, which would break the current record for any athlete held by East Germany’s Kristin Otto. 

McKeon appears a shoe-in to break the Australian record medal haul of five, jointly held by Shane Gould, Ian Thorpe, and Alicia Coutts.

She comes from a rich swimming bloodline, with father Ronald a four-time Commonwealth Champion and dual Olympian while mother Susie also swam at the Commonwealth Games.

McKeon nearly quit swimming altogether when she was 17 after missing out by one place for the 2012 London Olympics.

She said watching her older brother David and training partner qualify but her miss out killed her passion for the sport/

‘I was really upset when I missed that team—obviously because my brother made it, and our other training partner, Jarrod Poort, he made it as well in the 1500,’ she told Swimming World Magazine earlier this year.

I was really upset after that, and then I actually stopped swimming not long after the Trials. 

‘I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics, but I didn’t want to wait another four years, so I was like, ‘I’ll just stop’.’ 

She instead re-committed to swimming, dominating her first senior event the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, winning six medals including four golds.

McKeon is five medals off tying the great Ian Thorpe as Australia’s most successful Olympian with nine, but with seven potential chances she could easily be the first Aussie to hit double digits.

She won four medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but has the potential to take home seven in Tokyo, which would break the current record for any athlete held by East Germany's Kristin Otto

She won four medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but has the potential to take home seven in Tokyo, which would break the current record for any athlete held by East Germany’s Kristin Otto

McKeon is five medals off tying Ian Thorpe as Australia's most successful Olympian with nine, but with seven potential chances she could easily be the first Aussie to hit double digits

McKeon is five medals off tying Ian Thorpe as Australia’s most successful Olympian with nine, but with seven potential chances she could easily be the first Aussie to hit double digits

The 19-year-old Meg Harris, who already has a gold medal under her belt as a member of the relay team, comes from the famed Dean Boxall swim team (pictured with Emma McKeon)

The 19-year-old Meg Harris, who already has a gold medal under her belt as a member of the relay team, comes from the famed Dean Boxall swim team (pictured with Emma McKeon)

Meg Harris

The 19-year-old Meg Harris, who already has a gold medal under her belt as a member of the relay team, comes from the famed Dean Boxall swim team.

Like Boxall’s star student Titmus, Harris’ family moved to Brisbane to chase her dream, coming from Mackay in the state’s central-north.

Harris, who was elated to be a part of the team swimming in the relay final, is hard of hearing and could only marginally hear the Australian national anthem as it played to celebrate the girls’ achievement.

Channel 7 reporter Nathan Templeton revealed a touching moment where Bronte Campbell gave him a heads up when interviewing the teenage star.

‘Meg Harris wears hearing aides. She has trouble hearing,’ Templeton said during the broadcast.

‘Bronte came over to me and said, ‘Can you just give us a little heads up on what you are going to ask Meg because she might not be able to hear you’. 

She is looking to follow in the footsteps of other Mackay graduates including the legendary Susie O’Neill and Geoff Huegill.

Meg Harris celebrates her first gold medal with Emma McKeon and Bronte Campbell

Meg Harris celebrates her first gold medal with Emma McKeon and Bronte Campbell

The youngest member of Australia's swimming dream team and entire Olympic village 17-year-old Mollie O'Callaghan is the latest teenage gold medallist

The youngest member of Australia’s swimming dream team and entire Olympic village 17-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan is the latest teenage gold medallist

Mollie O’Callaghan

The youngest member of Australia’s swimming dream team and entire Olympic village 17-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan is the latest teenage gold medallist.

Another member of Boxall’s team and a schoolmate of Harris, O’Callaghan has the chance to become a permanent fixture of the team alongside the rest of its 20 and under brigade.

Nathan Templeton shared another touching moment from the close knit Australian swim team after the relax heats where O’Callaghan was approaching the microphone for the first time. 

‘The women’s relay team are just incredible. Last night, a nice little moment off camera. Mollie O’Callaghan, the 17-year-old who did a terrific lead-off leg, she looked a bit nervous as she came to walk up to the mic,’ the Channel 7 reporter said.

‘I noticed Bronte Campbell touch her on the arm and reassure her.’

Thorpe described the relay setup as ‘iconic’ and the platform being established and leadership being shown from the senior members should trickle down to the likes of Harris and O’Callaghan for several Olympics.              

Thorpe described the relay setup as 'iconic' and the platform being established and leadership being shown from the senior members should trickle down to the likes of Harris and O'Callaghan for several Olympics

Thorpe described the relay setup as ‘iconic’ and the platform being established and leadership being shown from the senior members should trickle down to the likes of Harris and O’Callaghan for several Olympics

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