Singer Cody Simpson was dominating attention ahead of Australia’s Olympic swimming trials until Maddie Groves withdrew from the six-day meet following a series of social media posts condemning “misogynistic perverts” in the sport.
Groves didn’t detail her allegations, which apparently surfaced last year, and Swimming Australia president Kieran Perkins said he was trying to contact the two-time Olympic silver medalist.
“We have had an ongoing dialogue that has been generated by Maddie through social media. We reached out with her in September 2020 to try to engage with her on these concerns she has,” Perkins told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Friday. “We have done it again now, and unfortunately at this point we have not been able to have a direct conversation with Maddie to understand exactly what her concerns are, who the people involved are, so that we can investigate it and deal with it.”
Groves, who won silver medals in the 200-meter butterfly and a relay at the 2016 Olympics, said she planned to delete her Twitter app after posting: “You can no longer exploit young women and girls, body shame or medically gaslight them and then expect them to represent you so you can earn your annual bonus.
Groves tweeted last year that she’d complained about a swimming worker and the way “they stare at me in my” swimsuit, and also expressed concerns about the anti-doping process and the treatment of athletes will long-term illnesses.
Former swimmer Perkins, a two-time Olympic 1,500-meter gold medalist, told ABC television it was important to ensure athletes in all sports are supported and protected, “and unfortunately we have just not been able to do that, because Maddie hasn’t engaged with us directly yet.”
Veteran swimmer Mitch Larkin was a teammate on the Rio squad with Groves, and said the claims “broke my heart a little bit.”
“I certainly want to find out and get to the bottom of it if she does have some issues,” Larkin said in Adelaide, South Australia, where the Olympic trials start Saturday. “We have got an athlete integrity officer and a wellbeing officer and she can certainly talk to them as well as sports psychs and really try and dig to the bottom of those issues.
“And if there is a culture issue, we would absolutely love to change it.”
Swimming is Australia’s highest-profile Olympic sport, regularly delivering the most medals for the country. So the trials are a big deal.
Musician, actor and wannabe Olympian Simpson was helping build the hype. He was a successful junior swimmer before moving to the U.S. in 2010 and making it on the music scene.
In a promotional video for a sponsor he joked about having a vastly different lifestyle now that he was focused on swimming again, saying he used to go to bed at 5 a.m. when he was a performer and now he wakes up at that hour to practice.
The 24-year-old Simpson has featured this month in the Amazon original series “Head Above Water” with Ian Thorpe, Australia’s most decorated swimmer and now his mentor. Simpson is seeded 13th on times in the 100-meter butterfly and 70th in the 100 freestyle, and concedes he probably is a better prospect for the 2024 Olympics. Heats for the 100 free start Tuesday.
Kyle Chalmers, the reigning Olympic champion in the 100 free, and Bronte Campbell are also part of the Head Above Water series, and are more likely to star in the pool.
Chalmers has had to overcome a serious shoulder injury which required surgery last November, but said he’d give himself full marks for fitness by the time he starts racing at the trials.
“I have to believe that I am in the best shape of my life when I race,” he said, “Otherwise I am going to have doubts.”
Another difference between this preparation and his buildup to Rio is Chalmers’ profile.
“Leading into Rio . . . I was able to fly under the radar no matter what,” he said. “Whereas now, I have people taking photos of me all the time or asking for signatures, sponsorship commitments, the documentary — the list goes on of things I am doing different.”
With two Olympic spots up for grabs in the women’s 100 freestyle, Campbell knows her competition well. Just making the Australian team in this event is like making an Olympic final.
She’ll be competing against her sister, Cate, and Emma McKeon, who have recorded the fastest times this year.
“I have got to find a way to beat at least one of them,” she said.
The Australian team for Tokyo will be announced Thursday on the final night of the trials in Adelaide.
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