During last year’s Tokyo Olympics, Ian Thorpe was asked whether Emma McKeon would win more medals than him. Thorpe, regarded as Australia’s greatest swimmer and a genuine superstar during his glory days, didn’t hesitate.
“She should win more medals than me,” he said on breakfast radio. “I don’t know what colour they’re going to be, though.”
Thorpe, famous for anchoring the Australians to Sydney Olympics glory and for his captivating races against fellow champions Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps, is an excellent judge. Not only did McKeon go on to eclipse Thorpe’s record haul of nine Olympic medals (McKeon has 11, five of them gold), but the 28-year-old from Wollongong has over the past week become the most successful Commonwealth Games athlete, ever.
“Super fish” McKeon swam her way to four gold, one silver and one bronze medal in Birmingham this year. This achievement came less than a year after she became Australia’s most successful Olympian and the first female swimmer in history to win seven or more Olympic medals at a single Olympic Games.
Her success is something for the history books, but how does Australia’s “golden GOAT” compare to the rest?
1. McKeon v Commonwealth Games swimmers
McKeon has dominated the pool at her three Commonwealth Games so far and now has 20 medals to her name. Her six this year were more than enough to propel her a comfortable five medals ahead of the athlete with the second-highest medal tally, Australian swimming legend Susie O’Neill.
Other nations don’t even come close, with the closest non-Australian contender – England’s James Guy – holding 10 total Commonwealth Games medals, half of McKeon’s haul.
McKeon entered the Games in Birmingham this year short of the record of most gold medals, which was jointly held by her fellow Australian swimmers O’Neill, Thorpe and Leisel Jones. she catapulted herself ahead and now boasts four more gold medals than the previous record-holders – and a whopping nine more than England’s Benjamin Proud, who has the most gold medals out of the other nations.
2. McKeon v gold-winning Commonwealth Games athletes
McKeon holds her own not only against other swimmers, but also against athletes competing in all other sports at the Games.
McKeon has won five more gold medals than the next most successful gold medallists in other disciplines on the list.
They include Canada’s diver Alexandre Despatie, who won nine, as well as India’s Jaspal Rana (shooting) and England’s Bill Hoskyns (fencing). You can see the full list below.
3. McKeon v total medal hauls at Commonwealth Games
McKeon doesn’t only have a haul of gold medals, although they make up the majority of her total.
The chart below tracks the total number of medals won at the Commonwealth Games since 1994 across different sports. McKeon has raked in a grand total of 20 medals, two more than the next three most highly decorated athletes.
She dominates in the gold, but sits around the average mark in bronze, with South Africa’s Chad le Clos winning seven across his four Games. Australian shooter Phillip Adams overtakes McKeon in the silver by eight.
4. McKeon v swimmers at other major championships
By now you may be wondering what happened to Phelps, the American swimmer who took the world by storm when he won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. Isn’t he swimming’s GOAT?
Quick answer: yes, he is. Phelps remains an icon of the pool, but how does McKeon track beside him and other swimmers beyond the Commonwealth Games?
It is hard to beat someone like Phelps, who has raked in nearly 100 medals in total over his swimming career. But McKeon holds her own despite the strength of the competition, winning an impressive total of 70 medals, not including her Commonwealth Games haul.
Phelps hung up his goggles soon after the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, whereas McKeon likely has a few more years of competition left.
The Australian may still have time to catch up to America’s own mega fish – or at least Ryan Lochte, who is only seven medals ahead – something that is especially likely if she continues hauling in the medals at the rate she has been in the past year.
5. McKeon v other record-breakers in the pool
It’s hopefully becoming clear how the “Wollongong wonder” rose to swimming supremacy. But McKeon doesn’t only win medals, she breaks records.
Although McKeon did not swim any record-breaking laps in Birmingham this year, she has smashed through 12 world records elsewhere, including three FINA long- and short-course titles, six Commonwealth Games records and three Olympic records.
Compared to other athletes in the water, McKeon tracks nicely, equalling Thorpe, doubling O’Neill and quadrupling Jones.
As for international comparisons, butterfly and backstroke powerhouse Lochte exceeds McKeon by seven records, mainly down to the fact that the majority of his FINA records were broken in the short course competitions. Beyond Lochte, McKeon powers ahead of every other swimmer – even the illustrious Phelps.
What makes her such a wonder in the water is the number of different events she swims in. Rather than having one or two pet events (as is the case for many swimmers), McKeon has won gold in 11 different events. This includes relays, but is still more than any other swimmer listed and thus emblematic of how accomplished she is across the board.
Get all the latest news from the Birmingham Commonwealth Games here. We’ll be live blogging the action from 4pm-10am daily.
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