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Olympic star Cate Campbell makes claims about Australian swimming’s obsession with ‘being skinny’

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Swimming champion Cate Campbell has claimed the sport is so obsessed with weight female pool stars were told to eat off smaller plates and publicly scolded for gaining only a few hundred grams.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist spoke of the sport’s focus on ‘being skinny’ in her new book Sister Secrets: Life Lessons from the Pool to the Podium.

The 29-year-old claimed female swimmers competing for Australia at her first Olympics in Beijing underwent weekly weigh-ins and were ‘admonished’ in front of their teammates for minor weight gains. 

Cate Campbell, 29, has claimed Australia's female pool stars were told to eat off smaller plates and publicly scolded for gaining only a few hundred grams in a new book

Cate Campbell, 29, has claimed Australia’s female pool stars were told to eat off smaller plates and publicly scolded for gaining only a few hundred grams in a new book

‘On my first Olympic team in 2008, all the girls were specifically told to use smaller plates at dinner so we wouldn’t overeat,’ she said in an extract from the book seen by The Sunday Telegraph.

‘Swimmers in other programs were subjected to weekly weigh-ins – in front of their entire squads – and publicly admonished if they gained a few hundred grams.

‘The general consensus from most of the male coaches was: the skinnier the better. Some of this mindset had begun to rub off on me.’

The claims comes just five months after Commonwealth Games gold medallist and academic Dr Jenny McMahon lifted the lid on the ‘toxic and dysfunctional’ culture at the sport’s elite level. 

One swimmer claimed she became anorexic and had to be taken to hospital after being body-shamed by an Olympic coach. 

A Swimming Australia spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia on Friday the organisation was working on improving communication between coaches and athletes.

‘We continue to work with our network of coaches and athlete leaders on developing better ways of coaching and communicating with our athletes to enable them to perform at the highest level,’ the spokeswoman said.

Campbell meanwhile told last month how she held off getting medical help for her depression as she trained for the Tokyo Games.  

Campbell (right) last month opened up about her battle with depression in a candid Instagram post

Campbell (right) last month opened up about her battle with depression in a candid Instagram post 

Campbell’s (pictured) claims comes just five months after Commonwealth Games gold medallist and academic Dr Jenny McMahon lifted the lid on the ‘toxic and dysfunctional’ culture at the sport’s elite level

The 29-year-old opened up about her depression diagnosis last year, revealing she only reached out for professional health four weeks out from her fourth Olympics

Campbell spoke candidly of the news via Instagram, hoping her story would encourage more conversations around mental health struggles. 

‘In July 2020 I was diagnosed with depression, in June 2021 — four weeks before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, I finally admitted I needed some medical help, and I am so grateful I did,’ she wrote.

‘Mental health is not a sign of weakness. It does not discriminate. It is very real, and most of us will face it at some point in our lives.’   

Ms Campbell, who has won eight Olympic medals, said she would have sought out help earlier than she did if conversations about mental health were more common. 

Campbell (pictured) claimed female swimmers competing for Australia at her first Olympics in Beijing underwent weekly weigh-ins and were ‘publicly admonished’ for minor weight gains 

‘So I am sharing my story in the hopes it will prompt a conversation in your household, dispel a stigma, or encourage you to be a bit kinder to the person next to you,’ she continued.

‘I still struggle to not feel shame around my mental health, so please be kind.’

Campbell elaborated on her experience in an intimate first-person essay published to Mamamia that detailed her struggles and inner demons. 

‘It was like my brain transformed into a dark vortex, sucking me in. While I was trapped in the deep, inky well, neon words flashed before my eyes. They said: ‘You’re weak’. ‘You should be able to get over this’. ‘You’re pathetic’. ‘You’re better than this’. ‘Your life is good’. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ she wrote.

‘It was a deep, unending, unbearable sadness. On a scale I had not experienced previously — and one which I would have scorned prior to my diagnosis. The weight of it crushed me.’  

Campbell wrote she was treated for depression just four week out from the Tokyo Games in an Instagram post (pictured)

Campbell wrote she was treated for depression just four week out from the Tokyo Games in an Instagram post (pictured)

Eventually the swimming star began seeing a clinical psychologist but continued to struggle with self-confidence as training for the Tokyo Games ramped up.

She described reaching the Olympic trials and becoming ‘paralysed by an overwhelming sense of impending doom’ but still managed to secure her place.

Overcome with fear and emotion in lead up to Japan, Campbell decided to seek help from a GP and began taking medication to treat her anxiety and depression.

Despite admitting she initially believed opting for medication was ‘the easy way out’, the swimmer began to notice positive changes and started ‘thinking more clearly’. 

Campbell later went on to take out gold in the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay team and 4×100 medley relay team at the Tokyo Olympics. 

Her stellar performance also saw her take home an individual bronze medal in the 100m freestyle race. 



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