Emily Seebohm (5 June, 1992) is an Australian backstroke, freestyle, butterfly, and IM swimmer that has exploded on to the international swimming scene with the potential to become one of the world’s leading aquatic all-rounders.
Emily first emerged as a name for the future when she was just 14, winning four gold medals (100m and 200m backstroke, 200m freestyle, and 200m IM) and two silvers (50m and 100m freestyle) at the 2006 Australian Age Championships in Sydney. The following year, while still 14, she tied for first place in the 100m backstroke at the 2007 Australian Championships, and also picked up third place in the 50m backstroke. These performances qualified Emily for the FINA World Championships the same year in Melbourne, where she placed fourth in the 100m backstroke (after recording the fastest qualifying time), and became the youngest Australian to win a world championship title as a member of the world record-breaking 4x100m medley relay team.
As far as defining moments go, however, March of 2008 proved to be a breakthrough month, as Emily shattered record after record. First she broke the Commonwealth and Australian records in 50m backstroke with a time of 28.10s (just one hundredth of a second outside Li Yang’s world record at the time), then two weeks later at the Australian Championships she broke the newly-established world record in a time of 27.95s (only to have her new mark broken the following day). In the 100m backstroke at the same meet, she became the first Australian to break the one-minute barrier, swimming 59.78 and 59.59 in the semi-final and final respectively, in the process gaining selection as the youngest member of the Australian swim team for the Summer Olympics. Five months later as a 16-year-old in Beijing, she was a member of the gold medal, world record-breaking 4x100m medley relay team (3:52.69).
In 2009, having won the 100m backstroke and placing second in the 50m backstroke at the Australian Championships, Emily proceeded to the World Championships in Rome, where she earned a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke, and a silver in the 4x100m medley relay. Barely a week later, she broke the world record in the 100m IM at the 2009 Australian Short Course Championships (58.54s).
If anything, Emily’s year in 2010 was even more impressive than 2009 and 2008. At the Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, California, she won gold medals in the 100m backstroke (in a championship record time of 59.45s, defeating Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin in the process) and 200m IM (beating world champion and record holder Ariana Kukors), and silvers in 50m butterfly, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay, and 100m freestyle (her first attempt at the event at international level). Later in the year she left the Commonwealth Games in Delhi with 8 medals from 8 events – gold for 100m backstroke, 4x100m freestyle, and 4x100m medley; silver in 100m freestyle and 200m IM; and bronze for 50m butterfly, 50m backstroke, and 200m backstroke.
Emily’s preparations for the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai have been hampered by bouts of swine flu – for which she was hospitalized, and which caused her to collapse at the Australian Championships – and then tonsillitis just as she was getting back into the pool. It prompted her to scale back on the events she was chasing, but she did qualify for her favourite, the 100m backstroke.
Emily was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2009, the youngest ever to receive the honour, and has been selected for the BBC series World Olympic Dreams, which follows the preparations of various athletes towards the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Emily Seebohm is noticeable, and it’s not just from her swimming results. She’s lively, has an infectious laugh, sports colourful fingernails and contact lenses, and is a fun-loving teenager. As a combination, you can’t miss her. Confident but not brash, competitive but ever ready to congratulate her rivals when she doesn’t win, her promise in the pool – not to mention the incredible results she already has under her belt – has the potential to turn her into the next biggest thing in Australian women’s swimming.
It’s a moniker that she wears comfortably, but since she’s still a bubbly teenager perhaps she’s just living and loving what life is dishing up for her, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. For their part, her biggest fans – her parents – still have to pinch themselves to make sure they’re not dreaming when they watch her at the world’s premier meets. They’re the most important influence in her life, and the reason she believes she is doing so well so early in her career. She may have inherited some of her sporting ability from father John, but the former Australian rules ‘footy’ player confesses he couldn’t swim if his life depended on it. Mom Karen is a former representative netball player and a swimming teacher, so perhaps it’s that side of her genetic heritage that Emily’s affinity for the water comes in. In fact, she’s qualified swim teacher in her time off, so some of that maternal influence is certainly rubbing off. Her competitiveness? Having two older brothers helps, since everything was a race with them when she was growing up.
But to think that a childhood with three brothers would subdue her feminine side would be a mistake. She refers to herself as ‘a girlie girl’, and gets up early enough before training to put on makeup and her colourful nails. With aspirations to become a make up artist or interior designer , she takes courses to get qualified so that she can have a life other than swimming at some point in the future. Her feminine proclivities have, however, caused her problems in the past, when her fake nails ripped holes in her swimsuit back in the days when the hi-tech full body suits were still ‘legal’. In one case, she had to swim an important race with a gaping hole in her suit, the torn piece flapping against her body.
Her lively teenage spirit hasn’t always worked in her favour, however. At the Beijing Olympics, on the eve of her the finals of the medley relay, she left the Olympic village to go and buy a bicycle and ride it back to her quarters. When the coaches found out, they were furious, and threatened to leave her out of the race next day. However, they relented and she ended up swimming her best race of the Olympics, perhaps as a result of a mixture of teenage guilt, fear, and relief.
Coach Matt Brown believes that while she is already strong, she still has some way to go before reaching her peak. For all her current and future rivals, that spells trouble, and for them the sound of her infectious laughter ringing out from the poolside could well be the precursor to watching her climb the biggest podium of them all, at the London Olympics in 2012.