Kyle Chalmers will defend his Olympic crown as he qualified in Adelaide overnight. Picture: Swimming Australia Twitter

As Tokyo draws closer, one of our own took to the stands to find out what being at an Olympic trial event is all about.

Bay five, row EE, seat 102. If you’re not a fan of heights or stairs then maybe this isn’t the spot for you but for me, it was perfect. I’m in the room and it’s anything but a typical Tuesday night – it’s the Olympic trials.

The story of how I got there goes back far further than me jumping online and buying a ticket to the 2021 Tokyo Olympic swimming trials at the South Australian Aquatic and Leisure Centre. Prior to the construction of the building, the state had been starved of high-level swimming for decades and for a memorable reason.

Adelaide’s redemption arc

In 1989, the Adelaide Aquatic Centre failed to uphold the standard expected of an elite sporting venue.

Glen Housman is a name many swimming fans may have forgotten. At the 1990 Australian Championships, as a 19-year-old, he broke the World Record for the 1500m freestyle event, or at least he should have.

A malfunction from the electronic timing system as he touched the wall deemed the time inadmissible in the court of world records, despite the fact he clearly finished ahead of the previous World Record set by Russian Vladimir Salnikov.

Housman went on to have a marvellous career, but he never got the credit he deserved for an unbelievable swim. From that point on, Adelaide was shunned from major swimming events, including a bid for the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

This hiatus lead to the campaign for and subsequently construction of a state-of-the-art swimming complex, located in the southern suburb of Marion, about 20 minutes from the city centre.

Fast forward 22 years and Adelaide is once again holding a qualification event, this time for the Olympics and up in row EE, I was giddy.

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The Olympics mean many different things to different people. For the media, it is a chance to give the high-level competition the respect it deserves and the opportunity to behold the world’s best athletes.

For the general population, it enables people to come together and support the country that holds a spot in their heart.

For the competitors and their families, though, it means more than any of us can comprehend.

Only by being in the room as these phenomenal athletes chased their Olympic dream was I able to somewhat grasp the gravity of the situation.

Sat next to me in seat 103 was a man related to one of the competitors. To my left in bay four was six rows of seats absolutely packed with what appeared to be an entire swimming club cheering on one of their own.

Neither of the competitors in question succeeded in their qualification attempt but the applause for the woman who came up to thank her loyal supporters was unlike any noise I thought I would experience.

Aussie records tumble as stars realise Olympic dream

It became clear from the very first event where Zac Stubblety-Cook broke the Commonwealth Record in the 200m breaststroke that the athletes were not about to hold back.

Multiple other Aussie records tumbled throughout the night, Jake Michel broke the SB14 100m breaststroke AR and Jasmine Greenwood did the same in the S10 100m freestyle.

Maddy Gough concluded the night in emphatic fashion, smashing the Australian record in the 1500m freestyle event with a time of 15:46.13.

A night like this obviously involves a sincere amount of jubilation, particularly for those that have their Olympic dreams realised as they book their ticket to Tokyo.

The majority of athletes who entered the pool throughout the Olympic trials don’t make it to the Olympics, though.

The sheer fact that they even made it to the trials is a remarkable achievement in itself and one that the common person can only marvel at. To get this far takes an incredible amount of skill and an even larger amount of dedication.

These people train day after day, year after year in an attempt to earn their way to the Olympic Games and their effort in itself is a remarkable achievement. However, in the heat of the moment it can be of little solace as the disappointment creeps in.

People power

What helps, though, is the public. I was surrounded by thousands of Aussie fans who wanted nothing more than to come out and support these athletes.

Whether they broke a record or missed their qualification time, there was a common understanding amongst the crowd that every single competitor deserved raucous applause and for good reason.

Most of the competitors, though obviously disappointed to miss out, walked away from the pool smiling and waving at an adoring crowd. As someone who normally attends events where one team is against another, the atmosphere was a breath of fresh air.

Everybody in that arena wanted every athlete to succeed.

I’ve been privileged enough at 23-years-old to have been to a number of incredible sporting events but no more than 10 minutes into my night at the Olympic trials, I knew that this experience would rank at the very top.

It was an atmosphere like no other and something I won’t soon forget. Bring on Tokyo.

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