14/04/2024
Kiah Melverton 800m final

Kiah Melverton finished sixth in the 800m Freestyle final at Tokyo 2020. Photo: Australian Swim Dolphins/Instagram

Among a supportive Dolphins swim team, Kiah Melverton finished sixth on Olympic debut in Tokyo, but she'll be pushing for more in Paris 2024.

Among a strong and supportive Dolphins swim team, Olympic debutant Kiah Melverton made finals in both of her events, but two sixth placings have not satisfied the long-distance swimmer and she’ll be swimming for more in Paris 2024.  

Read Part 1

The Olympics is the pinnacle, it happens once every four years (five on this occasion) and the occasion wasn’t lost on Melverton. 

But the Olympics also takes a bit of luck, as Melverton recounts to The Inner Sanctum from her Howard Springs quarantine room.

“I was talking to one of the coaches on the bus… and he just said to me, ‘it’s almost a game of luck, the Olympics. Obviously, everyone trains hard, but if you can peak at this one point in every four years, that takes a bit of luck.’

“There’s people that have the highlight of their career, but it’s not in an Olympic year and you know, you’ve really got to time everything to be [at your best] at the Olympics,” she said.

Australian swimmers Maddy Gough, Kiah Melverton (centre) and Chelsea Hodges in front of the Olympic Rings in the Tokyo village. Photo: Kiah Melverton/Instagram

The pressure to perform at such a rare event could be incredibly overwhelming, but for Melverton it was all about compartmentalising that, pushing the emotion back and simply rolling one shoulder over and then the other.

“I think when you’re walking out behind the blocks for that final, heat, whatever it is, there is that sense of pressure that this is my one chance to perform and it’s every four years and you have to not let that pressure get to the front of your head.

“I’ve swum so many 800s in my life, I know how to swim 800 metres, all I have to do is get in and swim to this wall and back to that wall eight times,” she said.

“You’ve really got to break it down as simple as it is and not let that kind of pressure get to you.

“But at the same point, you want to be able to soak in that it’s the Olympics.”

800m is ‘like an extended sprint’

Before she even got in the pool for her main event, Melverton had swum 3000m at race-pace.

Her Olympic campaign wasn’t over and she had to switch her mindset to the 800m “sprint” – a race she is far more familiar with. 

For Melverton, the 800m is a race of “speed and power” and “almost like an extended sprint”.

“It might sound funny to sprinters hearing that and I don’t think it would make sense to them, but to me, that’s how I approach it. 

“You really have to switch on in that second and third hundred and really be on a fast pace and hold it and maintain it.” 

According to Melverton, it’s a competition of who wants to put themselves in the most pain. 

In Tokyo, the heats were at night and, as Melverton predicted, they were naturally producing faster qualifying times. She came third in her heat behind ROC’s Anastasiia Kirpichnikova and Australian teammate Ariarne Titmus with a time of 8:20.45 and in a fast heat, it was enough to qualify for the final.

“The heat swim at night, I went 8:20, which was, it was a second, maybe a second and a half off what I had done at trials, and trials was a big PB for me. 

“So, I was super happy with that. I was just happy to be back down at what I did at trials.”

https://twitter.com/7olympics/status/1420694041616949248

A day and a half later and it was onto the final. After a sixth place in the 1500m final, Melverton set herself the challenge of a personal best and contending for Bronze. 

“All I wanted to do in the finals was to swim a PB and I ended up swimming slower than the heat… the top four (qualifiers) end up going faster and the bottom four end up going slower. 

In the final, Melverton finished with a time of 8:22.25 and she was “slightly disappointed” with her time and performance across the pool. She was unable to really contest with the top half of the swimmers, despite coming home really strong.

“I knew if I’d been on my best, I would have been in that third or fourth position and if it came down to a race, I probably could have got my hand on the wall.

“But the first thing I said to my coach when I got out of the pool was, just wait for the day where I can get closer to the middle of the pool.”

Being fast enough in heats to feature in the middle lanes will be Melverton’s goal, as she looks ahead to the next three years of racing. 

“That’s something I can take away from it – being able to swim my own race even if I am on the outside – and really working on swimming well in the heats, so I can get myself in a good position for the final.”

Dolphins camp the place to be

Looking at the Dolphins camp, it appeared some changes had been made to make the group more cohesive, supportive and respectful in the pressure cooker that is an Olympic Games. 

Talking from her single dorm room in Darwin, after spending eight weeks living in her 35 teammates’ pockets, Melverton said there had been a shift and the team was the “best [she’s] ever been on”. 

Melverton looked to experienced team members for advice, as well as the young girls around her going through their first Games together. 

“We’ve definitely leant off each other, and there’s a lot of girls around. 

“Brianna Throssell, Arnie [Titmus] obviously, Abbey [Harkin], there’s a lot of girls that all kind of stuck together and we had each other’s back.

“Making sure that when you went up to the stands that there was someone there.

That camaraderie was felt most after Melverton’s 800m final. The team was there, embracing her and supporting her as she processed the race and her emotions.

“After my 800, I’ll admit I shed a few tears and I then went up to the stands and I had all these people reach out for me and cheer for me as soon as I was back up there. 

“It’s just walking back into that environment of people that love you and respect you as a person, regardless of how you swim. 

“I think that’s something the team did really well this year.”

One of the teammates she really looked to for advice and leant on throughout her Olympic campaign was Tamsin Cook.

Cook took a break from the pool after the 2016 Rio Olympics but returned to Tokyo to swim the 400m Freestyle, qualifying after just a few months of training.

The pair were roommates in Cairns for the training camp and this continued in Tokyo, the pair “making a lot of memories” in the village and up in the stand of the Olympic Pool.

The friendship with Cook was “vital” to Melverton’s Olympic experience.

Drive to be in Paris

The wait for Tokyo was a year longer than normal, but that only means the next Games are a year closer already. 

With the Commonwealth Games and two World Championships in between Tokyo and Paris, the turnaround will be quick for swimmers.

Her experience at a Covid-affected Games, and personally disappointing results, only motivates Melverton to keep swimming for another few years. 

“Going to this Olympics has just given me a lot of motivation and drive to want to be at the next one and do well at the next one.

“I think it’s the drive coming off this Olympics that I think will really push me to the next one and make me realise how much I want to be there.

“I’ve got people chasing me and so many people who want to be in the position that I am, so they’ll really keep me on my toes. 

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Beach and brunch post-quarantine

Melverton is now back in Queensland after her 14 days at the Howard Springs quarantine facility and straight to her favourite place, the beach.

“I’m definitely going to be having a break, spend some time at the beach – I think that’s the thing I’ve missed the most, the beach, and going to a café for breakfast.”

While Melverton might be back in the salty water, she’ll stay out of chlorine pools for “at least another two weeks”.

“I’m definitely going to have some more time out of the water, I think it’s important to mentally refresh and take some time; it’s going to be a big three years.”

Quarantine has been a challenge and coming down from the highs of an Olympic Games while alone in a room is not an easy experience, but it has given her time to reflect on her Olympic experience. 

“At the end of the day, sitting here reflecting for a week, I was sixth in the world and no one can take that away from me. 

“I am an Olympian and I can say I swam in two Olympic finals. 

“I think it’s all about putting things into perspective and it’s okay to be disappointed with it on the day, but a week after it I’m not disappointed at all.”

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