Olympic History: Rio 2016 (gold & silver), Tokyo 2020 (gold & bronze)
Year Born: 1994
State Born: QLD
When historians one day examine Australia’s extraordinary dominance of the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay event, it won’t just be the Emma McKeons and Cate Campbells that they focus on. Swimmers such as Madison Wilson too will figure prominently.
Six times over her career – at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, the 2015, 2019 and 2022 world championships and again at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games – Madison has played her part in ensuring Australia kept its amazing record in the event intact. Throw in the 2022 world short course titles in Melbourne at the end of 2022, and it is seven times she has been presented with the gold in the 400m freestyle relay.
True, Madi played a supporting role in each of those triumphs, swimming in the heats before surrendering her place to a more accomplished sprinter, but more than once Australia has been embarrassed by the depth of competitor it was able to put into this event.
At Tokyo, for instance, the quartet of Madison, Mollie O’Callaghan, Bronte Campbell and Meg Harris posted the fastest time in the preliminary round. But Wilson and O’Callaghan were in the stands cheering their team-mates on after Cate Campbell and McKeon were brought in for the final. Nonetheless, all six women received the Olympic gold.
As she grew up in Yeppoon, it would not have greatly surprised if Madi had decided to concentrate on netball or soccer instead, even though her grandparents owned the local swimming centre. But she broke her arm three times playing netball and eventually gave the sport away to focus more intently on swimming.
Her initial forte was backstroke, with Madi demonstrating her ability by finishing the 100m backstroke at the 2016 nationals just a smidgen behind 2015 world champion Emily Seebohm. Selected for the 2016 Rio Games, she made her Olympic debut in stunning fashion by finishing second in her heat before winning her semi-final. She went on to finish eighth in her first Olympic final.
But from the start in Rio, Madi demonstrated her worth to the Team by swimming in the heats of both the 400m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay, where Australia won gold and silver respectively.
As prolific as the 4x100m freestyle relay has been for her, it was in the 4x200m freestyle events that Madi really got into the thick of the action. At the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Madison swam in the final of the 800m relay, combining with Ariarne Titmus, Brianna Throssell and Emma McKeon to not only win gold but to smash the world record with a performance of 7.41.59. On this occasion, Leah Neale and Kiah Melverton served as the relay alternates.
Again, in Birmingham, Madison swam in the final of the 4x200m freestyle as Australia dominated its Commonwealth Games opponents, lowering its world record to 7.39.29 in the process.
Still, swimming is essentially a solo sport and Madi was gifted an individual swim when Emma McKeon opted to drop the 200m freestyle to concentrate on her other events in Tokyo. That proved a brilliant move for Emma and opened the door to Madi who had placed third in the 200m freestyle at trials and now moved alongside Ariarne Titmus as one of Australia’s two entrants in the race.
Madi swam just .2sec slower than she had at trials in qualifying third fastest in the heats in 1.55.87, quicker than Titmus and only half a second away from American legend Katie Ledecky. She moderated her speed in the semis and almost came to grief, qualifying in eighth spot for the final. But, through she improved her time, eighth would be her ultimate standing. Still, not bad for someone who had not even planned to swim the event.
Abd she would go on to achieve her goal of winning a medal entirely on her own when she placed third in the 200m freestyle at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022 behind Titmus and O’Callaghan, an all-Aussie trifecta.
Indeed, so totally did the Australian women rule the pool in the freestyle events at the Commonwealth Games that only Canadian Summer McIntosh’s silver in the 400m event disrupted the Dolphins total medal sweep from the 50m right up to the 800m. Not since the 1956 Olympics had Australia’s female swimmers shown such mastery of the freestyle races.