Event: 200m freestyle
Olympic History: Tokyo 2020 (bronze)
Highlights: Bronze medal at Tokyo 2020. Winning 4 medals at the 2019 Junior World Championships
Club: Rackley Swim Team
Year Born: 2002
State Born: Hong Kong
In the ultra-competitive world of men’s middle distance freestyle, Thomas Neill stands out as a swimmer to watch.
The Damien Jones-coached Rackley swimmer stunningly came to the fore at the 2019 Australian age titles when he won gold in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. That feat not surprisingly earned him a place on the Australian Team for the junior world titles in Budapest where he again got busy, claiming silvers in the 400m and 1500m, the bronze in the 800m and also in the 4x200m freestyle relay.
Nor did he take long in answering the question of whether he could hold his own in open competition against the men, stepping up at the 2021 Australian championships to claim gold in the 800m freestyle and silver in the 400m freestyle. He was just touched out for a medal in the 200m freestyle.
Come the Olympic trials in Adelaide he was ready to race and this time the touchpads did him a favour – of kinds. He came in third in the 200m freestyle final in 1.45.70 to clinch a certain spot in the 4x200m freestyle relay, which meant that he would be going to Tokyo. But his locking was only .22sec short of the winner Kyle Chalmers, and just .15sec away from second placegetter Elijah Winnington. Seemingly he would not be getting an individual swim in Tokyo but that all changed when Kyle Chalmers decided to concentrate his efforts elsewhere.
In Tokyo, Thomas cranked out close to a pb in the heats to qualify eighth fastest for the semi-finals in 1.45.81. But there his dream run ended when he placed ninth overall, missing the final by just .03sec.
Still, it was all upside for Thomas who had expected only to swim the 4x200m freestyle relay. With his confidence sky-high, he was assigned the anchor leg role that usually was entrusted to Chalmers. But he rose to the challenge, unleashing a 1.4474 split that proved the fastest time of the four Australians – Alexander Graham led off in 1.46.00, followed by Chalmers who split 1.45.35 and Zac Incerti, 1.45.75 – to see Australia home to the bronze behind Great Britain and the Russians.
Thomas bypassed the major meets of 2022, the Budapest world championships and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, to concentrate on his degree in Advanced Business (Honours) at the University of Queensland, but he did venture to Melbourne for the world short course titles at the end of the year.
There he won three silvers, in the 400m freestyle and the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays.
With Cate Campbell joining Rackley in her bid to go to a fifth Olympics in Paris in 2024, Thomas won’t be lacking in motivated training partners as he attempts to secure his second Olympic spot.