Let’s get things straight: Emma McKeon is one of Australia’s most celebrated athletes for good reason. The 28-year-old Wollongong-born swimmer has just cemented herself in Commonwealth Games history as the most successful athlete to ever compete. She’s just brought home her 11th gold medal in the women’s 50m freestyle — and that’s not even mentioning that she’s our most decorated Olympian; McKeon has nabbed 11 medals there so far.
So why, with all that in mind, am I fascinated by her love life?
McKeon is currently dating Cody Simpson — yes, the Aussie pop singer-turned-swimmer who has Miley Cyrus, Gigi Hadid and Kylie Jenner on his list of ex-girlfriends. Rumours about the pair’s relationship began in May this year and by early July, they were Instagram official.
“A brief rendezvous in Barcelona with my love,” read his caption. “Monet’s Water Lilies,” read hers.
“I adore them as a couple and they're lovely friends to boot. She's a few years older — her maturity and cool head are the sorts of qualities Cody adores in a woman,” Simpsons’ mum Angie shares. “They're two beautiful souls who fit together so well. With those gorgeous smiles, they're like a couple of Cheshire cats — as a mum, that makes me so happy.”
The honeymoon phase of the relationship has been short-lived, with the pair drawing a lot of mixed reactions from fans and viewers. “I will fucking flip the second someone refers to Olympic swimmer Emma McKeon as ‘Cody Simpson's girlfriend’,” reads one Tweet. “This girl don’t top Miley,” reads one comment on Cody’s Instagram post.
To make matters more complicated, McKeon’s ex is Kyle Chalmers, a fellow Australian swimming star. Ever since rumours started swirling around Simpson and McKeon, Chalmers has unwittingly been pulled into this so-called ‘love triangle’. The barrage of “fake storylines” has caused Chalmers to admit his mental health is at “rock bottom”.
“I don’t swim for this, I didn’t get into the sport to have to deal with this. I swim to inspire and I swim because I love my sport and it gives me purpose. This could end my time in swimming, I hope you are all aware,” he wrote on Instagram.
There have been media reports touting an icy, awkward relationship between Chalmers and his ex and her new boyfriend — everything from standing at a distance from one another to supposedly not wishing each other congratulations has been used as fuel for this fire.
Don’t get me wrong — I love a celebrity romance story. What I don’t love is this. Sports journalism is being reduced to tabloid fodder despite Chalmers repeatedly speaking out about his uncomfortableness with this line of questioning. Of course, Chalmers reached his “breaking point,” how forgiving would we be if we were constantly being interrogated about our ex’s new beau?
Yes, I care about McKeon’s blossoming relationship with Simpson; I want to see them hanging out with the Biebers, to watch them travelling around the world, for Simpson to write a song about his “little mermaid,” as she’s affectionately known.
For McKeon, I can’t imagine the frustration of having “boyfriend” be the first Google search suggestion after your name (the first mention of sport sits at spot six).
It’s natural for people to be curious about celebrities’ love lives, that fact hasn’t changed for centuries. It shouldn’t be something that’s shamed — in fact, as someone not interested in sport, hearing about Simpson and McKeon’s couple status actually introduced me to McKeon’s thriving sports career. This can serve as a toe dip into the sports world, a place that can be intimidating for non-sportspeople like myself.
Take a look at the WAGs industrial complex — our fascination with sportspeople’s relationships runs deep and holds great pull power, too.
Besides, our interest in these wives and girlfriends almost never negates the successes of their sports star partners (perhaps even boosts our interest in them). In other industries, fawning over partners is standard. We’ve been conditioned to view the relationships of models, actors and musicians as communal gossip.
For McKeon, I can’t imagine the frustration of having “boyfriend” be the first Google search suggestion after your name (the first mention of sport sits at spot six). First and foremost, she is a sportswoman, an Olympic swimmer, a world-record holder. I’m still invested in her love life — and as long as I recognise that that is one of the least interesting things about her, I’ll continue to lap up any Instagram posts she and her boyfriend share.