Emma McKeon in heartbreaking scenes as Shayna Jack completes swimming redemption

McKeon won’t get the chance to defend her Olympic 100m freestyle title at Paris.

Australia's most successful Olympian, Emma McKeon, has been dealt a heartbreaking blow at the Australian swimming trials as she failed to qualify for the 100m freestyle at the Paris Olympics. Earlier this week Australia's queen of the pool made history as she became the first woman to qualify for the Aussie swim team aged in their 30s since Lisa Curry in 1992.

But on Friday night she was upstaged by the next generation of female swimmers in the 100m freestyle final finishing sixth, meaning she won't be able to defend her 100m freestyle title from Tokyo. Mollie O’Callaghan won in 52.33sec and Shayna Jack was second in 52.72 - qualifying for her first-ever individual Olympic event.

Emma McKeon has been dealt a heartbreaking blow at the Australian swimming trials as she failed to qualify for the 100m freestyle at Paris, with Shayna Jack finishing ahead of her and booking her place in her first individual Olympic Games event. Image: Getty
Emma McKeon has been dealt a heartbreaking blow at the Australian swimming trials as she failed to qualify for the 100m freestyle at Paris, with Shayna Jack finishing ahead of her and booking her place in her first individual Olympic Games event. Image: Getty

Incredibly seven of the eight swimmers in Friday's 100m final were under the qualifying time but only the top two can swim the event individually in Paris. Meg Harris (52.97), Bronte Campbell (53.10), Olivia Wunsch (53.17) and McKeon (53.33) rounded out the top six that will be part of the 4x100m freestyle relay team - a team McKeon was part of in the gold medal wins in Rio and Tokyo

But McKeon, who won gold in Tokyo in 51.96, won’t be able to defend her individual Olympic crown as she conceded post-race that her body failed her in the final. “I mean I always wanted to be part of the 100m free in Paris," McKeon told reporters.

Australia's Emma McKeon celebrates after winning the Women's 100m Butterfly Final during the Australian Swimming Trials at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre on June 10, 2024. (Photo by David GRAY / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)
Earlier this week Emma McKeon booked her spot in Paris.

"I definitely thought I was capable but my body and shoulders probably haven't held up as well as I would have wanted to in the prep. I definitely want to be part of that relay. Obviously disappointed, you look at the depth and it’s amazing."

In another signal of the changing of the swimming guard, Cate Campbell failed to qualify for the 4x100m freestyle relay. Campbell was a key member of the all-conquering team that won gold in London, Rio and Tokyo and broke the world record on several occasions. But Campbell missed the final by one-hundredth of a second, leaving her quest for a record fifth Olympics down to the 50m freestyle.

Shayna Jack's redemption story complete

Heartbreak for McKeon and Campbell, however, meant ecstasy for Jack as she qualified for her first-ever individual swim at the Olympics. The 25-year-old was ruled out of Tokyo after initially being hit with a four-year doping ban after testing positive for a banned substance. But the suspension was cut in half on appeal after it was found she didn't knowingly take the drug Ligandrol.

Jack returned to the Australian team at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and has taken out medals in the last two world championships but Olympic qualification was the next step in her swimming redemption story. And post-race Jack was in tears on the pool deck, breaking down and embracing coach Dean Boxall after speaking to the media.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 12: Ariarne Titmus of Queensland is congratulated by Shayna Jack of Queensland after winning the Women’s 200m Freestyle Final in a new world record time of 1:52.23 during the 2024 Australian Swimming Trials at Brisbane Aquatic Centre on June 12, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Ariarne Titmus is congratulared by Shayna Jack after winning the women's 200m freestyle final.

“I’ve said to myself I have nothing to prove,” Jack told reporters. "I’ve always thought of this moment. Touching that wall before I turned around I took a moment before turning around to say to myself, ‘I’ve done everything. I exhausted all efforts in that 100’.

"It’s one of those things every little girl dreams of and I’ve always dreamt of representing my country at the Olympics, especially in the individual events. As much as it’s always a privilege to race in those relays, I love to be that relay golden girl, but I really do want to represent my country in the 100m freestyle and now I get to.

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"It’s about using motivation from everybody who ever doubted me. Knowing I reached points of absolute despair and not knowing whether I even wanted to return to the sport. It’s just happiness. I’m just so proud of myself and I couldn’t have done it without so many people. It’s just pride for myself and pride that I get to prove to everybody that I deserve to be here and this is what I was born for."