Simpson stoked to ‘shoot the s***’ with swimming royalty
He's been rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrities for years, but Cody Simpson says he's never been more starstruck than this week when he came face-to-face with Australia's best swimmers at the national championships on the Gold Coast.
Luckily for him, his superfit swim chums were not shy about approaching the Aussie pop star, whose bid to make the Australian Olympic team has been the talk of the national championships.
This is no publicity stunt.
The ex-boyfriend of Miley Cyrus was a childhood swim star before he turned to music and still cuts through the water like a killer shark.
Just nine months into his comeback, and less than a week after he completed quarantine after jetting back to Australia from the United States - Simpson defied the odds to make the final in 50 metres butterfly - finishing ninth in an eye-popping 24.79 seconds.
"To make an open final in the first go around is pretty cool, I'll keep improving as we go. There's a long way to go but I've come a long way in a short amount of time," he said.
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"I'm still trying to figure out how to put it all together, still a little rusty out of quarantine.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to race this week but figured I'd do the 50m just to start swinging the arms over and see how it goes.
"I was happy to make a final in my first week back. That's good enough for me at the moment."
Simpson's comeback has got everyone in swimming glued to what he does next.
Among the guests in the VIP box on Sunday to watch him were Australia's richest woman Gina Rinehart, International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates and living legend Dawn Fraser.
Before his race, Cody was spotted in conversation with Mitch Larkin, and later admitted he was blown away by the chance to "shoot the s***" with Australia's biggest swim stars.
"It's amazing, just to be around guys that I've watched race over the last five or 10 years when I haven't been in, just keeping up as a swimming fan myself. Now to be two lanes over from one of them, it's surreal," Simpson said.
"Just trying to shoot the s*** before it and not get in my head too much.
"The fact that guys I'm racing I've looked up to for a long time.
"I'm just glad to be here and be in the mix a few months before June. I'm excited to see what happens with some more training under my belt."
The odds are stacked against Simpson making the team for Tokyo, but it's not an impossible dream.
To be selected he needs to finish in the top two at the Australian trials, taking place at Adelaide in June, and better 51.70 secs for 100m butterfly, his preferred event.
Regardless of whether he makes the team or not, Swimming Australia should be thanking their lucky stars he's returned to the sport.
The 24-year-old says he's committed to the long haul and planning to train through to Paris 2024 and with more than 10 million followers on social media he's already generated a lifetime of attention on a sport that rarely gets noticed out of the Olympics.
"I knew there would be a certain amount of people that otherwise wouldn't have watched the sport that may do now because they have followed me in other endeavours and stuff like that," he said.
"Me, just being a lifelong swimmer and fan of swimming, if I can bring more eyeballs to the sport, if that's all I do in the next three or four years, that's good enough for me.
"It's my favourite sport and it deserves more global recognition. The more people and personalities involved, it can only help with that."
HORTON'S BIGGEST THREAT MAY NO LONGER BE SUN YANG
Forget Sun Yang, the biggest threat to Mack Horton's Olympic title defence is coming from closer to home this time.
A proven big race performer whenever the pressure is on, Horton hasn't posted any fast times this season because he's still in heavy training, clocking up to 70 kilometres a week in practice.
Horton and his coach are confident he will be ready when it matters at the Australian Olympic trials in Adelaide in June but he will have to because he's just been put on notice he'll need to bring his A-Game just to make the team.
The next generation of Australian middle distance swimmers are already making big waves, with former junior world champion Elijah Winnington currently sitting at the top of the world rankings in 400m freestyle, the event Horton won in Rio.
Just 20 and also in heavy training, Winnington won his second senior Australian title at the Gold Coast on Saturday in 3min 45.69sec, well under the Olympic qualifying time, though he was far from satisfied.
Now training under master coach Dean Boxall, Winnington has already posted two quicker times this season so was hoping to go even faster because he knows how hard it will be to get one of the two spots in the event for Tokyo.
"Australia's 400m freestyle is probably one of the most hotly contested races right now, there's four of us who can go under the Olympic qualifying time which is pretty much unheard of," Winnington said.
"So first and foremost, it's just about getting on the team. With being an Australian athlete, if you can get on the team in a race like this you are in medal contention anyway so the first goal is get my ticket for Tokyo."
Winnington is in no doubt Horton will be ready when the trials roll around though he isn't the only threat to the reigning champion.
The runner-up at the Australian championships was Thomas Neill, who is just 18 and surging up the rankings, while Commonwealth Games 1500m champion Jack McLoughlin was fourth.
"He (Horton) is the reigning Olympic champion, he had a sluggish meet last year at world trials and then gets a world silver medal behind Sun Yang so the guy can definitely swim so you can't count him out," Winnington said.
"He's obviously in his work right now but that's behind closed doors so I can't really worry about that but I have to be prepared that he will be on, come Olympic trials."
Winnington's training partner Ariarne Titmus cruised to victory in the women's 400m final, touching the wall in 4min 01.34, a time that only her great American rival Katie Ledecky has bettered in the past year.
Titmus is still easing her way back after missing three months of critical training because of a shoulder injury and is still trying to remember how to pace herself after she swam most of the eight-lap race alone because none of her rivals could keep up with her.
"That's something I had forgotten a little bit so I was nervous coming into this race knowing whether I was going out hard enough," Titmus said.
"I had kind of lost a little bit of that confidence to go hard especially with my injury but I feel like I got that back today.
"Racing well gives you the biggest confidence going into the next big meet so I'm happy I've kind of ticked off what I needed to do for those races."
Originally published as Simpson stoked to 'shoot the s***' with swimming royalty