Libby Trickett was a barrier breaker and medal winning machine, collecting 24 gold medals on the international stage during a glittering career that spanned Olympic, Commonwealth Games and world championship events.
With four Olympic gold medals at three consecutive Olympic Games, eight long course and seven short course world titles and five Commonwealth Games golds, Trickett is in rare company in Australian swimming.
Her feats in the pool will be celebrated tonight when Trickett is inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame as an athlete member for the sport of swimming.
Trickett experienced the highs and lows of international sport.
As Libby Lenton she burst onto the scene in 2003 when she won her first national title – breaking the Australian record in the 50m freestyle. Later that year she became the first Australian woman to break the 25-second barrier before winning the first of many international medals with two bronze at the world championships in Barcelona.
The following year at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 she joined Alice Mills, and Sport Australia Hall of Fame members Petria Thomas and Jodie Henry in setting a new world record to win Australia’s first 4x100m freestyle title in 48 years.
“My first race in my first Olympics and I came away with the world record and an Olympic gold medal so it doesn’t get much better than that in terms of starting an Olympic campaign,” Trickett recalls.
But things didn’t go exactly to plan. Going in to the 100m freestyle as world record holder, she missed the final – so watched the recent Rio Olympic Games with significant empathy for Australia’s Campbell sisters.
“What both Cate and Bronte experienced this year – I’ve been there and walked in their shoes – literally walked that road and it’s incredibly challenging and difficult and frustrating and upsetting and disappointing and all of those words but they’re the moments that define you as an athlete and define you as a person and ultimately you learn the most from those moments,” Trickett said.
“Those are things that make you grow, they force to you evolve and think differently and challenge the way that you do things – that’s the lesson that I learnt during my swimming career that I try to apply in life everyday now.”
“Hopefully it provides the platform to go on to to bigger and better things in the future,” Trickett says.
It’s a testament to her approach that Trickett did exactly that, albeit as she says, “I did finish second in Beijing in the freestyle, so not everything went to plan.”
At the 2005 world championships she won a debut individual world title in the 50m freestyle, whilst also collecting two relay gold medals (4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley) along with silver in the 100m butterfly and 4x200m freestyle.
She shone at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, winning five gold medals – with victories in the 50m and 100m freestyle and all three relays, including a world record 4x100m freestyle relay swim where her own split lowered the world record.
She went on to win five of Australia’s 12 gold medals in the 2006 world short course titles in Shanghai, earning her the female swimmer of the meet.
Melbourne was a happy hunting ground – at the 2007 world titles at Rod Laver Arena she replicated the Commonwealth Games feat snagging five gold medals.
Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics Australia had a new swimming name to follow, as Libby Lenton became Libby Trickett after marrying fellow Australian swimmer Luke Trickett.
In Beijing, she claimed her first individual Olympic gold medal – in the 100m butterfly – and then combined with Emily Seebohm, Sport Australia Hall of Fame member Liesel Jones and Jessicah Schipper to win the 4x100m medley relay gold in world record time. She again went in as world record holder in the 100m freestyle but was out touched for the gold medal after scrapping into the final. She came away from the Beijing Games with two gold, a silver and a bronze medal.
In reflecting on her achievements, Trickett feels it’s the Olympic gold medals that stand out, although breaking barriers was also nice… that and racing Michael Phelps.
“It’s really hard to go past Olympic gold medals – I think as swimmers that’s the pinnacle of our sport and is proved at every single Olympic year they are not that easy to come by so to do that both within relays and also as an individual is something I’m incredibly proud of.”
“Getting the opportunity to break some barriers in terms of records and times was nice. I had that opportunity a couple of times in both the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. Everyone would prefer an Olympic gold medal or world championship gold medal as they’re the things that stand the test of time but certainly the opportunity to have a bit of fun and know you were the fastest in the world – ever – is fun.”
“In terms of the most fun I ever had racing was the semi-final of the 100m freestyle at the Australian titles in 2004 where I broke my first world record that was a big thrill for me and probably the most fun. Racing Michael Phelps in 2007 and going unofficially under 53 seconds that was also really fun. I did it again, officially, but to be the first women to break 53 seconds was awesome and to do it against Michael Phelps was a real pleasure.”
Trickett swam at a golden time for Australian women and follows teammates Jodie Henry and Leisel Jones and Paralympian Priya Cooper as recent swimming inductees into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
“It’s a wonderful tradition that we are continuing and it’s testament to the fact that swimming for women in Australia has been incredibly dominant for a number of years now. To know I was part of such a wonderful period in Australian swimming is great and it’s also wonderful to see that tradition continuing with the likes of the Campbell sisters and the 4×1 relay over numerous Olympics now.”
Trickett retired in 2009, and made a comeback at the end of 2010.
At the Olympic Games in London in 2012, Trickett swam the heats of the 4x100m freestyle. With the Australian team going on to win the gold medal in the final she won the fourth Olympic gold medal of her career.
Trickett retired, for the final time in 2013, so Rio was the first Olympics she’d missed since Athens 12 years ago – did she miss it?
“Yep… 100%,” she laughed. “I think I spent the entire time telling my husband I could totally make a comeback for 2020. Post baby – it’s been done. He went along with it for a while because he knew it was a coping mechanism.”
Now a mother to Poppy (12 months) and with a part time marketing role in a start-up tech company, combined with studies in fitness and public speaking and ambassador roles, Trickett has no intention of putting the goggles back on.
“I was privileged to have swum for as long as I did and record the achievements that I was able to do throughout my swimming career and that’s what you work towards throughout your career but you don’t think about the other possibilities of other rewards and recognition. So I was blown away and to be up there with the likes of Dawn Fraser and the other wonderful icons of our sport.”
Libby Trickett OAM will be inducted to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Australian sport’s night of nights – the sold out 32nd Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner – presented by Etihad Airways, tonight, Thursday 13th October at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne
Established in 1985, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame plays a vital role in preserving and perpetuating Australia’s rich sporting heritage, whilst promoting the values of courage, sportsmanship, integrity, mateship, persistence, and excellence, all underpinned by generosity, modesty, pride and ambition.