Feature | Swimming

Advised by Michael Phelps and "free from expectation", pop star Cody Simpson eyes Games

Fame, world tours, and Broadway came early for the Australian singer. Now he has Phelps and Ian Thorpe in his corner with Tokyo 2020 in his sights.

By Ken Browne ·

Cody Simpson is swapping life in one fast lane for another.

At 13, the Australian was spotted singing on YouTube and fame quickly followed.

Skip forward 10 years and he's recorded three albums, racked up millions of listens and views online, toured the world, worked with Flo Rida and friend Justin Bieber, starred on Broadway, been on Dancing With the Stars, and had a high-profile relationship with Miley Cyrus.

Now he's going back to the dream he had before it all began: swimming.

Queenslander Simpson was a national champion as a boy and now has Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe in his corner as he plans to go from global singing sensation to global swimming sensation.

He's already qualified for the Australian Olympic trials meaning he could potentially compete at this summer's Tokyo 2020 Games.

And Simpson, who turns 24 in January, says he's committed to going for Paris 2024.

Cody Simpson to swim at Tokyo 2020?

Swimming is in Simpson's blood with his parents, Brad and Angie, both champion breaststrokers.

His mother also worked with the women's Australian team before the family moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to support their son's musical career.

Simpson showed his natural ability when he was invited at the last minute to a meet in San Diego on 13 December.

Despite not swimming competitively in a 50m pool for a decade, he clocked 54.9s for the 100m butterfly, comfortably inside the Australian Olympic trials qualifying benchmark of 56.87s.

He's a natural.

"It's crazy," says Simpson to his coach Brett Hawke on two-time Olympian's YouTube channel: "I haven't even trained long course let alone raced it since I was 13."

"So a good 10 years and, you know, fluked a nice 54 which qualifies us for Aussie Olympic trials, which I'm stoked on."

Hawke talks about what Simpson would need to do to swim at Tokyo on his YouTube show called Inside with Brett Hawke.

He says, "To be in the conversation at the Olympic trials final, you have to be 52 something, right? So we we have a couple of seconds to drop and then to be on the Olympic team, you have to be, you know, 51 seconds probably.

"So we have about three seconds to drop. If you understand swimming, it's not out of the realm of possibility to drop three seconds in a season.

"Now, I'm not saying we will, and I'm not saying that that's going to happen because there's a lot of things that need to happen. You know, we need to get fast improvements, but it at least puts you in the conversation, right?"

Simpson says he's in this for the long run and his ambitions of being a high-achiever in two arenas are real, as he explains to his coach in their hour-long talk on YouTube.

"I want to be able to expand the limits and what people expect to be possible to achieve in one life" - Cody Simpson

"Because no one's ever been successful in music and in athletics or in seemingly polar fields, no-one's ever really done that before."

But Hawke thinks that Paris 2024 is probably a more realistic target than Tokyo.

Paris 2024 more realistic aim for Cody Simpson says coach

“He’s looking at this as a four-year plan, he’s committed to four years," Hawke told Australia's Afternoon Sport.

“He had a conversation with Michael Phelps who told him, ‘You can’t do anything in under four years, you’ve got to commit to that.’

"So he said, ‘OK, I’ll agree to that, I’ll give it four years.'"

“He’s looking from the age of 23-27 here and that’s prime athletic age for anybody. I think that’s the best chance he’ll have, to make an Olympic team four years from now.

“We’re not putting any limits on where we’re going with this, but at the same time we’re not telling people, ‘This is the goal.'

“We want to get better every day and see where it takes us.” - Coach Brett Hawke on Cody Simpson

Michael Phelps is Cody Simpson's mentor

Phelps was Simpson's hero when he was growing up. And now he's advising him.

"He's kind of turned into somewhat of a mentor, which is, you know, beyond anything I could have dreamed of as a kid growing up," Simpson continues to Hawke.

"I had him as my computer screen saver, you know, his butterfly in Beijing, I was 11. And I think that when the Beijing Olympics were out there and that was like my first year, I was at my first national championships and stuff like that.

"And so he was and is that figure to me in sports and it's pretty awesome that I can kind of just text with him."

Phelps old rival, five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian 'Thorpedo' Thorpe, has also passed on words of wisdom.

Simpson grew up "idolising him immensely too" and thanked Thorpe for his advice on "everything from just personal to swimming in terms of how he handled the public aspect of sport so well and nobly".

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Cody Simpson vs. Joseph Schooling?

The reigning Olympic 100m fly champion is Joseph Schooling, the only man to beat Phelps in Rio and the first Singaporean athlete to win Olympic gold.

Schooling's winning time in Rio was a new Games record of 50.39s, beating Phelps' mark of 50.58s from Beijing 2008.

The world record is 49.50s set by American swimmer Caeleb Dressel at the Gwangju 2019 World Championships.

Simpson knows what he has to aim at, but insists he's putting no pressure on himself and enjoying the novelty of training every day:

"I just go in super fresh not knowing what the hell to expect and that gives me the freedom to swim without expectations," he tells Hawke.

The Australian trials are in Adelaide from 12-17 June, but this is about much more than just qualifying for the Olympics for him.

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Simpson was actually at Rio 2016 working for sponsors.

He even carried the Olympic Torch on the morning of the Opening Ceremony with his sister Alli, another young entertainer.

Cody Simpson hands over to sister Alli on the morning of the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony

More recently, he told Olympic Channel about his favourite Olympic moment which, if you know about Australian swimming, won't come as a great shock.

Although he was just three at the time, Simpson nominated the Sydney 2000 men's 4x100m freestyle relay where the hosts beat a seemingly invincible USA team.

American swimmer Gary Hall Jr had famously said they would "smash the Australians like guitars" in the final.

But Thorpe got the better of Hall on the anchor leg - the team celebrating with some air guitar by the side of the pool - to send the nation into rapture.

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Cody Simpson's motivation: "No regrets"

This is clearly a brave move by Simpson who already has a fruitful career in the entertainment industry.

Despite doubts over whether he can make it to the top in swimming after such a long time away, he has his own definition of what would count for success in this new direction.

He says, "People saying 'You'll never achieve. You'll never be fast enough, you took too many years off. You won't be good enough.' You know, that's not what it's about.

"It's the knowing that once I've felt like I've given myself a proper go and trained as hard as I thought I could and given it enough years, you know, if at the end of all of that I still haven't achieved anything in the sport, I can at least live the rest of my life... without the regret of not having tried.

"And to me, that would be my gold medal or my Olympics or world record or whatever... Being able to live from, say, 27, 28, four or five years from now and be like, 'Yeah, I had a go at that.'

"I can now live in peace knowing that I got a proper crack and, if anything, expanded myself physically and mentally and spiritually.

"Through the expansion that the training brings, just overall personal capacity for stress, pressure, experience... that to me is a win." - Cody Simpson