Forget "jelly legs" and viral 'fails': Australian Maddison Keeney can win gold at Tokyo 2020

Newly crowned world champion Maddison Keeney has overcome "jelly legs" and online 'fails' to become a top diver, now she's ready to challenge Chinese domination: "I'm coming for them."

By Ken Browne ·

Maddison Keeney has the mentality and maturity to become the best in the world.

And the Australian diver proved it, winning gold with her stand-in partner Matthew Carter in the mixed 3m springboard synchro event at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju. (Her regular mixed synchro partner, Domonic Bedggood, had to pull out.)

But it hasn't been an easy path.

Nerves and anxiety used to turn the 23-year-old's legs to jelly on the diving board, and click-seeking 'fail'-merchants have tried to make a couple of bad dives go viral online.

Keeney's mental strength and powers of recovery have been as impressive as her world-class diving trajectory.

And after a stunning 2019 FINA World Diving Series where she finished on the podium nine times in five events, Australia's Rio bronze medallist is ready to take on China's dive dynasty.

"China wins five, Keeney wins three"

That was the headline in one Australian newspaper after Keeney finished the final event of the diving world series in spectacular style.

The Auckland, New Zealand-born Aussie came away from London with two gold medals and one silver in May 2019, the final big meet before the world champs in July.

Gold came in the individual 3m springboard and the 3m synchro with partner Annabelle Smith; silver in the mixed 3m synchro with Domonic Bedggood.

It was the perfect end to such a positive season for Australia's dive sensation.

"Failing makes you learn most"

Things didn't always look so bright.

'Fails' are currency in the world of monetised social media and Australia's dive prodigy fell foul to viral vultures after a bad dive at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and an aborted final dive in the 2015 World Aquatics Championships.

"Australian diver Maddison Keeney scores a zero after disastrous dive", read one headline, while a "Maddison Keeney Embarrassing dive" YouTube video racked up tens of thousands of views.

Maddison Keeney is flawed, and so are all the rest of us.

So what she embarrassed herself at the worlds in 2015?

She came back in 2017 and won a gold medal. Now that's mental strength.

“It’s the failing that really makes you learn the most, I believe,” she told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

This was the 1m dive that won Keeney her first world title at Budapest 2017:

Commonwealth Games comeback

Keeney 'failed' again at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

A 3m synchro dive with Annabelle Smith - her Rio 2016 partner - went all wrong.

The duo who took bronze at Glasgow 2014 and Rio 2016 were favourites but Keeney 'bombed' the dive in the final and they finished dead last.

Maddison Keeney's dive goes wrong in the Women's Synchronised 3m Springboard Diving Final at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games on April 11, 2018 in Australia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Again, rather than dwelling on it, she got up and made the next one count, pushing Canadian 3m synchro Olympic bronze medallist Jennifer Abel all the way in the individual event.

The Australian was just 0.4 of a point away from a gold medal, taking home an admirable silver.

"I struggled a bit with the old jelly legs again," she said afterwards, "but I came in tonight with a fresh mindset - I can't be more proud of myself,"

Silver medalist Maddison Keeney of Australia (left), gold medalist Jennifer Abel of Canada and bronze medalist Anabelle Smith of Australia at the medal ceremony for the Women's 3m Springboard Diving Final at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games April 14, 2018. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Keeney on China's divers: "I'm coming for them"

Stoked by that performance, Australia's zero-to-hero comeback queen saw in her final dive the key to dismantling Chinese dominion over Olympic gold medals.

Her final dive in the 3m had the highest degree of difficulty of any other dive in the competition: 3.4.

"I can't beat them (China) in the regular dives so I have to step it up some other way - I'm coming for them"

-Maddison Keeney to the Sydney Morning Herald

By increasing the degree of difficulty in her dives, the Aussie could reap more points and outscore her Chinese rivals.

It worked for Chris Mears and Jack Laugher.

Team GB's Laugher and Mears win diving gold

Jack Laugher and Chris Mears win gold for Great Britain in the men's synchr...

Keeney's are fighting words.

China won seven of a possible eight diving gold medals at Rio 2016.

Only Great Britain's Mears and Laugher managed to beat their Chinese counterparts.

And in the Australian's events, the last eight 3m springboard gold medals have gone to China, and they've won four in a row in the 3m synchro - there have only been five since the event was introduced at Sydney 2000.

But now that the amazing five-time Olympic gold medallist Wu Minxia has retired - she competed in Keeney's 3m springboard and synchro events - is China less likely to dominate the Tokyo Games?

Champion Diver

Thirty-year-old Wu Minxia of China wins an historic fifth Olympic gold at h...


The Asian powerhouse talent production line doesn't stop and the next-gen dive stars are already picking up where Wu left off.

In Keeney's 3m springboard synchro event, Wang Han and Olympic gold medallist Shi Tingmao have been on fire this season, claiming every event they have competed in on the FINA World Series.

Then there's the Canadians.

Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu have regularly popped up on the podium in second or third place during the world series season.

"It’s been a while [since anybody] has beaten the Chinese," Canada's Abel told the Olympic Channel podcast, "especially in the women’s 3m synchro."

Keeney has her work cut out, but the Australian has already proved that she can come up with something special, particularly when no-one else expects it.

Work, train, Pokemon

Right now the 23-year-old is training 27 hours a week at at the Sleeman Sports Complex in Brisbane, Australia, and working as a systems engineer for Suncorp, a large Australian finance and insurance company.

She started diving when she was 10, encouraged by her mum to give it a try.

When she's not working or training she's playing Pokemon.

Tokyo 2020 should be another chance to add to the collection but the swimmer, and the entire country will be hoping she comes home with more than just soft toys.