Swimmer Alex Graham has his eyes on the prize at this year's Tokyo Olympics. PICTURE: Cavan Flynn
When Alex Graham broke into his first Australian senior swim team in 2013, he thought he had the world at his feet.
The heartbreak of missing the 2016 Rio Olympics was a major wake-up call.
After dominating junior swimming and breaking records for fun, it would take eight years for Graham to live out his dream of calling himself an Olympian.
“I was probably a little bit raw, probably not ready to venture into the senior world of swimming,” Graham said.
“I obviously didn’t perform my best and probably took a bit of a hit mentally for the next few years.
“It took me a bit of time to get my confidence back that I had as a junior swimmer.
“I guess I realised that I really, really wanted to achieve the Olympic dream.”
Graham said his prodigious natural talent as a junior swimmer led him to assume international representative honours were at his fingertips.
“As a junior, I really wanted to go (to the Olympics) but probably didn’t realise the sacrifices required and the amount of training required to achieve the goal.
“I think my natural ability as a youngster might have masked the hard work required to get to that next level and I wasn’t doing a lot of swim training back when I was 18.
“Watching everyone in 2016 when I just missed that Olympics was probably when I kicked myself into gear and really knuckled down.”
The bitter disappointment of missing Rio unearthed more than just a hunger in the pool. Graham spent the next five years maturing in and out of the water.
A move to Bond University on a Georgina Hope Rinehart Swimming Excellence Scholarship challenged him to take the necessary steps to get to the elite level.
“I was training with the likes of Cam McEvoy, Tommy Fraser-Holmes, who were studs, it was great to learn off them and understand what was required to get back onto the Australia team and perform at the peak level,” Graham said.
In 2019 Graham was part of a World Championship-winning 4x200m freestyle team. But the Olympics was the one he truly wanted.
The 26-year-old led for all but 15 metres in the 200m Olympic trials, only to see Kyle Chalmers and former training partner Elijah Winnington charge home and claim the individual places.
It was a devastating blow, but such is Graham’s newfound maturity, he quickly shifted his focus to winning gold for Australia in the relay.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty disappointed after the 200m final,” he said.
“I made the Olympic team but I really wanted that individual spot.
“I’m glad to be able to get on that relay team and I’ll probably be the oldest, so hopefully I can offer some experience.
“I really want to give it a red-hot crack. We have a pretty star-studded line-up in that relay and it probably will be one of the races of the Olympics.
“We won gold at the 2019 World Championships and hopefully we can bring gold home at the Olympics.”
Alexander Graham (Class of 2015)
Swimming: 4x200m relay
Heats: Tuesday, July 27, Tokyo Aquatics Centre
Final: Wednesday, July 28