Kyle Chalmers: carving a league of his own in South Australia

26 April 2023

He’s known for his record-breaking swimming performances — but South Australia’s Kyle Chalmers is planning to carve out a league of his own outside of the pool, driven by a deeper purpose to create real change.

Kyle Chalmers. Photo: Jarrod Knoblauch

Before sharing his plans for the future, first we need to take a look back at how this wonderkid from Port Lincoln shook the swimming world.

When Kyle was a child, swimming was just one part of his sporting reportoire which included football, basketball and cricket. Despite this, it was swimming that saw him rise to fame at a young age, winning his first national title at just 12 years old.

“Port Lincoln is surrounded by ocean and pools and dams and rivers and great whites so people have to learn how to swim,” Kyle said.

“We spent a fair bit of time in or around the water as a kid.”

Within a year of winning his first national title Kyle had moved to Adelaide and was already breaking Australian records including some claimed by Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe.

In 2016 Kyle shocked the swimming world when, at just 18-years-old, he won the blue-ribboned men’s 100m freestyle Olympic title at Rio in a time of 47.58 — breaking the world junior record.

He went on to win silver in the 100m free at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, just 0.6s behind Caeleb Dressel.
Just a year later Kyle claimed the short course 100m freestyle world record at the 2021 Swimming World Cup in Kazan.
Kyle said it was during these years of international success that his love (and longing) for South Australia grew even stronger.
“That made me even more passionate about being South Australian and bringing people across (to live),” Kyle said.

And although Kyle has ‘recruited’ several people to move to South Australia, he admits the move was not a hard one to sell to his fellow swimmers.

“We have our Olympic trials here every time the Olympics comes around so…our major meets in Australia are done here in Adelaide because our pool is the best in Australia,” he said.

“We’re world leaders really — we’re definitely well ahead of (the rest of) Australia with the technology and the people — the staff that we have access to every single day.

“People come across and stay in (South Australia) and fall in love with it — (they) love the ease and access we have here.”

For Kyle, despite travelling the world, the decision to remain living in South Australia has always been an easy one.

“I know that for me to be successful in the pool, South Australia is the place for me,” he said.

And although he loves living in Adelaide, it’s regional South Australia that will always own his heart.

“No matter where I go in the world; no matter where I am in Australia; no matter the people I’m spending time with — the Port Lincoln crowd is still my people and my crowd that I can’t wait to go home to,” he said.

“That’s what gets me through the hard moments. It definitely keeps me grounded — just remembering my roots and where I’m from”.

A task made easier thanks to the ‘5606’ tattoo he has on his ankle — the postcode for Port Lincoln — and the city’s coordinates which are tattooed on his foot.

“I’m a very proud Port Lincoln boy,” he laughed.

His country roots have earned him a preceding reputation of being ‘humble’ and ‘calm’ — a reputation backed by his explanation of his success.

“… I am in the spotlight because I swim two laps of the pool faster than most people in the world — it’s not really that impressive — it’s just the gift that I‘ve been given and everyone’s got a gift,” he said.

Kyle’s gift drives him to give back. And when he looks to life beyond the pool, he sees his gift becoming a legacy for generations to come.

With plans to one day set up an Indigenous swimming foundation, Kyle is determined to see more young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take up swimming, and have a greater representation of First Nations people at national and international swimming championships.

“Most of my greatest mates are First Nations people and I’ve always felt a really close connection to them,” Kyle said.

“I’ve seen a lot of racism over my time growing up and it’s something that’s … affected me a lot — just how much it hurts them and it’s something I’ve really tried to be an advocate for because standing up against racism is important,” he said.

“For me, voicing my opinion and calling it out, that’s where it needs to start.”

Kyle sees the foundation as an opportunity to give back and celebrate his friends back home.

“It is going to be hard to do but it’s something I’m really passionate about,” he said.

“South Australia (is) so progressive and helpful so I know that I have got some great people on my side and I just have to keep having the right conversations,” he said.

“That’s where my legacy in swimming will go eventually — I don’t think I’ll be a coach, I don’t think I’ll be a commentator or someone in the media,” he said.

“I think I’ll just want to be a fan of my sport when I’m done.”

So, where will we find Kyle once he’s done with swimming? Well, outside of heading his foundation, Kyle looks forward to heading back to Port Lincoln and dreams of taking on a building apprenticeship, playing footy on weekends and spending time with his family.

“(Port Lincoln) is my happy place. I feel like I have a spiritual connection (with it),” he said.

“I feel like when I go back I can just breathe … everything about it makes me want to come back.”