Australia has unveiled its first member of the team for the Paris Olympic Games.
Australia’s chef de mission Anna Meares revealed on Wednesday that Brisbane local Chelsea Gubecka would be representing her country in 2024, with the marathon swimmer to contest the 10km event in the city’s iconic River Seine.
But using the Seine is somewhat controversial.
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The famous waterway was used in the 1900 Paris Olympics 124 years ago.
But in 1923 officials banned swimming in the river due to pollution, and 100 years later concerns over the water quality still remain.
In fact, this year’s Open Water Swimming World Cup on the Seine was called off.
Gubecka celebrates her silver medal at the World Aquatics Championships in July. Credit: Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images
And a triathlon – the World Para Cup in Paris – dumped the swimming leg (but kept running and cycling) amid health concerns.
The mixed relay of the World Triathlon Olympic Games test event – which was held in August this year in Paris – also cut out the swimming leg.
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“(The Seine is) still below acceptable standards for safeguarding swimmers’ health,” World Aquatics said in a statement in August.
However, Gubecka – who had been planning to compete in the cancelled World Cup – said she was not going to worry about it and had faith in Games’ organisers.
“Look, of course it raised an issue earlier this year. We did go over and unfortunately could not swim,” she said.
“However, then a few weeks later they ended up getting the water quality back to normal and then they contested the triathlon test event, so no, I don’t have too much concern.
“I know the mayor and the town are really trying their hardest and expressed a lot of disappointment (when the World Cup was cancelled) … but (they) really are considering their options and (will) try to make sure we have the best experience possible next year.”
Gubecka with Australia’s Olympic chef de mission Anna Meares. Credit: AAP
Gubecka is a 2023 World Championships silver (10km) and bronze (relay) medallist.
She is also a World Cup gold medallist and six-time national 10km champion.
It will be her second Olympic Games after making her debut at Rio in 2016. And she becomes only the second Australian woman (with Melissa Gorman in 2008 and 2012) to contest the marathon swimming at two Games.
It could have been her third, however, except she missed Tokyo due to a form dip while struggling with her passion for the sport.
In those Games Kareena Lee won Australia’s first ‘open water’ swimming Olympic medal (a bronze).
And Gubecka said Tokyo became a “main turn factor” for her.
“At that point, I didn’t really know what the future looked like,” she said.
“But with the group that I have now and, certainly, that’s where I credit my fiance and his family, they supported me no matter what and let me make the decisions I wanted to make.
“From there, I came back in 2022 with a bit of a fresh mind and started building up from there into my first win (at the World Series).”
Meares said it was “a fantastic milestone” for Gubecka who is the first athlete selected of an expected team size of 460 to 480.
“Winning 10km World Championship silver and mixed relay bronze in July this year, Chelsea has shown she is a world-class swimmer. Congratulations Chelsea on being selected for your second Australian Olympic Team,” Meares said.
Gubecka said it “doesn’t feel real at all”.
“I was only 17 when I made my first Games so I probably didn’t soak in the experience as much as I should have, but this is really special,” she said.
“I have such an amazing support system, my partner, our two dogs, my team at Yeronga Park, my coach Kate Sparkes. To get the call that I was officially selected as the first athlete for Paris just gave me goose bumps.”
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