Australian swimmer great Leisel Jones on a suicide attempt and a generational change at the Olympics

Australian swimmer great Leisel Jones has lifted the lid on a ‘toxic culture’ she says has seeped into the Olympic team, on how she felt ‘depressed’ when she won the gold for his country and on a knock at the door that saved his life.

Jones, now 36, burst onto the scene aged 14 to wear green and gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she stunned the Games by winning silver in the 100 m breaststroke.

But this success at a young age catapulted her to a level she wasn’t quite ready for. In Athens 2004, she was the favorite in the race, but failed to place in her favored event. She finally beat the duck in Beijing in 2008, where she beat the opponent to win breaststroke gold and clocked the second-fastest time in history – only beaten by her own world record.

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It was his crowning achievement, but before long the dynamic within the Australian swim team began to change, Jones says.

“It’s kind of hard to put your finger on it,” she said A Life of Greatness with Sarah Grynberg.

Leisel Jones at the FINA World Championships in 2011. (Getty)

“I guess now that I’ve worked in companies, when you hear people talking about toxic cultures, it’s pretty hard to put your finger on where it actually started and what’s really going on.”

Even though Jones was at the top of the swimming world after Beijing, she then went into a spiral of depression that nearly cost her her life.

In 2011, she planned to end it and was sitting on the floor of a hotel bathroom in Spain with a box of sleeping pills. It was only a knock on her trainer’s door that stopped her from continuing her attempt.

With the help of a sports psychologist, Jones was able to put his athletic career into perspective.

“I think that moment definitely changed my opinion on all of this, that I started to realize that there’s so much more to life than swimming or the work you do or the way you see yourself,” she said.

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“This awakening was exactly what I needed at the time, there is so much more to life and who we are as people and the impact we can have on others can be so beneficial .

“I also think I came out of a very selfish view of the world that it was all about me and everyone cared what I did and everyone cared that I won.”

Jones went to the 2012 Games in London where she became the first Australian woman to compete in four Olympics. She finished fifth defending her 100m breaststroke crown.

But by this point the Australian side had completely changed from their debut more than a decade earlier.

And while still in her mid-twenties, Jones says she struggled to make the same connection with the younger generation of athletes who were now her teammates.

“So people like me were coming to the end of their careers. People like Grant Hackett had retired, Ian Thorpe had retired, people like Susie O’Neill, people who had been through that time when we had to work so hard and we had to work our way into the team,” Jones said.

Leisel Jones and Stephanie Rice. (PAA)

“And we had to have certain, I guess, characteristics is the best word I can use for that, that was…we were taking care of our teammates, and we were looking out for everyone and like I said, I I was 14 when I first had people like Susie O’Neill, who cared about me when I was young and showed me the ropes and how things were done.

“And then someone like me, who was then 27 in his last team in London. The generation had changed and I didn’t really follow that. So I was trying to guide and help young athletes who said, ‘We don’t worry, we do it differently from you’.

“I also have to keep in mind that social media was a big thing that changed throughout that time. So from around 2008 I think the first iPhone was coming out…but social media was changing Everything was changing, the landscape of how we interacted, and we didn’t have that in 2004 or the year 2000.

“Facebook didn’t exist. None of that existed and the landscape was changing, and I just wasn’t keeping up. It was so hard to be part of a completely different generation.

Leisel Jones poses with her gold medal in the 100m breaststroke at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. (Sydney Morning Herald)

“Although I wasn’t older…I wasn’t so much older, I was like a generation. I was older because I kind of belonged to that time of year swimming 2000-2004 and I felt like I was being pushed out of that generation.

“I wasn’t usually old, but I felt old.”

Jones won nine Olympic medals for Australia, but none of them gave her the level of elation she expected.

“It’s so disappointing,” she said of her gold medal.

“I think the problem is that we have these expectations of what it’s going to look like and we think we’re going to feel satisfied when it happens…none of that is true.

“It just means you just have an extra piece of silverware sitting in the cupboard and you never look at it again, which is what I do.”

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