Alex Graham has had his best ever year in the pool after claiming Commonwealth Games gold as part of the men’s 4x200m freestyle where he led off a team including Kyle Chalmers, Mack Horton and fellow Bond University student Elijah Winnington.
The 23-year-old graduated from his sport management degree at Bond University last weekend, the end of a four-year journey as part of the Georgina Hope Rinehart Swimming Excellence Scholarship, and has his sights set firmly on the future – and the Olympics.
“Next year will be massive for me,” Graham said. “If I want to get on that team (Tokyo 2020) - next year is vital. That is pretty much my lifelong goal and career goal to go to an Olympics as an athlete - it will fuel my sessions.
“To be an Olympian would be huge, especially after missing out in 2016.”
The former St Kevin’s College student was a precocious talent in Victoria, breaking numerous age-group records held by his hero Michael Klim and racking up national titles for fun.
But his transition into senior competition wasn’t as smooth, with the move to Bond University making him not only a better swimmer, but a more mature person.
“I just missed out on the Glasgow Games in 2014 and I was 18. My swimming was at a low point there, I plateaued, which was hard being a really good age group swimmer,” he said.
“Moving up to the Gold Coast and a change of scenery and trying new things in the pool has really helped.
“I was a very strong age group swimmer from 14 to 17. I was winning age group championships and when you are that age, you think you’ll just keep going and always be winning.
“I went to Worlds in 2013 and didn’t have a great swim. I swam two seconds over my PB and it was the first time I felt like I had failed on the big stage. That took its toll on me.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it and it took me two years to find that groove again.
“The biggest thing was training here at Bond. I learnt so much.
“I’m very glad I made the move from down south and that Bond supported me on this journey. I’m also very grateful to Mrs Gina Rinehart as the benefactor of the Georgina Hope Rinehart Swimming Excellence Scholarship – I owe her so much.
“Without the scholarship I don’t think I’d be where I am today with my swimming career.
“Bond is passionate about sport and committed to helping me achieve both in and out of the pool with my study and future career.
Graham believes Australia has a genuine shot at the 4x200m freestyle gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, an event the nation hasn’t won since Sydney 2000. The men’s team failed to medal in the past two Olympics. Graham was not selected for the 2016 Rio Games.
“We have a great group of guys doing the 200m in Australia at the moment. It is the toughest event – I might be a little biased – in terms of depth,” said Graham.
“We have eight to 10 guys who have potential to be on that relay team. I feel we have a great chance to push for a gold in 2020.
“That has to be the aim for our whole team. Especially having Elijah [Winnington] in the pool training with me, as long as we are keeping each other honest and pushing each other, I think we have a really good shot.”