Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Elijah Winnington: The Spongebob-loving swimmer making waves in Australia

After impressing at Olympic trials, the freestyle sprinter, who watches cartoons between performances, is now a medal favourite at Tokyo 2020.
By Chloe Merrell

Causing an upset in swimming is a certified way to get noticed.

Beating the reigning Olympic champion and teammate on home soil – now that’s demanding attention.

Elijah Winnington did precisely that on Day One of the Australian Olympic trials in Adelaide, when he touched the wall in the men's 400m freestyle in 3:42.65 – the fastest time in the world in 2021. Behind him, Jack McLoughlin finished in second place (3:43.27) with Mack Horton, 400m freestyle Olympic gold medal winner, trailing in third (3:43.92).

Horton, who beat China’s Sun Yang to gold in Rio 2016, will now miss out at a chance to defend his title in his favourite event at Tokyo 2020, in 2021. While he was well within the Olympic qualifying standard, the 25-year-old needed to finish inside the top two for selection.

Ensuring that the gold returns to Australian shores will be a responsibility that now, in part, befalls Winnington.

“It means everything to me. I dreamt of this moment as a kid. To see that I touched the wall first and I made the qualifying time, it was pretty special” said the 21-year-old, beaming after the race.

“When I get on the world stage, whether Sun Yang races, it’s going to be a competition and if you make the team in 400m for Australia you are very much in contention for an Olympic medal let alone Olympic gold.”

History of success for Winnington

Day Two of trials was no less fruitful for Winnington, who continues to push established Australian Olympic heroes. The Queenslander finished just .07 behind Olympic gold medallist Kyle Chalmers in the 100m freestyle to earn a second individual spot on the roster.

Though Winnington may have had heads spinning after the spectacular dethroning of his rival countryman, if you look at his track record, his current form is not all that surprising.

At the junior level, Winnington dominated winning an impressive 26 National titles. In 2018, he set the Junior World Record in the 200m freestyle.

The transition from junior to senior level has been practically seamless for the young star.

Winnington medalled in his first appearance for the Dolphins team. He was a member of the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay team that not only won gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, but also set a new Games Record. To round it all off, in 2019 he won his first open national title in the 400m, setting him well on the path to a successful future.

Superstitions and Spongebob

While things are heating up for the rising star and the Olympics loom in the distance, when it comes to superstitions a youthful spirit remains. Winnington confesses that between heats and finals of big competitions he watches iconic children’s cartoon: Spongebob Square Pants.

“I have to watch Spongebob. It’s not like I race bad if I don’t, it’s just that one thing that takes my mind off everything and I can just relax.”

With the storming performances Winnington is currently putting on and races still head, if it works then it works.