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'Pretty dark': James Magnussen's sad admission about retirement

Andrew Reid
·3-min read
Pictured here, James Magnussen in the pool after a swimming race in Australia.
Swimmer James Magnussen enjoyed a glittering career for Australia in the pool. Pic: Getty

Australian swimming great James Magnussen has opened up about a "dark reality" that he's come to face after retiring from elite sport in 2019, at the age of 28.

The two-time swimming world champion and Olympic silver-medallist called time on professional swimming last year after a decorated career in the pool.

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Now a contestant on reality TV show SAS Australia, the man known as 'The Missile' provided a candid insight into the cost of his success.

In a confronting interview on Monday night, Magnussen revealed that his elite sporting mindset was actually hindering his ability to experience emotion.

Magnussen enjoyed a glittering but at times controversial career, most notably as part of the Australian men's 4x100m relay team embroiled in a Stilnox scandal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

As one of Australia's most high-profile swimmers, Magnussen's name burned brighter than most under the intense spotlight of the media.

From a young age, he learnt to compartmentalise his emotions, block out the negativity and focus solely on his swimming.

“It got pretty dark there when I was copping a lot of criticism, not only in the media but when I was out in public as well,” Magnussen said.

“As a 20-year-old kid I didn’t really know how to cope with that so I made a decision back then that I’m never going to let emotions get the better of me again.

“So I don’t really let anyone in emotionally.”

Trouble adjusting to life after swimming

Magnussen says that while that mindset worked while he was an elite swimmer, the transition to life after retirement has been tough.

“When I was a bit younger and still swimming you can’t allow yourself to be emotional on the day. So that was always my reasoning, (that) I can’t afford to be emotional.

“Now that high performance side of it is taken away, I’m still behaving like an elite athlete.

"I’ve had some really big achievements in my life since and I feel like I am just flatlining.

“I get sad, I get angry, but I’m not getting the high highs as well.”

James Magnussen is seen here during an interview on SAS Australia.
Magnussen revealed his emotional struggles on SAS Australia. Pic: Channel 7

SAS drill sergeant Jason Fox - himself no stranger to compartmentalising after a 20-year stint in the military - said Magnussen needed to let go and allow his bottled up emotions out for others to see.

“I can see things in you that are in us (he and SAS Australia instructor Mark Billingham) to a certain degree, we compartmentalise (our emotion),” Fox said.

“The problem is that people around you want to see your emotion.

“The thing is emotions, although people see them as a hindrance, they’re something you need, that’s what drives you sometimes.”

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