Australia’s pop principle was hidden in a hotel in the summer of 2019, preparing for his country’s inaugural season for “The Masked Singer” when he began watching the World Swimming Championships. Seeing the records fall, Cody Simpson soon focused on one thought:
Why am i not there?
Long before he was a singing sensation with a Barry Gibb falsetto and a large social media following, before he became a heartbreaker with a top 10 hit, his own fashion doll and a lead role on Broadway, Simpson, 24, was one Record-setting student swimmer in his native Queensland.
Overwhelmed by the races, he decided it wasn’t too late to revive his own Olympic dream when he found he was five months younger than American star Caeleb Dressel, who had just broken a world record set by Simpson’s childhood idol Michael Phelps.
“I stopped drinking that night and started finding pools the next day,” Simpson said.
Three months later, Simpson would be revealed as the robot that won “The Masked Singer”. Another year would pass before he revealed his surprise while swimming.
Last month, more than a decade after his last endurance race, Simpson surpassed the qualifying standard for the Australian Olympic tests in the 100-meter butterfly. He hit the required time at a meeting in San Diego organized by David Marsh, a trainer Simpson occasionally trains with. It was his second competitive outing in less than six months of consistent training and his second race of the day. He had completed the 200-meter freestyle less than an hour earlier.
He had shown, faster than anyone had expected, that his return to swimming was not an occasional bath.
Simpson, whose career has already included positions as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, dancer, actor, author and model, is now aiming to include Olympian on his résumé in 2024.
“My whole life has been a series of boxes putting all my mind, body and soul into things,” Simpson said in a video interview from his Los Angeles home.
Simpson was 6 or 7 years old, his mother Angie said when he made a great announcement to his grandmother, “I’m going to be famous at something one day. I just don’t know what it is yet. “
Swimming was a surefire thing as his parents had met as top athletes in the sport. Angie Simpson topped the top 10 world rankings in the 200-meter breaststroke before a tendinitis in both shoulders expressed her hopes of representing Australia at the 1988 Olympics. Cody’s father, Brad, was a member of the Australian national team.
Cody Simpson started making a name for himself in sports when videos he posted on YouTube and Myspace – playing guitar and singing – led to a trip to America in early 2010. Prior to his 13th birthday, he met executives from Atlantic Records in New York City.
On the way, however, Simpson said he and his father stopped in Baltimore to meet with a music producer. There he arranged for training by the pool, where Phelps returned to training after his record eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics.
“I remember buying 20 Baltimore caps and getting Phelps to sign all 20 before training so I could give something to my friends when I get home,” Simpson said. He was more nervous about Phelps that day, he once told his mother, than years later when he met Bono from U2.
Phelps followed Simpson’s singing career from afar, as did his trainer Bob Bowman, who remembered stepping into a Whole Foods one day and seeing a CD with Simpson on the cover near the till.
“I remember thinking, ‘The kid actually did well,'” Bowman said.
However, the lifestyle of a musician did not match that of competitive swimming. But Simpson never shook the sport out of his hair in his teenage years, blurring advertising and tour stops and including a Billboard Top 10 album in 2013 and an appearance on Dancing With the Stars in 2014.
Simpson’s departure from Atlantic Records in 2018 put him back on his own path. He founded his own record label, Coast House Records, and joined the Broadway cast of “Anastasia the Musical” for six months. After publishing a book of poetry, he saw a return to swimming as the next logical step, an opportunity to refocus on the Olympic dream he’d put aside years ago.
“I love the music industry very much and I’ll be a musician for a long time in my life,” said Simpson, “but it’s not as pure as sports that only count on the clock.”
Simpson has been training with Brett Hawke, a two-time Australian Olympic champion, since June. “I just didn’t know if he really really knew what he was getting into,” said Hawke. “Being a swimmer at the age of 12 is completely different than trying to compete against the best in the world at the age of 23. But I’m not a dream killer.”
During their first training together, Hawke Simpson did a strenuous 90-minute workout and then surprised him with a timed 200 butterfly. When an exhausted Simpson finished swimming, he’d passed Hawke’s test. Since then, he has trained in pools in Southern California and Florida, with no lines on the ground or starting blocks, in hop circles, and even in states to find facilities that have not been closed by coronavirus restrictions.
“I’ve vomited at several pools so far,” Simpson said with a laugh.
One day, according to his mother, Simpson dreams of a double that not even the versatile Phelps has tried: singing the national anthem at the beginning of a meeting and then undressing in his suit to take part in competitions. But that day is still a long way off. In October, Simpson joined his first meeting and swam a 200 freestyle. “I broke out in beehives, I was so stressed,” he said.
Simpson recalled feeling the same way on his Broadway debut in 2018.
“And I just remember how at the end of the night after doing the show 130 times I was absolutely on the rise with no nerves whatsoever,” he said. “I think that’s going to take swimming – 130, 140 races before I can stand up without fear and just do it.”
Hawke routinely creates racing opportunities for Simpson, who conducted the interview for this article, after returning home from a workout that included a timed swim. He plunged into the pool behind 2016 Olympic gold medalist Jordan Wilimovsky and sprinted to catch and overtake Wilimovsky over the last 200 meters of a timed 1,000 meter swim.
“I was nervous all day because I cared how I did it,” Simpson said.
Simpson was encouraged by Phelps, to whom he sends videos of his attempts to swim. Phelps responds with tips on stroke technique and race strategy.
“I think his mind is really like a swimming nerd,” said Phelps.
Simpson is also in regular contact with Ian Thorpe, a five-time Olympic gold medalist and former rival of Phelps, who recently made a perfect watch on the score. He told Simpson that during difficult training sets, he often imagined that his hands were like a kick drum and his feet were like a sling, and that he was playing drums with his drum kit.
“That’s so cool,” said Simpson, who takes in the feedback and joys in every little milestone, like covering 25, then 50, and now 75 meters underwater with just the dolphin kick.
When he drove 54.91 seconds to beat the qualifying standard for the Olympic Trials in the 100 butterfly by nearly two seconds, Simpson said he was just as satisfied as he was when he won The Masked Singer. He hadn’t made it because of his looks, reputation, or connections, but because of his talent.
Simpson knows he’s busy. The Australian record in the 100 fly is 50.85. Dressel’s world record is 49.50.
“I’m ambitious, but I’m not a crazy person,” said Simpson. “I know what to expect.”