Grieving Matt Wilson gets late reprieve to make Australia’s Olympic swimming team

Matt Wilson says he is struggling to come to terms with his selection for the Australian swimming team after an emotional roller-coaster ride at the Olympic trials culminated in a last-minute reprieve and a place in the squad for the Tokyo Games.

Wilson, a former world record holder, cut an emotional figure in the pool at the conclusion of his qualification race on day four of the trials in Adelaide, when he fell victim to Swimming Australia’s tough new qualification rules.

The 22-year-old finished second in the 200m breaststroke, but failed to make the cut for a second straight Games. He was in tears as he was consoled by fellow athletes in the pool in Adelaide.

He had not informed Swimming Australia, but it later came to light that he was grieving his grandmother, who had died just days earlier.

But despair turned to disbelief 24 hours later as Wilson’s name was included on the list of 35 Australian swimmers who will head to Tokyo next month, after Swimming Australia recognised “extenuating circumstances” had disrupted his performances at the trials.

“I was up all night trying to wrap my head around what just happened,” Wilson said on Friday. “It still doesn’t feel real to me.

“It was a huge roller-coaster for me. The last 48 hours have just been an emotional up and down – from thinking I wasn’t going to the Olympics to being on the team. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it and I’m just stoked to be there.”

After the disappointment of Wednesday night, Wilson had been ready to begin planning for a deserved break from the pool. But after officials were informed of his grandmother’s death, he was told there was a selection criteria that allowed for extenuating circumstances and all might not be lost.

Still, he faced an agonising wait to learn if those powers had been put to use in his case, and only found out as the trials drew to a close.

“I was sitting there eagerly waiting for a text message, not sure if I would get one,” he said. “But in the end, luckily enough I was able to receive one. I called mum and she was very happy about it. I cried for no reason. They’re very excited and very proud.”

Wilson said his grandmother had been a huge influence on his career. “She was probably my No 1 supporter, along with my parents,” he said. “Seeing what she went through with her cancer and then take such a bad turn right before I came here, it was really hard to watch. She’d be very proud of me and I’m just happy to make it for her.”