Jaclyn Barclay: The backstroker making her mark from Doha to QGSSSA, and potentially even Paris

Nick Rynne
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Jaclyn Barclay is making people take notice from Queensland to Doha and beyond.
Jaclyn Barclay is making people take notice from Queensland to Doha and beyond. Credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Kaylee McKeown is one of global swimming’s undisputed stars — the backstroke maestro with three Olympic gold medals and the first woman to hold the stroke’s 50m, 100m and 200m world records at the same time.

Already this year — with the Paris Games looming — she has clocked a world-leading 58.19sec. in the 100m at the Victorian State Championships, a time that would have raised eyebrows at this month’s World Aquatic Championships in Doha.

Except McKeown wasn’t in Qatar. She left that one to Australian backstroke’s generation next — who grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

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Jaclyn Barclay is one half of Australia’s “baby backstrokers” who are causing a stir in world swimming after breakout performances.

A rising star, her first major international meet was meant to give her a taste of the action. Instead, it’s signalled a rapid acceleration of her development that seasoned pool-watchers believe could see her challenge for a spot in the Paris squad.

What was lost in some circles after 18-year-old West Australian Iona Anderson took silver in the 100m backstroke was that Barclay, still just 17, finished a fingernail (or 0.10sec. to be precise) off the podium in fourth.

Nobody missed her a couple of nights later when she claimed silver in the 200m backstroke, setting a personal best time of 2:07:03.

It capped a breakout competition for the world junior champion, who would have been keeping one eye on Los Angeles 2028 before suggestions of a more rapid rise.

“To go to an international competition, make a name for yourself, swim personal best times and, before a possible Olympic campaign, to be able to elevate yourself into that team ... they picked the ball up and ran with it,” veteran swimming writer Ian Hanson told The Nightly.

“(Paris) was probably half a chance, but now it’s a full chance. Barclay and Anderson did PBs in Israel (World Junior Championships), PBs again at Queensland States and PBs again in Doha. Their trajectories are on the way up.”

Now back on home soil, Barclay is poised to follow in the footsteps of many Olympic hopefuls before her in the Queensland Girls Secondary Schools Sports Association Swimming Championships.

DOHA, QATAR - FEBRUARY 17: (L-R) Silver Medalist, Jaclyn Barclay of Team Australia, Gold Medalist, Claire Curzan of Team United States and Bronze Medalist, Anastasiya Shkurdai of Team Neutral Independent Athletes pose with their medals after the Medal Ceremony for the Women's 200m Backstroke Final on day sixteen of the Doha 2024 World Aquatics Championships at Aspire Dome on February 17, 2024 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
Jaclyn Barclay with her silver alongside gold medallist, Claire Curzan of Team United States and bronze medallist Anastasiya Shkurdai of Team Neutral Independent Athletes. Credit: Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

With an honour board featuring the likes of Olympic gold medallist Ariarne Titmus and world champion Mollie O’Callaghan — both, like Barclay a product of the dominant St Peters Lutheran College — the competition has been a fixture in the Australian swimming landscape.

St Peters Lutheran, under the tutelage of head coach Dean Boxall, are aiming for a record-breaking 11th straight Mollie Gould Cup as aggregate QGSSSA swimming champions, with Barclay leading the squad. This year’s event will be broadcast on Streamer.com.au.

“You can’t beat the school system, it keeps them level headed and it keeps the fun in it,” Hanson said.

“Having Mollie there, having (Ariarne) come through, it’s really good for Jaclyn to know the pathway she’s following is very similar. It couldn’t be better for those girls.”

Some of the other promising young swimmers to feature this year include Holly Warn, a multi-class swimmer and one of Australia’s rising stars in the para sports space. Swimming for St Hilda’s School, she will spring into the event after a strong showing at the 2024 Citi Para Swimming World Series in Melbourne last week.

“If I get a few PBs that will be a bonus, but just enjoying my swimming is the most important thing,” Warn said.

“I am really focused on training hard, reaching my potential, enjoying my swimming and one day becoming an Australian Paralympian. In late 2023 I became internationally classified, which allows me to be eligible for selection if I’m fast enough.”

Hannah Allen will be in action for Brisbane State High School after winning gold at the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games, while Somerville House’s Olivia Hine made waves with huge performances at the Australian Age Championships and School Sport Australia Championships last year.

QGSSSA SWIMMERS TO WATCH

Brisbane Girls Grammar School: Cate Ward (Bronze medallist, 2023 QLD School Sport Swimming Championships)

Brisbane State High School: Hannah Allen (Gold & silver medallist, 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games)

Clayfield College: Hana Costello (Bronze medallist, 2023 QLD Swimming Championships)

Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School: Isabel Joffe (2024 Queensland Sprint Championships)

Moreton Bay College: Rosy Ryan (Gold medallist, 2023 Brisbane Open Water Championships)

Somerville House: Olivia Hine (Gold medallist, 2023 Australian Age Championships, 2023 School Sport Australia Championships)

St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School: Charlotte Boothey (2023 School Sport Australia Championships, 2023 Australian Age Championships)

St Hilda’s School: Holly Warn (Gold medallist, 2023 Australian Age & MC Championships, 2023 School Sport Australia Championships)

St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School: Stella Stuart (Bronze medallist, 2024 Australian Age Championships)

St Peters Lutheran College: Jaclyn Barclay (Silver medallist, 2024 World Aquatic Championships; Gold medallist (heat swim) 2024 World Aquatic Championships; Gold medallist, 2023 Australian Swimming Championships, 2023 Australian Age Championships)

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