Symantha Perkins: My split from Kieren

Friday, December 21, 2012
Symantha Perkins: My split from Kieren
Symantha Perkins. Photography by Juli Balla. Styling by Mattie Cronan.

Eight months after her split from Olympic champion Kieren (who has revealed the new woman in his life), Symantha Perkins tells Bryce Corbett what it was really like to be married to swimming's golden boy.

It's a scene that is part of the nation's sporting history. After cruising coolly to victory in the 1500 metres freestyle final at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, a jubilant Kieren Perkins leaps from the pool, clambers into the bleachers and kisses his girlfriend, Symantha Liu.

Related: Charlotte Dawson - I gave up my baby for my husband

It was a romantic gesture befitting the carefully cultivated image of a man who remains to this day Australian swimming's "golden boy".

It was, many of us believed — or wanted to believe — the beginning of a fairytale for the young couple, who would soon thereafter go on to marry and have three children.

Yet, as Symantha Perkins tells it now, sitting in a Brisbane hotel lobby bar and quietly reflecting on the recent demise of her 15-year marriage to the Olympic champion, the reality of being the wife of Kieren Perkins fell way short of whatever fantasy we may have imagined.

"Fairytales are hard to live up to," she tells the January issue of The Australian Women's Weekly. "That's the thing about them. They are, by definition, a fiction."

Eight months ago, the Perkins marriage came to an end when Kieren decided he wanted out. In a statement to the media at the time, the former swimmer turned bank executive accounted for the break-up, saying, "It's an awful thing, but you have got to take yourself out of it and recognise that our three children are all that matters, and make them as comfortable as possible and make sure we get through this as quickly as we can."

At the time, it was a sad case of yet another marriage foundering — a tale familiar to many Australian families.

In this instance, the main players were Kieren, Symantha and their three children, Georgia, 15, Harry, 13, and Charlotte, six.

Yet, six months later, at a sports award ceremony in Melbourne, Kieren introduced a sixth character into the narrative when he posed for photos with a new love-interest on his arm — Karen Davis, a colleague with whom he works at the National Australia Bank in Brisbane.

As Symantha puts it now (and in what will be the understatement of our interview), "It's been a pretty horrible eight months."

Symantha remembers well those first, confusing weeks in April after Kieren announced his intention to quit their marriage.

"It was like being caught in a dumper wave," the 41-year-old says now. "My whole world had been turned upside-down and I felt like I was battling to come up for air. It was a dark time and I have been through a lot of tissue boxes.

"The hardest thing for me, at first, was the sense of failure. And that was a hurdle that took a while to get over. And I am still not over it. It's something I deal with every day. I spent two decades with the same person and that's not something you get over in a few days or a few months."

Related: Aussie swimmers 'cheered when Magnussen lost'

So does she feel any resentment?

"No, I don't see it that way because of my kids. I mean, I worked so hard to have those kids — I literally nearly died having them — I just can't see it that way. He still gave me the greatest gift that I will ever have in those children and I will always be grateful for that.

"No matter what has happened, together we created three of the most beautiful creatures on earth and we'll always have that bond."

Read more of this story in the January issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

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