What happened to Swimming Australia?August 17, 2016

The Australian swimming team that headed to Rio de Janeiro were probably the most promising swimmers that would represent the Australian flag. Most of them competed in the World Aquatic Championships last year, and almost tied the United States for the most gold medals. It was a mix of seasoned veterans and newcomers, who could be the next big names in the sport four years from now. And memories of the disappointing results during the London Olympics were banished after the first day of competition. Alas, a familiar trend was seen after a few days. The American swimmers were dominating the pool, while the (Australian) swimmers who were touted as favourites, failed to make it to the podium. A pair of teenagers saved the day.

Before we moaned about another missed opportunity, we must commend our local bets for representing the country in Rio. This is the biggest sports event ever, which would be held every four years. Mack Horton, who won the 400-meter freestyle race, voiced out his displeasure over the presence of other swimmers who were suspended for doping. It had a snowball effect, which created ripples. It turned into a Cold War of sorts, with Michael Phelps being dragged into the issue. Could it distract Australia's best bets? Perhaps. But there would be other reasons.

Here are five:

Nerves got the better of them. Cate Campbell owns the world record in the 100-meter freestyle. She achieved it during a swim meet at Brisbane one month before the Olympics. But she had a history of getting nervous during the big events. It showed during last year's worlds at Kazan, Russia. (Bronte, Cate's younger sister, both won the 50 and 100 meter freestyle races.) Prior to the finals, Cate set an Olympic record. During the finals, she led the field halfway. Simone Manuel of the US was in third place, while Canada's Penny Oleksiak was in seventh. Both swimmers catch up during the final twenty-five meters, while Campbell faded badly. Cate was thinking of training and swimming during the next four years. If she would win the next Olympic trials, she will be 28 years of age. A veteran by swimming standard, which doesn't mean that she would have less of a chance of winning a gold medal in the individual event in Tokyo. On the other hand, Oleksiak had the fastest second half in the finals of the 100 meters freestyle. Her style was reminiscent of Michael Phelps, and her coaches believed she would be the next big thing in swimming if she could handle the unexpected success. The Canadian will be 20 years of age when she competes in Tokyo. A mouth-watering matchup, which might motivate Cate.

Injury, but this is not an excuse. Bronte Campbell hinted shoulder injury, which might be the reason why the double world champion failed to make it to the podium. But she doesn't want to make excuses.

The Olympic Trials were held too early. Some were wondering if Swimming Australia must reschedule the trials to winter. It should be held a month before the Olympics, the same time that the US Olympic trials would take place. It seemed to work for the Americans. (They won half of the gold medals at stake in London and then in Rio.) Horton was open to discussion, but he wasn't willing to make an adjustment. Perhaps they should meet halfway. How about the two months prior to the Olympics?

They peak too soon. Emily Seebohm, the world champion in the 100 and 200-meter backstroke, was a strong favourite to win the Olympic gold medal in both events. But she finished seventh in the finals of the 100. She didn't make the cut in the semifinals. The Adelaide native admitted that her legs gave in early. Her approach was quite similar to Ryan Lochte's. She might consider changing her tactics. Bronte, on the other hand, believed that the Australians swimmers peaked during last year's worlds. But the Americans managed to peak during the Olympics.

Sometimes, it pays to be off the radar. Kyle Chalmers admitted that that he had no idea of his rivals in the Olympic pool, while the attention was on teammate Cameron McEvoy. The Port Lincoln native posted a world junior record during the heats, and then a faster time during the finals. He was the first Australian to win swimming's blue-ribbon event since Michael Wenden in 1968.

For Horton and Chalmers, a media frenzy and commercial endorsements would follow their Olympic triumph. And fans should expect both swimmers to compete in next year's worlds in Budapest. For the rest of the squad, they must pause and think what might have gone wrong. It would be too late to cite doping, though.

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