The James Magnussen-led Australian team is seeking redemption for an under-achieving London Olympics, and the tumultuous 12 months which followed, when swimming’s world championships get underway this Sunday in Barcelona.
London was Australian swimming’s first Games without an individual gold medal since the 1976 Montreal Olympics and its worst record haul — of one gold medal, six silver and three bronze — since 1992 in Barcelona.
Two independent inquiries into what went wrong in London pointed to a squad lacking leadership and found “toxic” incidents such as drunkenness and bullying had gone unchecked.
Among the revelations were that members of the six-man 4x100m freestyle relay squad had taken sleeping pills banned by the Australian Olympic Committee and played pranks at a pre-games training camp.
Australia’s one-time flag-waving sport has been greatly diminished amid massive changes in the fallout from their dismal Olympics.
The sport’s president, chief executive and head coach have all gone, while the loss of a major sponsor, a cut in government funding and sanctions for some misbehaving swimmers point to bleak times.
All six relay members in London, including defending world 100m freestyle champion Magnussen, were handed fines and suspended bans for misbehaviour including misuse of sleep drug Stilnox.
As a consequence Australia will send its smallest team in eight years to the Barcelona world championships as the team rebuilds from the post-Olympics wreckage.
Magnussen, who was lost the Olympic 100m freestyle title by just one-hundredth of a second to American Nathan Adrian, goes to Barcelona with the year’s fastest time and a renewed commitment.
Nicknamed “The Missile”, Magnussen says he is a changed man since the damaging sleep-drug scandal. “I started to believe my own press a bit, started to think I was The Missile rather than just myself,” said the 22-year-old.
Magnussen said he is targeting both the 50m and 100m events in Barcelona.
The men’s 4x100m freestyle team, a disappointing fourth in London, will also have a new look in Barcelona with the inclusion of Matt Abood.
Five-time London Olympic medallist Alicia Coutts faces a busy schedule in Spain where she has qualified for five individual events, plus the prospect of swimming in three relay teams.
Coutts, who holds the year’s fastest times in the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley, along with the world’s top-ranked sprinter Cate Campbell represent Australia’s best hopes in the women’s events.
Jordan Harrison (17), who became the first Australian in five years to go under 15 minutes (14:51.02) in the 1,500m freestyle at the trials last May, ranks second only to China’s Olympic champion Sun Yang in the event.