This week saw the Australian swimming team obtain its best result at a swimming world championship since 2009 in a medal feat that accumulated to 13, including three gold.
That 2009 team contained the likes of Libby Trickett, Leisel Jones and Jess Schipper and was on a high after a strong performance at the 2008 Olympic Games, part of the golden generation of Australian swimming. Yet the circumstances going into the FINA world championships in Barcelona could not have been more contrasting for the once dominant Australian swimming team. Coming off the back of a dismal performance in London in which they claimed only a sole gold medal and the subsequent resignation of the head coach and swimming Australia President, the Australian swimming team had its backs to the wall with problems both in and outside of the pool.
Yet Australian sporting teams thrive in the label of the underdog and this swimming team latched to that title like a dog to a bone in Barcelona, putting past controversy behind them in a resounding performance.
The team was led by James Magnussen, the 22 year old Port Macquarie product who was seeking redemption for his agonising silver medal in the London Olympics by one hundredth of a second to American Nathan Adrian, despite being an overwhelming favourite to take gold. Barcelona served as the perfect revenge for Magnussen as he powered home over his rivals to retain the 100 metre Freestyle world crown that he won back in 2011 and will be looking to assert a further three years of dominance as the best Sprinter in the world as well as claim revenge for his 2012 disappointment.
In a heart-warming sporting tale, breaststroker Christian Sprenger claimed his maiden world title in the 100m Breaststroke, building off his silver medal in London. Adding a silver medal to his resume in the 50 metres, Australia will look to him, along with Magnussen to provide the Australian team with strong leadership and experience as they begin to lie the foundation blocks for the Rio Olympics 2016.
Undeniably the best story to come out of Barcelona was Cate Campbell, the 21 year old who emerged on the scene as a freakish sixteen year old, who has finally developed that talent in success at the highest level. Campbell also won her maiden world title in the women’s 100m freestyle and backed it up with a silver medal in the 50 metre event, asserting herself as the new golden girl of the Australian swimming team.
Podium success was not the only highlight for Australia at the titles, with the next generation of youth providing the Australians a glimmering hope of what they might have to look forward to in the years leading up to Rio. Teenage sensation Cameron McEvoy steamed onto the scene with a terrific 4th place in the 100m freestyle and his emergence will only add to Australia’s already strong stocks in the relay department. Another Australian teenager Jordan Harrison promises to be Australia’s next long distance superstar, making the final in the 400, 800 and 1500m events with a highest placing of 5th in the 800 metres. Sister of golden girl Cate Campbell, Bronte also showed potential, finishing 6th in the final of the 50 metres freestyle and will look to challenge her older sister’s supremacy in the coming years. Australia will look to these youthful talents, along with the likes of Thomas Fraser-Homes to continue their rapid emergence heading into Rio.
What this indicates is that Australia has the perfect mixture of youth and experience to build a strong platform towards a successful campaign in Rio. Sprenger, Magnussen and Campbell will be joined by Emily Seebohm, Belinda Hockey and Alicia Coutts, all of whom claimed silver medals in Barcelona. The championships have shown the Australian swimming team has enormous potential to claim multiple gold’s in Rio 2016 and provide a perfect platform for the Australia Olympic Commission’s aim of finishing top five in the overall medal tally.
Yet it remains crucial in the upcoming three years that lessons are learned from the disastrous London campaign and that the issues in the pool are dealt with effectively. If this can be managed, Australian sports fans cannot help but gleam that swimming will yet again return to spearhead the Australian Olympic hopes heading towards Rio.