SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia head into next month’s world championships without sprint king James Magnussen leaving Cate Campbell to lead a team with some exciting young talent determined to lay down a marker for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Rebranded as the “Dolphins” in March after two years rebuilding a culture that was savaged after the London Olympics debacle, the Australians have an auxiliary goal of continuing to improve their image in the eyes of the public back home.
Magnussen’s shoulder injury deprives him of the chance to defend his 100 meters freestyle title for a record second time and coach Jacco Verhaeren will take only two reigning world champions to Russia in Campbell and Christian Sprenger.
With seven other swimmers in the top two in the world this year for at least one of their events, however, the Australians could bring home quite a haul if the breaks go their way at what looks like being a open meet in several events.
“The difference between winning and losing can be as little as one-one-hundredth of a second so we’ll be looking for peak performance and for the team to do their absolute best,” Verhaeren said at the pre-championship training camp in Qatar.
“An extension of what we saw in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games and the Pan Pacs in team cohesion, behavior, showing themselves as elite athletes and everything that goes along with that.
“The world championships, like the Olympics is always difficult. Almost everyone is there, anything can happen and it is becoming tighter and tighter.”
Sprenger will defend his 100 breaststroke crown and Magnussen’s injury presents Cam McEvoy, third fastest in the world this year, with an opportunity to grab the limelight in the blue riband sprint.
There will be much excitement surrounding 19-year-old distance swimmer Mack Horton, who is ranked first in the world for the 400 and 800 meters freestyle and second in the 1,500 this year.
Otherwise Australia’s gold medal hopes will be largely be in the hands of the women with Campbell sisters Cate, the 100 meters freestyle champion, and Bronte leading the way.
Cate defends the title she won in Barcelona two years ago and shares the fastest time of the year, while younger sister Bronte is fourth in the rankings.
Emily Seebohm tops the times in the 100 and 200m backstroke and will be looking for a first individual gold medal at a world championship or Olympics in a career that goes back to the 2007 Australian championships.
The Australian women took home silver in both of the freestyle relays in Barcelona and will be a gold medal threat again in Kazan, even if they have to do it without Kylie Palmer.
Palmer swam in the 4x200m in Barcelona but pulled out of the team for Kazan in June after being informed she had failed a dope test at those championships and was replaced by Melanie Wright.
The 35-strong Australian team ranges in age from 16-year-old sprint relay rookie Kyle Chalmers to 35-year-old Grant Hackett, a living reminder of the days when Australia was unquestionably a swimming superpower.
The three-times Olympic champion returns to Australian colors for the first time in seven years and will compete in the 4x200 relay at his sixth world championships.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury