Thu, 05 Aug 2021

TOKYO, July 21 (Xinhua) -- After a year of uncertainty, Australian athletes have begun arriving in Tokyo for the delayed 2020 Olympic Games.

Among the 488 athletes chosen to represent Australia in 33 sports at the Games - the country's biggest team since 2000 - none are under more pressure to perform than the 35 swimmers.

They have been tasked with stopping a 20-year slide in Australia's performance at the Olympics.

Of the 58 medals won by Australia at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, 18 - or 31 percent - came in swimming, including five of the country's 16 gold medals.

By comparison, at London 2012, Australia won 35 medals with 10 - 28 percent - coming in the pool, only one of which was gold.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Australia's swimmers again took home 10 medals, three of which were gold, when the delegation was ranked 10th on the medal table, the lowest in recent five editions of Olympics.

Leading the charge to repair the Australian Olympic team's reputation in Tokyo will be freestyle prodigy Ariarne Titmus.

Titmus, 20, put the world on notice with her performance at the Australian Swimming Trials in June, where she set the second-fastest 200m and 400m freestyle times in history and an Australian record in the 800m.

According to FINA's rankings, her results in 200m and 400m disciplines were both the world's fastest in 2021.

The performance prompted the Swimming World magazine to rank Titmus as one of the best female swimmer in the world in the lead-up to the Olympics.

"Pressure is a privilege. And I have to use it to help me swim fast," Titmus told The Canberra Times earlier in July.

"I know that when I'm nervous and excited it means that the race matters and I'm going to get the best out of myself when I feel that energy."

While Titmus is heading to Tokyo as the star of the Australian Olympic team, the swimming squad also boasts strong depth.

Kaylee McKeown enters the Games as favourite in the 200m and 100m backstroke after smashing the world record in the latter at June's trials.

McKeown, who celebrated her 20th birthday earlier in July, swam the 100m in 57.45 seconds, beating American Regan Smith's 2019 record by 0.12 seconds.

She followed it up by swimming the 200m in a Commonwealth record of 2:04.28 - the fastest time in the world so far in 2021 - and qualifying fastest for the 200m individual medley.

Tokyo marks the start of Olympic careers for Titmus, McKeown and men's medal hopefuls Elijah Winnington and Zac Stubblety-Cook, but will likely be the last Games for veterans Cate Campbell, 29, and Emma McKeon, 27.

McKeon, a four-time medalist in Rio, could compete in as many as eight events at the Tokyo Games, including four relays, after setting the fastest times of 2021 in the women's 50m and 100m freestyle at trials, as well as this year's second-best time in 100m butterfly and fourth-best time in 200m freestyle.

Swimming World magazine ranked McKeon fifth in the world and raised the possibility that she could "threaten" the record for most medals won by a female swimmer at a single Olympics.

Her strongest competition in the freestyle events could come from Campbell, who was earlier in July chosen as a flagbearer for the opening ceremony.

Campbell, once the golden girl of Australian swimming, is aiming for her first individual Olympic medal in Tokyo.

In 2016 Campbell entered the 100m freestyle as the world record holder and favourite but finished sixth after leading at the turn in what she described as "the greatest choke in Olympic history."

However, she has rejected suggestions that the Tokyo Games are an opportunity for redemption.

"I'm not going to Tokyo to atone for 2016," she told the Australian Associated Press (AAP) after being announced as a flagbearer alongside basketball player Patty Mills.

"After a setback, everyone can feel a bit isolated. And I know that I definitely felt that."

"To be able to still feel the love and the support of the nation behind me is a really freeing and uplifting feeling."

More Hobart News

Access More

Sign up for Hobart News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!