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Magnussen embraces underdog status

July 26, 2013
James Magnussen: "I think I'm just learning slowly to relax and enjoy the experience more." Photo: Getty Images

James Magnussen: “I think I’m just learning slowly to relax and enjoy the experience more.” Photo: Getty Images

Not so long ago he was a man who felt invincible, but James Magnussen is taking a very human approach into his 100m freestyle world title defence in Barcelona.

Before last year’s London Olympics, Magnussen was the tough-talking, headline-hogging swimming superstar who considered himself “bulletproof”.

A year on from narrowly missing out on Olympic gold, a reformed Magnussen is more relaxed, humble and – for the first time since exploding onto the international scene – keen to embrace underdog status.

Just as he was the face of Australia’s underachievement in London, the 22-year-old is at the forefront of a swimming team seeking redemption and looking to put the harsh lessons of the past 12 months into practice at the world championships, starting on Sunday.

“I feel like I’ve aged about five years (since London),” Magnussen said on Thursday.

“It’s a really different feel this year.

“There’s been a lot of guys retire on the team so I feel like one of the older heads on the team now and I think I’m just learning slowly to relax and enjoy the experience more.”

Magnussen remains confident and his results and times suggest he should be.

His 100m time of 47.53 seconds in retaining the national title in Adelaide in April remains the quickest in the world this year.

But gone are the big statements and bold predictions as Australian swimming’s alpha male plans to do his talking in the pool rather than out if it.

“It’s been a conscious effort of mine to take the pressure off myself,” Magnussen said.

“I think it’s a bit easier this year when I’m going into this as the Olympic silver medallist and the Russians are swimming really well as well.

“I’m probably not the headline event I was last year.”

That, he insists, suits him just fine.

After admitting he let the hype get to him in London, Magnussen is happy for his Olympic conqueror – American Nathan Adrian – and rising Russian star Vladimir Morozov to hog the limelight.

“Times might say differently but in terms of international results, I definitely feel like the underdog,” said Magnussen, who also considers the defending champion men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team outsiders.

Magnussen spearheads a 36-strong squad in Barcelona, Australia’s smallest swim team in eight years as it rebuilds from the post-Olympics wreckage.

The nation produced its lowest Olympic medal haul since the 1992 Barcelona Games in London and was without an individual gold medal for the first time since 1976.

The fallout featured two independent inquiries, which pointed to squad which lacked leadership and had a “toxic” culture with instances of drunkenness and bullying going unpunished.

Australian swimming’s president, chief executive and head coach have all moved on since and the loss of a major sponsor dealt the sport another heavy blow.

Under new leader Michael Scott, Magnussen said the early signs in Barcelona indicated the culture within the team was back on track and he feels it will be reflected in the pool.

“It’s the only way the sport can move forward,” Magnussen said.

“If we stop talking about the past and looking at past results and start to actually make some steps forward.”

Despite losing the likes of Stephanie Rice, Leisel Jones, Libby Trickett and Eamon Sullivan, Australia look well-placed on paper.

The nation holds the top world ranking inn seven events, one more than the powerful US team which is also in a rebuilding phase and adjusting to life without Michael Phelps.

Alicia Coutts again looks poised for a multiple-medal haul after picking up five in London and has the fastest swims this year in the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

Cate Campbell is ranked first in the 50m and 100m freestyle, raising hope Australia could dominated the men’s and women’s sprint events while Christian Sprenger (50m, 100m breaststroke) is also ranked first in two events.

There’s also an encouraging sign of a resurgance in distance events, notably the 1500m freestyle with 17-year-old Jordan Harrison ranked second to China’s Olympic champion Sun Yang.

Key events for Australia at Swimming Championships

Men’s 4x100m freestyle (Sunday, July 28)

The James Magnussen-led Australian team is defending the title but has its work cut out against the powerful American and French, along with the rising Russians.

Women’s 4x100m freestyle (Sunday, July 28)

This event provided Australia’s only gold medal during the London Games and a strong team featuring Cate Campbell and Alicia Coutts is sure to be in the mix again.

Men’s 100m breaststroke (Monday, July 29)

Christian Sprenger is a class above his rivals based on times posted so far this year and is looking to go one better than his silver medal at the London Games.

Women’s 200m individual medley (Monday, July 29)

One of five individual events in a gruelling program for Alicia Coutts. She’s ranked No.1 in the world this year but again will have to contender with teenage Chinese Olympic champion Ye Shiwen.

Women’s 100m backstroke (Tuesday, July 30)

Emily Seebohm is always a genuine contender in her pet event but she meets American sensation Missy Franklin, who looms as the potential star of the meet.

Women’s 200m freestyle (Wednesday, July 31)

Bronte Barratt and Kylie Palmer have been mainstays in this event in recent years and they’ll again be out to make their presence felt in a stellar field.

Men’s 100m freestyle final (Thursday, Aug 1)

James Magnussen gets the chance to defend his title and avenge his London Olympic defeat by American Nathan Adrian, though Russian Vladimir Morozov has emerged a genuine threat.

Women’s 100m freestyle final (Friday, Aug 2)

Cate Campbell is the fastest woman in the world this year and she’ll again get the chance to race alongside her sister Bronte.

Men’s 50m freestyle (Sat, Aug 3)

The one-lap splash and dash is always a highlight of any major swimming meet and James Magnussen and Matthew Abood will compete against the likes of Brazil’s Cesar Cielo and Olympic champion Florent Manaudou.

Men’s 1500m freestyle (Sun, Aug 4)

It’s been slim pickings in what was once Australia’s blue-ribbon event but teenager Jordan Harrison has emerged as a contender to Chinese superstar Sun Yang.


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