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Australian swimmers have ‘mojo back’ ahead of Rio Olympics

Kyle Chalmers (L) and Australian swimming coach Jacco Verhaeren attend a press conference on the final day of the national Olympic swimming trials in Adelaide, on April 14, 2016
AFP

Adelaide (Australia) (AFP) – Australian swimming has its mojo back, coach Jacco Verhaeren says, with current form indicating they are on track for a host of gold medals at the Rio Olympics.

A 34-strong team was announced on Thursday evening after the completion of the eight-day Australian Championships in Adelaide, with several ranked world number one on current form.

“It’s one of the stronger international teams I’ve seen, definitely,” said Verhaeren, best known for guiding Dutch greats Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn to Olympic success at the Sydney and Athens Games.

“I think swimming has got its mojo back which is a great thing and where it should be in Australia.”

A strong showing in Rio would be a major turnaround for the Australian swim team, which produced just one gold at the 2012 London Olympics in a campaign marred by ill-discipline, drug use and drunkenness.

Verhaeren is credited with restoring stability and moulding a squad of driven, clean-living athletes determined to make amends for the London flop.

The team is headed by Cameron McEvoy and Cate Campbell, who both dominated the sprints at the Adelaide meet. 

McEvoy claimed the first-ever sprint treble at an Australian swimming championships in the 50, 100 and 200m freestyle, while Campbell narrowly beat younger sister Bronte in both the 50m and 100m events with sizzling times.

Backstroke world champions Emily Seebohm and Mitch Larkin are also heading to Brazil, as is Mack Horton, who swam Australia’s second-fastest 1500m time ever behind former world record-holder Grant Hackett.

Rising freestyle star Emma McKeon and her brother David will become the first sister-brother combination to swim for Australia at an Olympics since John and Ilsa Konrads at Rome in 1960.

When told their trial form indicated the Australian team was on track to claim plenty of gold at Rio, Verhaeren said: “That would be fantastic wouldn’t it?”

But he cautioned that rankings often meant little when it came to the Olympics.

“We’re in a sport where decisions on gold, silver or bronze are made on sometimes one one-hundredth of a second, to a few tenths,” he said.

“I’ll stick to no predictions, but this week has definitely shown we’re competitive on the international stage and that’s good looking forward.”

Australia’s arch pool rival, the United States, is yet to hold its selection trials, which are certain to shake up the world rankings before Rio.

Verhaeren said his job now was to “keep everyone relaxed and make sure they do the job”.

“We will never talk about medals or records,” he said. 

“We will keep them in the process of doing things right. I think it is good to have fate in your own hands.”

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