|HOME | SPORTS | OLYMPICS | NEWS|
|August 28, 2000||
Taut nerves for Aus swimmersJulian Linden in Melbourne
Australia's top swimmers are starting to show the first real signs of nerves as the Sydney Olympics rapidly draw closer.
The national swim team, which includes world record holders Ian Thorpe, Michael Klim and Susan O'Neill, is under enormous pressure to provide the bulk of the host-nation's Olympic expected haul.
For most of the past year the team has been able to shrug off the weight of public expectation with a swagger and a smile but, with the Games now less than three weeks away, the strain is definitely starting to show.
Few are under more pressure than 17-year-old Thorpe, who is expected to win at least three gold medals in the pool less than 10 minutes' drive from his family's suburban home.
Thorpe holds the world record for 200 and 400 freestyle but is desperately trying not to think about what lies ahead.
"I don't know what the Olympics is supposed to feel like so I'm a little bit confused about the whole thing," Thorpe said after beating a top-class field over 200 at a warm-up meet in Melbourne on Sunday.
"I'm trying to approach it just like another meet. You still have to swim the same distances, it's the same number of competitors but it's the biggest competition I've ever been in.
"Hopefully I can swim as well as I have in the past."
O'Neill is preparing for her third Olympics but says she is feeling the pressure a little more this time.
As the reigning Olympic and world champion and world record holder for 200 butterfly, O'Neill is considered a certainty for at least one gold medal.
She is also ranked number one in the world for 200 metres freestyle and is a vital member of the 4x200 freestyle relay which is also ranked number one.
Like Thorpe, she is in the middle of heavy training and consequently well below her best, but was visibly disappointed when she failed to finish in the top three in both the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly finals on the opening day of the Melbourne meet.
Her disappointment turned to genuine concern when she qualified just seventh-fastest for the 200 butterfly in Sunday's morning heats, an event in which she is unbeaten in since 1994.
"My confidence was definitely down. I was shaking in the warm-up pool and I didn't want to race in the final but my coach made me," O'Neill said.
"I've been happy with my training so I'm not worried about the big picture but I've definitely been lacking a little bit of motivation this weekend."
Determined to maintain her unbeaten run, O'Neill returned to the pool later that night and blasted out of the blocks, powering away to win in 2:08.58, the fifth-fastest time in the world this year.
"That was better. I really needed that and I feel like my confidence is back already," she said.
Klim suffered his second defeat in as many days when he was narrowly beaten by Geoff Huegill in the men's 100 butterfly but was non-plussed about the result.
The pair are ranked top two in the world and there is rarely more than a fingertip between them. This time, Huegill took the honours by 0.08 seconds with a time of 53.48.
"I wasn't that impressed with the way I swam but now this doesn't really matter," Klim said. "The Olympics is the big one. Physically, we're both about the same, it's going to be decided by who is mentally strongest."
Huegill said: "This was just a chance to blow out the cobwebs. We both know that the Olympics is going to be a close race and it's just little things that will be the difference."
Swimmers from 14 overseas countries accepted invitations to compete at the two-day meeting as part of their final tune-up for the Olympics.
The most distinguished visitor was Russia's Alexander Popov, winner of the 50 and 100 metres freestyle at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
Popov declared his Olympic defence on course after easily winning the 100 on Saturday then adding the 50 on Sunday, coasting to the wall in 22.34, 0.70 seconds outside the 21.64 world record he set in Moscow two months ago.
Mail Sports Editor
TRAVEL | NEWSLINKS
ROMANCE | WEDDING | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEATHER | FREE MESSENGER | BROADBAND | E-CARDS | EDUCATION
HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK