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September 12, 2000
Oz hell bent on busting US bubbleJulian Linden
The man in charge of Australia's swimming team has conceded defeat. Don Talbot's attempt to convince the world that his star-studded team does not harbour any great Olympic ambitions has failed miserably.
Instead the Australians, whose 44-member squad includes four individual world record holders, are now being tipped as a serious threat to the United States' long domination of Olympic swimming.
Even Talbot has now been forced to concede that he thinks his team really can beat the Americans, so long as they receive a little outside help.
"We do not have a strong enough team to do it ourselves...we need the rest of world to help us," he said.
"This is not just us against the United States. In fact, it's really the world ganging up against the United States, trying to knock them off their pedestal."
The Americans have always been the benchmark of Olympic swimming.
Their grand total of 177 gold medals is easily the most by any country. Australia, with 38, are a distant second.
Australia did finish in front of the Americans when they last hosted the Games in Melbourne in 1956. Their team, which included Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose, won eight gold medals.
Australian swimming has never reached those dizzy heights since but, with home pool advantage and the sudden emergence of a crop of new stars, the signs are promising.
"This is an Olympic Games, being held at the turn of the century, in your own country. It's very special," Talbot said.
"We're going to use the Australian crowd as much as we can, just like the Americans did in Atlanta.
"We want to make this the highlight of our swimming history."
Despite Talbot's caution, the Australian public is expecting great things from the home team, and Ian Thorpe in particular.
The Sydney teenager is a raging favourite in the 200 and 400 metres freestyle, events in which he holds the world record. He is also the lead-off swimmer in the 4x200 metres relay team, which also holds the world record, and the 4x100 metres relay.
"I'm just hoping to do my best," Thorpe said, when asked how he is coping with the pressure.
Australia looks to have a mortgage on at least two other men's events, the 100 metres butterfly and the 1500 metres freestyle.
Michael Klim is the reigning world champion and world record holder for the 100 metres butterfly and his biggest challenger is another Australian, Geoff Huegill.
Similarly, Kieren Perkins has won the 1500 metres at the past two Olympics and still holds the world record but the favourite is teammate Grant Hackett, the current world champion.
Australia's women are not as strong but Susan O'Neill is considered virtually unbeatable in the 200 metres butterfly. The reigning world and Olympic champion, she hasn't been beaten in six years. She is also ranked number one in the 200 metres freestyle.
"Yes, we have got a strong team but strange things can happen at the Olympics," Talbot said.
"I've seen people not ranked in the top 100 suddenly come and finish first. I'm hoping we have someone who'll do that."
"I'm hoping that they will find some inspiration because we have to use every advantage we can."
"I am a purist from the old school of medals and I like the colour of gold better than silver or bronze."
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