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Waves of the past create clear water for today

8 August 2016

SWIMMING: The excitement around the Australian swim team is as evident as it is compelling.

It was brilliantly prompted by Mack Horton’s first-night victory not only in the result of the 400m final but his victory over Sun Yang in the mind games that will spill-over into the 1500m freestyle, and the racing under the pressure of favouritism of the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay by grabbing gold and setting a new world record.

The whole team in Rio that has arrived with a new culture, attitude and respect for continuing a proud tradition turned up for day two inspired by day one’s feats and the instant momentum it created as a benchmark.

They spoke openly about the character of the opening day’s conquests – in the first appearance at the Olympic Games by our usual team flag-bearers since the publicly-slated disappointments of London 2012.

Meanwhile, the historians reflected on the unparalleled excitement of Sydney 2000 when a 17-year-old Ian Thorpe opened the onslaught with a 400m freestyle win and the 4x100m men’s relayed gave us double gold on opening night.

It resonated so much because the past, and especially those who became so prominent in 2000 at home, has been brought into play by Jacco Verhaeren and his coaching and performance team.

Beamed Tom Fraser-Holmes after his 200m freestyle heat: “It was fantastic! Two gold in one night, I mean that’s sort of similar to Sydney first night so it’s just good to be a part of. I think I was more pumped for Mack’s swim then I was for mine.”

Joshua Beaver, who made the semi-finals of the men’s 100m backstroke with a personal best (PB) time of 53.47, is unlikely to be one of our podium-celebrating stars in coming days but his effort of recording a PB is in line with what Verhaeren is trying to instill: it’s about peak performance on your standards, and not medals counted or outside expectations.

Young Tamsin Cook is another who may not be a household name at the end of her Olympic Games campaign, but today swam a two-second PB to make the 400m freestyle final alongside teammate Jessica Ashwood.

“Sitting watching it unfold, it’s very special to be an Australian right now and especially to be on the swim team,” Beaver said.

“I’m really looking forward to see what unfolds over the next week; the Australian team is in an awesome position I’m sure we can capitalise on every opportunity that we get.”

But, wait, today is not day two … just day one again.

And, so too, will be tomorrow. And the next day.

And that’s the mantra driven from the top that will pervade - until the last splash is over and the team can then look back, hopefully at a dawning of a new era, instead of needing to look immediately forward.

That has a significant relevance at this Olympic Games for our aqua-athletes.

It’s the mantra instilled by general manager of performance Wayne Lomas who had to endure the controversy and disappointment of four years ago but has been described as the “glue” of the new culture in the camp, underneath Verhaeren.

“Don’t dwell on yesterday and expect it to happen today,” is the mantra. “Today is all you need to focus on.”

Yet where the past has been so relevant, is in its context and its lessons.

That’s why every member of the current Olympic swim team received a personal letter from an Olympian swimmer of yesteryear.

Well, all except one.

Mack Horton’s came from Jodi Rose, the widow of Murray Rose, the only Australian to win the 400m-1500m freestyle Olympic double (in 1956) – the feat Horton is determined to emulate at his first Olympic Games.

It’s why Thorpe was called in to address the team at the orientation camp immediately following the national championships in April, and the other face of 2000, Michel Klim, presented each member with their gold cap on the last day of pre-Olympic staging camp in Auburn.

Of the 37-member pool swim team here in Rio, 13 were in London four years ago.

And that presents the other aspect of this team’s mantra. Recognise and learn from the past, but don’t be overburdened by it.

The great medal hopes from 2012 – James Magnussen, Cate Campbell, Emily Seebohm – are at the forefront of that.

If we talk redemption, the men’s 4x100m freestyle team who will be involved in one of the great relay showdowns in a few hours, may be the face of it considering the events of four years hence.

Three of those who failed to medal in London with all the hoopla surrounding them – James Magnussen, Cameron McEvoy and James Roberts – will have a second chance against a red-hot field, led by USA, Russia, France and Brazil.

No matter what the result, talk around the pool Olympic venue the past two days is that competing nations have noticed the quiet resolve, and confidence, from Team Down Under.

Publisher of Swimming World magazine and website, American Brent Ruttemiller who is an authoritative figure and has been around the pool for decades, commented about something, in attitude and focus, was different at first close glance here in Rio.

There will be no-over emphasis though from inside the Australian camp on the results per sae. On the medals. More the performance and the recognition of the people beside and behind each swimmer.

Yet if tonight’s relay men win, it would give the Aussie swimmers not just one of the best opening efforts at the Olympics but more inspiration and confidence.

Going into day one … again.

Neil Cadigan
olympics.com.au

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