Australia’s swimmers have admitted they buckled under pressure and underestimated how much their rivals had improved at the London Games after the squad picked up just a solitary gold as part of a 10-medal haul in the pool.
“As much as you think you’re ready for it, the difference between world championships and the Olympics is a hundred times more pressure,” freestyle specialist Eamon Sullivan told reporters on Thursday.
“We under-prepared for the expectations of the pressure and the experience of the Olympics and, unfortunately, it’s a bad time to learn lessons,” he added. “But for the next Olympics, if it’s the same team, it’ll be a different result.”
A powerhouse at previous Games, the swimming team usually gets the country off to a flying start in the first week of the Olympics, often contributing a major share of Australia’s medals.
The lone success at the London Aquatics Centre, in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay, was considered a catastrophe for a team which only four years earlier in Beijing had won six golds and 20 medals in the pool.
Australia finished 10th on the overall medals table at the July 27 to Aug. 12 Games with seven golds, 16 silvers and 12 bronzes.
“We’ve been obsessed with gold and other medals have lost their value,” argued Cate Campbell, one of the successful women’s relay team. “I can’t see the shame in having one other person in the entire world beating you.”
“It’s a tough field out there, everyone is racing incredibly fast, the world has taken a gigantic leap in swimming,” Campbell said. “We’re seeing world records from the [now banned] supersuits being broken, which lots of us thought wouldn’t happen in our lifetimes. It’s happened in a few short years.”
However, Australia’s poor return has prompted officials to launch a thorough review of what went wrong in London.
Sullivan said Australia had been “caught napping,” somewhat of an understatement considering the last time they failed to win a single individual swimming medal was at the 1976 Montreal Games.
He also said that negative press had made things harder for a team no longer able to look to titans such as Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett to lead them at major meetings.
“The younger guys do read the media and take it to heart,” Sullivan said. “It can really affect their emotional state and makes it hard to get back up when it feels like everyone’s against you. At the end of the day, we did the best we could. That’s all we could ask for.”