London in 2012 was a winter of discontent for the Australian swimming team.
With reports of bullying and disharmony among the ranks, James Magnussen’s boasting and the Stilnox affair hanging over the men’s 4 x 100m relay team, London was the first Olympics since Montreal in 1976 that we failed to bring home an individual gold.
Things were so dire that Swimming Australia ordered an independent review into the performance, which spoke of a “toxic” environment and culture, and brought in John Bertrand as a Mr Fixit.
Fast forward two years and things are smelling of roses once more – a record haul of 57 medals in the pool at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow made up of 19 gold, 21 silver and 17 bronze. Next best England won 28 swimming medals.
Australians, it seems, have fallen in love with swimming again. It’s amazing what a little gold can do.
So, let’s take a look at why our part-time amphibians are back in vogue.
Beating up on lesser nations
Like a boxer on the receiving end of a brutal knockout, our swim team needed a soft touch to regain some swagger.
Enter the Commonwealth Games, where the USA, China, France, the Netherlands and Hungary – all nations who finished ahead of us on the swimming medal table in London – aren’t competing. The result? Gold, gold, and more gold, some silver and bronze. And happy punters back home.
The ‘Missile’ fires
James Magnussen claimed his first Commonwealth Games gold medal, with a victory in the 100m freestyle, then battled an inflamed back on the final day to win bronze in the 50m and almost drag the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay team home in an heroic performance.
True to form, Magnussen even managed to rankle after that.
“I was having trouble getting the 6ft 5in frame off the blocks during the week,” he moaned.
“But I’ll have a nice 20-hour flight back to Australia on economy and have a good look at it on an MRI.”
Enjoy your flight Missile – hope your telly isn’t working. You could always sleep …
Aussies love a good family drama (The Sullivans, Packed to the Rafters…) and so, clearly, do the Campbell sisters. No pair of sisters had ever taken gold and silver at an individual Commonwealth Games event before, but Cate and her younger sister Bronte managed it in the 100m freestyle. World champion Cate produced a time of 52.68 seconds to win the event, holding off fast-finishing sister Bronte, whose mark of 52.86 was her personal best. They also took silver (Cate) and bronze in the 50m freestyle.
Cate, 22, expects her 20-year-old sibling to stay on her tail for some years yet. “Hopefully we continue to push each other along, because I think this is great for swimming in Australia,” she said.
For the record, we’d love the see the younger Campbell turn the tables on big sis’ sometime.
The McKeon girl
Emma McKeon is genetically blessed when it comes to swimming.
She is the daughter of former Olympian Ron McKeon, mother Susie (formerly Woodhouse) was a Commonwealth Games swimmer, and uncle Rob also swam at the Olympics. Plus she is 178cm tall, lean as a greyhound and has a smile like, well, an Australian female swimmer.
With four gold medals (the 200m freestyle, plus three relays) and two bronze (the 100m freestyle and butterfly), the 20-year-old was the single most successful member of the Australian team.
Mack Horton, with his clean-cut, Clark Kent looks and prescription goggles, is the antithesis of the modern alpha athlete. He has also put Australia back in the game in the 1500m, an event we hold dear. His time of 14 minutes, 48.76 seconds to win silver was similar to the times Grant Hackett was swimming at the same age – 18.
Girls named Bronte
Who would have thought so many fans of 19th-century English literature would have daughters interested in swimming? This Australian team has two, count ‘em, two girls named Bronte. Bronte Barratt and Bronte Campbell, we salute you – and your parents.
Girls, girls, girls
Even in London, it was the girls who helped us keep the ship afloat – delivering our only gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay, five of our six silver and two of our three bronze, while the boys floundered.
The lads have lifted their game in Glasgow, but the women still held sway – winning 10 golds to nine from the fellas.
Owner of the best surname ever. And the new Commonwealth Games record in the 100 m backstroke.