Coach Jacco Verhaeren has set brutally difficult qualifying standards to make Australia’s team for this month’s world swimming championships team after a poor showing two years ago.
Australia, a traditional powerhouse, had a disappointing campaign last time in Budapest, slumping to eighth on the medals table.
Their haul of just one gold, five silver and four bronze in the pool left them badly trailing the table-topping Americans, who scooped 18 golds.
Verhaeren’s new selection policy means the Aussie team that competes in Gwangju is smaller than usual, but looks very strong.
He has moved the Australian trials much closer to the championships — emulating the all-conquering Americans — while setting qualifying times far harder than required by swimming’s governing body FINA.
– ‘Convert and capitalise’ –
It means the team is down to 27 swimmers compared to the upwards of 40-strong squads who have featured previously.
Verhaeren said that while it was leaner it was also meaner with all swimmers clocking times that should put them in medal contention.
“There have been some fantastic individual performances,” said the Dutchman.
“We now have to convert and capitalise on these performances in South Korea.”
The Dolphins will be a serious threat in a host of events, headlined by Olympic 100 metres freestyle champion Kyle Chalmers and former world record holder Cate Campbell.
Mitch Larkin boasts a world-leading time in the 200m individual medley and will also line up in his favoured backstroke across 100m and 200m -– for which he was world champion in 2015.
There are also high hopes for a handful of Australia’s younger generation, led by teen sensation Ariarne Titmus, who recently set a new Commonwealth best of 3:59.35 in the 400m freestyle and will also compete over 200m and 800m.
– ‘No panic’ –
While Mack Horton failed to make the grade in either the 200m, 400m or 800m, he was added to the squad as a discretionary pick, meaning he will almost certainly renew his bitter rivalry with China’s Sun Yang.
Horton is the only man to topple Sun over 400m in major competition over the past eight years, winning the Rio Olympic gold after publicly calling the controversial Chinese giant a “drug cheat” in the lead-up to the race.
“He’s an Olympic champion, it’s not panic stations, he could turn it around in weeks,” Verhaeren said of Horton’s inclusion.
Chalmers qualified for Korea in 47.35sec — almost half a second quicker than the 2016 Rio final — to put himself in prime position for gold and perhaps even threaten Brazilian Cesar Cielo’s 10-year-old world record of 46.91sec.
“I definitely think I need to be out faster to be competitive,” he said of the 50-metre split. “A lot of guys are out in 23 (seconds) which I haven’t done yet — it’s something I’m working on.”
Campbell is also in fine form, clocking the fastest 100m time this year of 52.12 — quicker than the 52.27 swum by American Simone Manuel to win the world title in 2017.
The two-time Olympic champion is desperate to make amends after famously flopping in the Rio final as the red-hot favourite, but acknowledged everything must click perfectly.
“It is the trickiest race,” said Campbell. “That is why it’s the blue riband event. Your margin for error is so small.”
The swimming competition in Gwangju begins on July 21.
© Agence France-Presse