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Swimmers aim to set tone for Aussies at Commonwealth Games

April 1, 2018

FILE - In this Aug.10, 2016, file photo, Australia's Cate Campbell starts a women's 100-meter freestyle heat during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.More than 6,600 athletes and officials from across the world will converge on the Gold Coast for the 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games, the quadrennial multi-sports event for 71 countries and territories of the British Commonwealth. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Twelve months out of competitive swimming after the last Olympics gave Cate Campbell a good dose of perspective ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

She knows that as a swimmer competing at a major meet in Australia, the public has high expectations. Australia is among the leading nations in the sport globally, and the swimmers don’t have a forgiving crowd.

“We do set the standard of the meet,” Campbell said Sunday before the team gathered at the outdoor Southport pool for their first look at the venue in games mode. “But I don’t think Australia has ever been beaten in the pool (at the Commonwealth Games) and I don’t think this team is going to let that record fall.”

The Australian swim team won 19 gold medals — including five of the six relays — and 57 overall at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow four years ago. That was double the total haul of second-place England. Canada was third was four gold and 11 overall, with South Africa, Scotland and New Zealand behind that with three gold medals apiece.

The Australians may have won the contest in the water, but England won more medals overall in Glasgow. That ended Australia’s dominating run of finishing atop the standings for six straight Commonwealth Games, and any chance of complacency coming back to the Gold Coast.

There’s a lot of emphasis on the swimmers after Australia’s below-par performance at the last Olympics and world championships, events that forced a rethink on how the team prepares and is selected for major events. The emphasis now is on a short turnaround between trials and competition, similar to the successful U.S. format.

Campbell, who won three gold and silver in Glasgow four years ago, didn’t compete at a high level in 2017 after an Olympic campaign in Rio that didn’t return the individual success she’d expected.

She beat a long-standing world record in the women’s 100-meter freestyle in June, 2016, but finished out of the medals in her event at the Olympics. She picked up a gold medal as part of the 4x100 freestyle relay and a silver in the medley relay.

“I’ve never had a home-crowd advantage,” she said. “We saw it in Glasgow in 2014 — the Scots just lifted. There was something in the air there that helped them lift.

“It’s not so much the pressure of expectation because (the home crowd) want to see you swim well.”

Campbell is part of a 49-member squad that also includes Olympic champions Kyle Chalmers and Mack Horton and world champion backstroker Emily Seebohm.

“To be back wearing the green and gold makes my heart beat a little bit faster,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what we can do over the next couple of days.”

Most of the Australian swimmers will miss the opening ceremony on Wednesday, because competition starts the following day when Emma McKeon will compete in the first three of her planned six events at the games. If she makes the finals, she’ll race five times on the opening day of the meet.

She won four gold medals and two bronze medals in Glasgow, and is happier most of her toughest day will be early on the Gold Coast.

“I’ll be fresher on my first day,” she said. “It’s a good day to have a busy one. It will be easier from then on.”

The last time the games were held in Australia — at Melbourne in 2006 — the home swimming team was dominant with a haul of 16 golds, double second-place England.

But an England squad led by Olympic breaststroke champion Adam Peaty is expected to produce a much closer contest in the pool. Canada has also changed its approach to planning to ensure its 26-member squad is prepared to compete in an outdoor pool, adjacent to the sea in the Australian autumn.

Unlike the Australians, who had the benefit of swimming their trials at the games pool a month ago, Canada held its trials last year.

“We did an early selection so they could focus from September till March without any interruptions of getting ready again and no dramas,” Swimming Canada high performance direct John Atkinson said, noting his squad had 10 days to familiarize themselves with Australian conditions. “Everyone’s in good spirits. We’re coming into this on the back of a Canadian winter, which can be fairly harsh, so even though it’s been a little bit of rain, it’s still warm and everybody’s in a good place.”

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