The coach of swimming’s newest sprint star James Roberts believes Australia’s pace-setting 100m freestyle swimmers have led the sport out of the dark days of super suits.
Roberts, 20, emerged as the second-fastest man in a textile suit as he finished second behind world champion James Magnussen in Monday night’s final at Olympic trials in Adelaide.
Magnussen clocked a scintillating 47.10 seconds to fall just short of Cesar Cielo’s world record of 46.91, set in a now-banned polyurethane swimsuit at the 2009 world championships in Rome.
Roberts, born on the same day as Magnussen, showed remarkable improvement in Adelaide to clock 47.63 seconds – the same time Magnussen did in winning the world title in Shanghai last year.
And Roberts’ coach John Fowlie said Australia would be heading to London with two swimmers who should be considered the fastest men in history.
“47.1 to me is the world record,” said Fowlie, based at the Australian Institute of Sport.
“Those couple of years (2008 and 2009) were just a farce as far as swimming was concerned and this is the great thing now because you’re talking about the athletes (not the suits).
“Magnussen and Roberts are phenomenal athletes and the suits have nothing to do with it.
“You can compare these guys with (Alexander) Popov and (Pieter) van den Hoogenband, (Matt) Biondi and all the greats that have come through the sport before them – and there’s no asterixes.
“It’s great to see the sport of swimming back to this point.”
Fowlie admitted to surprise at Roberts’ rapid improvement, despite him producing the goods in training leading into trials.
“It’s really rare that somebody will come out and just blow your absolute expectations,” Fowlie said.
“We knew he had prepared well, but we were looking maybe 48-low. For him to go 47.6 in a time that would have won the world championships was really unbelievable.”
Roberts’ individual selection for London helped ease the pain of missing out on Australia’s victorious 4x100m freestyle relay team in Shanghai.
He swam in the heats before being left out of the final in China as Australia’s relay coaches – including Fowlie – opted to go with the experience of Eamon Sullivan.
“Being sat out of the relay, it was tough,” Tweed Heads-born Roberts said.
“My coach was the one who made the decision but, at the end of the day, I couldn’t argue.
“It definitely made me want to come back and work harder and secure a spot on that team for London.”