Australian swimmer Mack Horton says he still would have staged his anti-doping protest at the world titles in South Korea if he had known about teammate Shayna Jack’s positive test.
Now that the World Championships have been swum and won, there is a short time to take stock before our swimmers gear up for the Tokyo Olympics this time next year.
Below are some observations from watching the team and the broader news this week.
Firstly, Mack Horton’s 400m silver was a great swim, however the subject of Horton has been done to death.
That said, I broadly support what he did. The accusations of hypocrisy and glass houses don’t hold much water.
Horton and US swimmer Lilly King have been the most outspoken on the issue as both their greatest rivals (Sung Yang and Yulia Efimova, respectively) have had doping issues. Notwithstanding what is evidently some degree of personal animus, both have been consistent advocates for clean swimming.
While most countries have athletes fail doping tests from time to time, three countries stand out from the pack when it comes to state-sanctioned doping: East Germany, Russia and China.
The latter’s brazen doping, where Chinese women won 12 of 14 events, turned the 1994 World Championships into a joke. The Chinese did not dominate these championships or any ones since 1994 for that matter, and they do produce magnificent individual swimming talent.
Evidently, suspicions are raised about some swimmers but I would suspect most Chinese swimmers are clean – like most Australians.
The Shayna Jack furore erupted on Saturday evening, just in time for the Sunday Telegraph’s utterly headline “Shayna’s shame”. No-one leads pile-ons better and casting a vulnerable and distressed 20-year-old as a sporting pariah on the front page was a disgrace.
Furthermore, apologies for muddying the waters before the facts emerge but Jack tested positive in a training camp in Japan, two weeks after she made the team as a relay swimmer. If the doping was intentional wouldn’t she have done it before the trials?
If it emerges she was inadvertent or careless, guilty she might be but it makes the character assassination look even more crass.
In Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel, the US has two extraordinary sprinters both doing the 50 and 100m double and are deserved favourites for Tokyo.
Dressel’s turns and, in particularly, his starts have been extraordinary. Rarely did he not have a half body-length lead 15m down the first lap. In fact, the US team’s starts and turns as a whole were generally sharper, faster and better underwater.
Manuel winning the 100m from Lane 1 and the 50m from lane 6 demonstrated the composure and resilience that sadly eludes some of her competitors.
Oh man, what to say about Cate. She’s a fantastic sportswoman and ambassador for swimming and it pains me that she may finish her career without an individual Olympic gold medal.
But this is the third major championship in three years where she has gone in favourite and not won.
I will not mince words: Campbell has not been able to win under pressure. Rio was a debacle. Beaten by her sister Bronte at the Commonwealth Games. And this week more of the same: beaten when she could and should have won.
Extraordinary relay split times and a failure to perform as fast in her individual events happens time and again.
Campbell should go off first in the 4×100 relay – her 51.1 split was fastest by a mile, but she has never broken 52s in her individual races.
The world record of 51.71 was by Sarah Sjostrom going off first in the relay in 2017 and Campbell has been denied holding the world record by anchoring the relay and not leading off. Records are often broken in relays as swimmers post amazing times when the pressure is less and when swimming for their teammates as well as themselves.
Campbell is a confidence swimmer and assuming it’s the head coach’s decision, it does her a disservice. She needs to swim first.
Relay gold in Tokyo is not enough and I’m sure she knows this better than anyone.
Sadly, Larkin could not emulate his 200 individual medley time from the trials, which would have won him the title if replicated. His dilemma towards Tokyo is whether to focus on the IM or the 200 backstroke, which unfortunately fall in the same session of the schedule.
Personally, I think he has more scope for improvement in the IM but it will need to be one or the other.
Titmus, Chalmers and McKeon
These three will likely have the heaviest program if they qualify for their respective events in Tokyo.
Ariarne Titmus: 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle and 4×200 relay (10 swims max)
Kyle Chalmers: 50, 100, 200 freestyle, 4×100, 4×200 free, 4×100 medley, 4×100 mixed medley relays (15 swims max)
Emma McKeon: 100, 200 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 4×100, 4×200 free relay, 4×100 mixed medley, 4×100 medley (13 swims max)
Do they attempt to swim every event they qualify for, or do they endeavour to be more selective to maximise their chances of a gold medal?
I would like to see McKeon, in particular, choose a smaller program and go for broke in one event. Enough silver and bronze, Emma!
Also, well done to Matthew Wilson for his world record in the 200 breaststroke. It didn’t last 24 hours but I hope you take it back next year in the Olympic final.
Finally, for those unaware, the Tokyo Olympic swimming program has been designed less for the benefit of swimmers and more for US broadcaster NBC, so heats will be swum from 6-9pm and finals the following morning from 10am.