Aussies look to bounce back in Shanghai

Australia head to the world swimming championships in Shanghai determined to bounce back from their disappointing showing two years ago as the clock ticks down to the London 2012 Olympics.

Updated: July 12, 2011 12:33 IST
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Sydney: Australia head to the world swimming championships in Shanghai determined to bounce back from their disappointing showing two years ago as the clock ticks down to the London 2012 Olympics.

Despite a team with four reigning world champions and three world record holders, Australia are in transition after their below-par return of four gold medals and overall fifth place last time round in Rome.

"We won four in Rome in 2009 which was a disappointing performance, and we certainly want to exceed that total (in Shanghai)," head coach Leigh Nugent said.

"If you look beyond the world championships it's trying to position as many of our swimmers as we can in the top five in the world and particularly in the top eight at this competition.

"We know from our stats that if you're in the top eight you are highly likely to make a final but also get a podium finish if you're in the top five one year out (from the Olympics)."

Brenton Rickard will be defending his world title in the 100m breaststroke which he won in world record time at the Foro Italico two years ago in 58.58sec.

But Australia are stronger in the women's events with three defending world champions - Jessicah Schipper (200m butterfly), Marieke Guehrer (50m butterfly) and Melissa Gorman (5km open water) - and triple Olympic champion Stephanie Rice.

Rice still holds the world record in the 400m individual medley (4:29.45) from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and which withstood the polyurethane-suited assault of 43 world records in Rome a year later.

The 23-year-old is returning from shoulder surgery which forced her out of the 2010 Commonwealth Games but she celebrated her first post-operation win last month, in the 400m medley at the Santa Clara International in California.

"I'm really happy to do my best time since surgery and to do it untapered," she said.

Australia's other world record-holder in Shanghai is Christian Sprenger, who clocked 2:07.31 in the semi-finals of the 200m breaststroke in Rome but was unplaced in the final.

The Australian team, however, is a shadow of the squad which captured 13 golds among 23 medals at Fukuoka in 2001, finishing top of the medals table ahead of China and the United States.

Australia also have three women top-ranked in their events in Kylie Palmer (200m freestyle, ahead of compatriot Bronte Barratt), Belinda Hocking (200m backstroke, from team-mate Meagen Nay) and Alicia Coutts (100m butterfly).

Big things are also expected of emerging sprint ace James Magnussen, 20, who won the national 100m title in April in 48.29sec, a time bettered only by Brazilian world champion Cesar Cielo and German Marco Di Carli this year.

And veteran Geoff Huegill, 32, will continue his remarkable comeback to swimming -- after shedding 45 kilos (99 pounds) over eight months to win Commonwealth gold last year -- as he eyes the London Olympics.

"I'm really looking forward to the journey ahead, not only to the world champs, but to London next year," said the butterfly specialist, who won a silver and a bronze medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

"I have more passion and commitment and I have more focus to swim better than I have before."

Nugent said the Shanghai world championships will be a key indicator as to where the Australians are placed in world swimming.

"Shanghai will put on a fantastic world championships and this will be the first time since Rome in 2009 that the best in the world will all be swimming in the same pool, at the same time," Nugent said.

"I've just reviewed the rankings and we're certainly positioned much better this year as we were the same time last year.

"Our women are still the strength of our team and the men are certainly making some gains."

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