‘This is the greatest of all time for Australia’

Article by Jessica Halloran, courtesy of The Australian

On the eve of the Australian swim team’s cutthroat Olympic selection trials, one former champion has declared the current women’s squad as the greatest of any era.

If everything goes to plan in Brisbane, the Australian squad that emerges from the trials will head to Paris next month and challenge the record nine gold medals won in Tokyo.

Olympic and world champion Libby Trickett says this team, likely to be headlined by superstars Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and Mollie O’Callaghan, is unprecedented when it comes to its talent and depth.

“I think this is the period of time for women’s swimming in Australia … we’ve had multiple golden periods, but I think this surpasses it all,” Trickett says.

“If you can describe a period of time as being the GOAT – this is the greatest of all time for ­Australia.

“I don’t think it gets much better than what we’re watching right now. I think everyone needs to recognise what an incredible ­period of time we’re getting the privilege to watch.”

This team is loaded with world record breakers and history makers. It’s a squad so strong that Emma McKeon, who collected five Olympic medals at the last Games in Tokyo, is now fighting for an individual freestyle berth.

Then there is veteran Cate Campbell who is aiming to qualify for her fifth Olympics – also a former world record holder and world champion. She’s no guarantee of making the team.

The women’s 100m freestyle is going to be the most fiercely contested event. Along with the reigning Olympic champion McKeon, there is the young gun and world champion Mollie O’Callaghan, not to mention Cate and Bronte Campbell, Meg Harris and Shayna Jack vying for a berth.

Trickett will be watching Jack.

“I’m so excited to watch Shayna this year,” Trickett says.

“She’s just really an absolutely unbelievable human and unbelievable athlete. What an opportunity she has.”

Jack, McKeon, the Campbell sisters and O’Callaghan are all among the top-10 ranked 100m freestylers in history. Harris is ranked 13th on that all-time list.

As with all events at the trials, only the top two will qualify to swim the 100m freestyle in Paris, providing the qualifying time is met, although the top six are likely to gain a relay spot.

There is a strong possibility that a swimmer of the class of Cate Campbell may only be a relay heat swimmer in Paris.

The 200m freestyle featuring Ariarne Titmus and O’Callaghan, who train alongside each other under the guidance of supercoach Dean Boxall, will be another hotly contested race.

The pair fought it out in the final at the world championships last year, and O’Callaghan subsequently won and broke the oldest world record on the books.

Trickett says it’s these rivalries that are driving Australia’s success; that sometimes the hottest competition is not overseas but sharing the pool lane.

It’s a dynamic Trickett knows all too well. She once shared a strong rivalry alongside fellow Australian sprinters Jodie Henry and Alice Mills.

“Australia has been really good at fostering success, and that idea that the best in the world may well be in your squad – that’s only going to make you better,” Trickett says.

“The intensity of that situation is a lot but also you have that knowledge that you are racing ­literally the best in the world in your squad.”

O’Callaghan has admitted the likes of Titmus and Jack are driving her to be better.

World class in both freestyle and backstroke, she has the makings to be a star of the Paris Games. The 20-year-old is poised to not only qualify for up to six events, including the 100m and 200m freestyle, but has the potential to collect gold in all of them.

Outside the titanic battles in the freestyle events, 22-year-old Kaylee McKeown stands alone as the world’s best backstroker. Not that it is the only string to her bow. She too is hoping to qualify for six events in Paris after she collected three Olympic gold medals in Tokyo.

McKeown is aiming to add the 200m individual medley as well as defend her 100m and 200m backstroke titles in Paris. She is also hoping to make the cut for the gold medal favourite 4x200m freestyle relay team and the 4x100m medley relay and mixed medley relays.

“Kaylee is on fire,” Trickett said. “A lot of people ask me; what’s the limit like with world records and time? And I just feel like there’s still so much capacity for these athletes. You know, they’re really continuing to refine and get better at the training.”

But it’s not just their talent but the way they go about their racing.

“They are so composed when they compete but I also love watching their mongrel,” Trickett says, laughing. “I love watching Mollie grind it out in the pool. All our swimmers, they just dig and that is such a joy to watch. It’s an inspiration and they are great role models because they are all really great humans as well.”

Trickett pinpoints the foundations of this team’s successful culture as the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It was an Olympics that personally inspired her, as she watched champion breaststroker Leisel Jones collect Olympic silver at 15 years of age.

“It made me think; ‘I could do this, like she’s my age.’ She made me think it was possible.”

At the 2004 Athens Olympics she was part of the record-breaking 4x100m freestyle team – alongside Alice Mills, Petria Thomas and Jodie Henry. It was Australia’s first 4x100m freestyle title in 48 years. It’s now an event Australia owns with gold medals at the past three Olympics.

All up, Trickett collected four gold medals at three consecutive Olympic Games, eight world ­titles and five Commonwealth Games golds.

Trickett, as well as Mills and Henry, set the tone and created a standard for the next generations of sprinters to aspire to. Trickett herself pays testament to all successful female swimmers before her and around her for creating a culture of success. Success begets success, she says.

“I think that’s what we feed off as Australian women, people like Shayna (Jack) have been so generous and beautiful and talking about me in that way and I know certainly for me, having Jodi and Alice, Jess Schipper and Felicity Galvez and Mel Schlanger (nee Wright) – all these incredible women who I got to swim with, and then it just feels like we (Australia) keep feeding off each other in that way.

“With the women, it’s just like we band together and it’s this beautiful kind of team effort recognising what they’re part of and it’s honestly really cool to watch.”

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