Australia's top swimmers are gearing up for an Olympics like no other in Tokyo next month but first they have to secure their spots on the team at this week's highly competitive trials.
Six days of intense competition begin at the South Australia Aquatic Centre on Saturday with two tickets to Tokyo on the line in each of the 28 events.
Extra tension will be added by holding the trials just six weeks before the Games begin, as opposed to the traditional three month lead-in, forcing the swimmers to peak twice in a short period of time.
Mitch Larkin, who won silver in the 200 metres backstroke in Rio and is bidding to race in his third Olympics, said the swimmers were taking things one challenge at a time after more than a year of COVID-19 disruption.
"We've just got to make the trials first, and then the team, and then we'll go from there," the 27-year-old, who will swim in the 200m individual medley this week, told reporters on Friday.
On Friday morning, the 10 lanes of the competition pool were cluttered with about 60 swimmers getting in some last-minute practise for the trials, which have been overshadowed by the withdrawal of double Olympic silver medallist Madeline Groves.
Reigning Olympic 100m freestyle champion Kyle Chalmers, swimming in his home pool, will take much of the spotlight this week, as will the Campbell sisters, Cate and Bronte.
Emma McKeon promises to be one of Australia's best performers in Tokyo, while her fellow freestyler Ariarne Titmus and 19-year-old backstroker Kaylee McKeown have attracted plenty of attention with some fast times over the last couple of years.
After a disappointing past two Olympics in terms of medals won, it is imperative that Tokyo is far more rewarding for Australia’s swimmers in a sport that has contributed more than a third of the country's Olympic medals across all sports.
In normal circumstances, that might place a huge burden of pressure on the team but Larkin said just going to Tokyo this year was going to be intimidating enough.
"It’s going to be daunting," he said. "I don't think anything is above COVID, we are just following the officials.
"They say it’s safe so I think the Games can go ahead. I’m optimistic it will be a successful Games. I know the public probably don't want us there but plenty of people do."
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