Australia deny complacency after Olympic swim relay 'selection blunder'

Australia picked a completely different quartet from their selection for the heats, which allowed more members of the team to win medals

AFP , Thursday 29 Jul 2021
Emma McKeon
Emma McKeon of Australia starts in a women s 100-meter freestyle semifinal at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. AP

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Australian swimming chiefs denied accusations of arrogance on Thursday after selection decisions backfired in a shock defeat by China in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay.

Australia picked a completely different quartet from their selection for the heats, which allowed more members of the team to win medals.

They also put individual 200m freestyle gold medallist Ariarne Titmus on the first leg instead of the last, possibly to give the double Olympic champion a chance to break an individual world record.

But the gambles failed as Australia were forced settle for bronze in an event they were widely expected to win at a canter, even though all three medal-winning teams broke the previous world record of 7min 41.50sec.

China set a new mark of 7:40.33, 0.4 seconds ahead of the United States and nearly a full second in front of Australia (7:41.29).

The Sydney Telegraph described the line-up as a "massive selection blunder" while Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, a five-time Olympic champion, questioned the order in which the swimmers were lined up.

Australia coach Dean Boxall was asked if they were guilty of complacency. "I knew it was going to be quick," he said. "I didn't underestimate the opposition at all."

Titmus, Emma McKeon, Madison Wilson and Leah Neale were all brought in for the final, with 17-year-old starlet Mollie O'Callaghan controversially left out.

O'Callaghan broke the junior world record in qualifying with a time of 1:55.11, which was faster than McKeon, Wilson and Neale all managed in the final.

Head swimming coach Rohan Taylor said O'Callaghan was tired from qualifying on Wednesday. "You've got to think of the morning after getting home at 11:00 pm. She was asked to put everything in there just to get the team through," said Taylor.

"There's no guarantee of her going quicker when we have fresh... athletes to go in. We took that strategy."

- Titmus first leg -

Titmus was also sent out first, in the only position that gave her the chance to break an individual 200m world record.

Rules state split times for those swimming second, third and fourth cannot be considered.

Titmus has already won the 200m and 400m freestyle individual golds in Tokyo but was slower than China's Yang Junxuan over the first leg.

"I feel like I should've been better but it's what you can do on the day and it's been a big couple of days, so I'm happy to come away on the podium," she said.

It is the first time neither Australia nor the USA have won gold since the event was introduced at the Olympics in 1996.

"We didn't expect to win the gold," said Chinese gold medallist Li Bingjie. "We thought we would finish third because Australia and the United States are very strong.

"We thought maybe we could be competitive with Canada so when we talked about tactics in the morning we just talked about what we would do against Canada (who finished fourth)."

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