Games-Australian swimmers not taking eyes off Olympic prize

By Steve Keating

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Australian swimmers were basking in a dominating performance at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday but only for a moment as they are keeping their eyes on the big prize — the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Having brought their A Team of Olympic champions and world record holders to Birmingham, the Australians laid siege to the Sandwell Aquatic Centre and won nearly half (65) of the 156 total medals on offer, including 25 of the 52 golds.

While their efforts lit up the Sandwell Aquatic Centre, Australian swimmers were quickly moving on with some back in the practice pool on Thursday and others heading home to prepare for the Duel in the Pool on Aug. 20-21 against arch-rivals the United States in Sydney.

“Everything I am doing now is for Paris,” said Ariarne Titmus, winner of four gold medals in Birmingham. Every meet I do is the lead up to Paris.

“That’s what I’m thinking about.”

And so is every member of the Australian team.

There were podium sweeps, a world record in the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay and a mountain of medals to show but with a number of top swimming nations like the U.S. not in Birmingham, team management were viewing the performance through an Olympic lens.

“This was always a stepping stone to Paris. Paris is the next big thing,” said Australian team spokesman Ian Hanson. “That’s been our problem, in the past we have concentrated too much on the events inbetween and not the big picture.”

What the Commonwealth Games and June’s world championship have shown is that the swimming competition in Paris could produce some of the greatest racing in recent Olympics.

Some are already predicting the women’s 400m freestyle could be the most hyped race since the ‘Race of the Century’ at the 2004 Athens Olympics when Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe, Pieter van den Hoogenband and Grant Hackett met in the 200m freestyle final.

Two years out, all signs are pointing to a classic with American Katie Ledecky, long the dominant force in women’s freestyle, facing Titmus who snatched her 400m world record.

At the Tokyo Summer Games it was Titmus grabbing gold in the 200 and 400m free while Ledecky took top spot on the podium in the 800 and 1,500m.

Summer McIntosh, the 15-year-old Canadian winner of six medals in Birmingham, is also expected to challenge for gold and perhaps another Australian threat will be 18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan.

“There is a lot of hype around it (her rivalry with Ledecky) because it is such an amazing rivalry,” said Titmus. “Who would have thought that two women would be swimming as fast as we are over the 400 metres at the same time.

“For me it doesn’t matter who I am racing, whether it is Katie or Summer or anyone else in the field.

“I am going to prepare with the confidence that hopefully I can go into every race I do knowing I am good enough to win.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Birmingham, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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