James “Missile” Magnussen will try to shrug off a crushing relay failure — and the ire of swimming-mad Australia — as he goes for Olympic gold in the men’s 100m freestyle starting tomorrow.
Magnussen arrived in London as the overwhelming favorite in the prestige sprint,having signalled his arrival on the international scene with a World Championships triumph in Shanghai last year and clocked a world-leading 47.10 sec at the Australian trials this year.
With compatriot James Roberts second-fastest this season in 47.63,Australia looked destined to claim the 100m free gold for the first time since Michael Wenden won it in 1968.
But Magnussen and Roberts,the two fastest ever in the textile suits now mandated by FINA,failed to deliver in the relay and will have to regain their swagger to hold off a field that includes world record-holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil.
Magnussen,competing in his first Olympics at the age of 21,says he’s not focusing on Cielo,who won 50m free gold and 100m free bronze in Beijing.
“I’m aware he’s one of my main competitors,” Magnussen smiled when asked if he feared the big Brazilian.
“He’s a good competitor. I’ve raced Cesar a number of times now. I’m not preparing my race purely around him but,yeah,I do respect him.
“My biggest competitor is myself and my head space.”
Magnussen’s consistency is as impressive as his sheer speed. In addition to his 47.10sec,he owns three more of the top 10 times this season.
While he’s expected to have Cielo to reckon with in the final on Wednesday night,it’s largely a new landscape in London.
Alain Bernard,who won gold in Beijing four years ago,failed to qualify leaving Yannick Agnel and Fabien Gilot to carry French hopes of retaining the title.
It was Agnel who chased down US star Ryan Lochte on the final leg to give France the 4x100m gold ahead of America and Russia Sunday as the Aussies struggled home in fourth.
Nathan Adrian,who came into the Games with a best time a full second slower than Magnussen’s best,got the better of Australia’s “Missile” on the opening leg of the relay auguring well for the American’s chances of springing the upset in the individual event. Nikita Lobintsev and Danila Izotov will also be out for individual hardware after helping Russia to relay bronze. The United States also sends in Cullen Jones,who won relay gold in 2008 as part of the 4x100m free relay team,then struggled to find his motivation to keep swimming.
A resurgent Jones won the 50m free and was runner-up to Adrian in the 100m at the US trials to book his first individual Olympic berths.