Sydney: Olympic champions Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon return to the pool at the Commonwealth Games with a gold rush and world records on their minds, heading an Australia swimming squad boasting “insane depth”.
After a breakout Tokyo Olympics where she dethroned American great Katie Ledecky in the 200m and 400m freestyle, the dominant Titmus carried her form into the Australian championships in May.
After narrowly missing the long-standing 200m world record set in 2009, she broke Ledecky’s world mark over 400m by 0.06 seconds, touching in 3min 56.40sec.
Titmus, 21, then opted out of the world championships in Budapest, saving herself for the Commonwealth Games, where she will be a red-hot favourite.
MORE ON COMMONWEALTH GAMES
- Commonwealth Games: Shafali Verma can be key to India’s fortunes, says ex-coach WV Raman
- Commonwealth Games: India need to maintain the momentum with team gold, says Vimal Kumar
- CWG 2022: PM Modi peps up Birmingham-bound Indian athletes in virtual meet
- Commonwealth Games: Australia captain Meg Lanning wants to win the gold medal
“I am so excited and I think we’ve got a great team going in. It’s insane the depth we have,” said Titmus, the Commonwealth Games 400m and 800m champion.
That depth is illustrated by the inclusion of undisputed Olympic pool queen McKeon, who also missed the worlds.
The 28-year-old won a stunning seven medals in Tokyo and also boasts a phenomenal Commonwealth Games record - with eight gold and four bronze medals in two appearances at Glasgow in 2014 and the Gold Coast four years later.
McKeon has her sights set on beating the all-time record of 10 gold medals for an Australian, currently held jointly by fellow swimmers Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill and Leisel Jones.
She is again set to contest the 50m and 100m freestyle, but has serious competition from teen sensation Mollie O’Callaghan, who stunned Swedish world record holder Sarah Sjostrom in Budapest to win the 100m free among her six medals.
McKeon said she would need to be at her best given the rapidly improving next generation.
“You never want to get too comfortable or complacent otherwise you’re not going to keep working hard and keep striving to be better,” she said.
The Commonwealth Games hold a special place in McKeon’s heart, with her father Ron winning swimming golds in 1978 and 1982. Her mother, Susie Woodhouse, also competed in 1982.
Australia also boast Olympic and world backstroke champion Kaylee McKeown, while pop star Cody Simpson made the grade after returning from a decade away focusing on a music career during which he worked with Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus.
But teenage backstroke hope Isaac Cooper will be missing after he was sent home over “wellbeing challenges, including the use of medication”.
Australia topped the overall medals table at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with 80 golds to England’s 45 and India’s 26.
As well as success in the pool, they will be eyeing more glory in cycling.
Top rivalry in cycling
Australia, the top-ranked cycling nation at the past seven Commonwealth Games, were dominant in 2018, claiming 14 golds, but expect a tough challenge from host nation England.
Caleb Ewan and track specialist Matthew Glaetzer, who is aiming for a hat-trick of golds in the keirin, will head the field in Birmingham.
Sprint ace Ewan will target the road race on August 7, giving him plenty of time to freshen up after this year’s Tour de France.
Australia also have a strong athletics team spearheaded by newly crowned high jump world champion Eleanor Patterson. Commonwealth javelin champion Kathryn Mitchell and 2018 high jump gold medallist Brandon Starc will also feature.
Mitchell and marathon runner Eloise Wellings will be at their fifth Games - the first Australian track-and-field athletes to achieve the feat.
“I never imagined I would go to that many,” said Mitchell.
“Australia has such a strong history which I believe creates a unique team vibe.”
Australia also have star power in women’s cricket, where the world champions led by Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy will start as strong favourites for gold.