GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) – A fervent home crowd is expected to help propel Australia’s swimming team to the top of the medals table in the pool for the 10th successive Commonwealth Games but also banish memories of a poor return at last year’s world championships.
Locals are expected to comprise much of the 10,000-strong crowds in the temporary stands at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre for the April 5-10 competition, which Scotland coach Alan Lynn said would provide a psychological boost for the home team.
“This is the spiritual home of swimming as far as we’re concerned,” he said of the open-air venue. “It’s like playing rugby against New Zealand in Auckland.”
Defending women’s 100m freestyle champion Cate Campbell, who lives and trains in nearby Brisbane, added that she had witnessed how the Glasgow crowd had lifted the Scotland team four years ago.
“There was something in the air that got them ready to swim fast,” Campbell said. “I’m really hoping that we feel that same energy out there on pool deck in a couple of days.”
Campbell took last year off after missing out on a medal in her signature event at the Rio Olympics and her absence was sorely missed at the world championships in Budapest.
Australia, traditionally one of the sport’s powerhouses, finished eighth on the table with 10 medals, their lowest tally since 1991, with a solitary gold to backstroker Emily Seebohm. While the Games should provide a massive boost for coach Jacco Verhaeren’s planning as they build towards the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, they are not expected to have it all their own way.
Olympic and world champion breaststroker Adam Peaty will lead a fired-up England squad, while the rejuvenated Canadian women’s team that includes 100m backstroke world record holder Kylie Masse and 100m freestyle Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak are expected to provide some thrilling racing.
“There are always a lot of medals involved in a campaign like this,” Verhaeren said. “(But) to think it will be an easy run would be underestimating what is coming towards us.”
The outdoor venue, a rarity for a major international championship, is also likely to throw up some challenges for the swimmers, particularly the backstrokers, who have no visual cues to follow.
“It’s a huge challenge and is a bit frustrating,” said Masse, who has been incorporating outdoor training for a year to grow accustomed to the conditions.
“You can be doing a really fast set then all of a sudden, wham, you hit the lane rope, its a bit frustrating, to say the least.”
The wind, sun and expected rain will also affect the swimmers, with the light-skinned Peaty jokingly worrying about his complexion.
“I’m a ginger kid from Uttoxeter, so it might be a bit difficult in the heat,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The water temperature, however, has created some issues with Olympic 400m freestyle champion Mack Horton overheating during the Australian trials and the team looking to utilise ice baths for the distance swimmers.
“It’s just about managing my body temperature, trying to stay cool before I race and cooling down faster after heats,” said Horton, who will race the 200m, 400m and 1500m freestyle.
“I think we will have ice baths at the pool and we’ve got some in the basement of the village as well, so when we get back we can cool down.”