Aussies hope home-pool advantage translates to more medals
GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Australian swimmers won 19 of the country’s 49 gold medals at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and, with home-pool advantage, they’re hoping to improve on that mark.
Australia’s dominance has not been threatened at the Commonwealth Games pool since Edinburgh in 1986, but the aura around the team has faded slightly since it finished eighth on medal count at last year’s world championships in Budapest, winning just one gold — Emily Seebohm in the 200-meter backstroke.
Britain, paced by England swimmers, won four gold medals to place second overall behind the United States at Budapest. That could leave the door slightly ajar and give other teams a chance at eroding Australia’s traditional big edge.
“There’s Canada, England, Scotland, everyone (is a threat),” Australia head coach Jacco Verhaeren said. “But we are not particularly looking at England. I do think it is the best process — stick to yourself and race. If we stick to that, we will be good.′
England has 37 swimmers competing, led by Olympic and world champion breaststroker Adam Peaty. Also on the team are Glasgow gold medalists Siobhan Marie O’Connor (200 individual medley) and Ben Proud (50 freestyle and 50 butterfly).
Penny Oleksiak, the 2016 Olympic 100 freestyle champion, and Kylie Masse, the 100 backstroke world champion, are among Canada’s top medal chances.
There are five finals on the opening night Thursday, and Australians are favored in at least three of them. Rio Olympic champion Mack Horton is swimming in the men’s 400 freestyle, Cate Campbell, after a year off due to a disappointing Rio campaign, returns on the Australian 4x100 freestyle relay team which set a world record of 3 minutes, 30.65 seconds in the event at Rio, and Emma McKeon is favored in the women’s 200 freestyle.
McKeon is swimming in six events and that could mean 10 races across the six-day program, including three relays.
Other finals on the opening night at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre are the women’s 400 medley and men’s 200 breaststroke.
Kyle Chalmers, the Olympic 100-meter freestyle gold medalist, will be attempting at 100-200 double on his Commonwealth Games debut. Chalmers, Jack Cartwright and Cameron McEvoy could give the Australians a podium sweep in the 100.
Over the 200, Chalmers will be up against teammate Horton and Olympic silver medalist Chad Le Clos of South Africa.
Masse and Seebohm will be contesting all three women’s backstroke races. Masse is strongest over the 100 distance and she beat Seebohm to the world title last year in a world-record time of 58.10 seconds.
Peaty will be aiming to continue his unbeaten run in the men’s 100 breaststroke, which started at Glasgow 2014. He has an Olympic gold from Rio 2016, where he set the world record of 57.13, and two world titles (2015 in Kazan and last year in Budapest).
Le Clos will be after his third consecutive win in the 200 butterfly and is the defending champion in the 100 butterfly. The South African also has an outside chance to equal the all-time record of 18 Commonwealth Games medals if he makes the podium in four other events.
He is scheduled to swim in eight events — five individual and up to three relays — on the Gold Coast. He has 12 Commonwealth Games medals — five from New Delhi in 2010 (two gold) and seven from Glasgow (two gold).
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