By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A month out from the Olympics, Cate Campbell’s 100 metres freestyle world record is a testament to her class and determination but the Australian will not chase the time in pursuit of gold at Rio de Janeiro, according to her long-serving coach.
Campbell’s 52.06-second swim at the Brisbane Grand Prix on Saturday shaved just one one-hundredth of a second off Britta Steffen’s seven-year-old mark but landed a heavy psychological blow to her rivals, including her world champion sister Bronte.
None have come close to German Steffen’s time which was set in a now-banned synthetic suit in 2009.
Bronte Campbell is a distant second in the world rankings, her best time of the year more than half a second slower than her older sister’s.
Simon Cusack, mentor to both Campbell sisters, was bursting with pride after Cate tore up the Brisbane Aquatic Centre but was also quick to remind her that the world record would mean little on the starting block at Rio.
“Whilst it’s really nice to have the mark, it’s no guarantee of what’s going to happen at the Games,” the Brisbane-based 39-year-old told Reuters on Monday.
“Winning a gold medal comes down to one moment in time and not only do you need great preparation, you do sometimes need a little bit of luck on your side,” he added.
“When you’re living in an Olympic village with people coming from all corners of the globe and eating out of the same food hall you get exposed to a lot of viruses and bacteria.
“So that’s why winning a gold at the Olympics is such a tough thing and very often they’re not won in world record time. So I’ve expressed that to Cate,” Cusack said.
“She’s very, very happy with having that world mark but it doesn’t change anything from here on in.”
The 24-year-old Campbell is unlikely to need further reminders of how luck can change the game when she appears at her third Olympics.
She won bronzes in the 50m freestyle and 4x100m relay on her 2008 Games debut in Beijing before losing years to illnesses including glandular fever and post-viral fatigue.
At her second Olympics in London, she won gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay but her individual campaign was wrecked by a bout of pancreatitis.
When fully fit, the 2013 world champion has shown she has no peer, however, as witnessed by her breathtaking return to form this year.
The record has inevitably been viewed as a gauntlet thrown down, but Cusack said it came by coincidence, not design.
“It was just an organic thing,” he said.
“I never really give her a time to chase, it’s more of a process but sometimes (swimmers) do get it in their head to chase a time and they generally over-cook the first 50 in a 100-metre race.
“She’s really learned just to rely on ‘automaticity’ which is just created by race training sets,” he added.
“She just let it flow out there and it came together, so it was just fantastic.”
Cusack said he felt Campbell could raise her pace again.
“I don’t think the project’s ever finished,” he said.
“She’s obviously probably somewhere toward the peak of her career but it depends on how long she’s willing to stay in it.
“Her starts and turns are consistently improving and that’s been a gradual process. So, I’d like to think that she can get faster.”
Campbell joins an illustrious club of Australians to have held the world record in the blue riband event, including four-times Olympic champion Dawn Fraser and Jodie Henry, who won gold in Athens in 2004.
Queenslander Libby Trickett, another four-times Olympic champion, held the record three times from 2004-09 before Steffen took it in a synthetic suit and improved her mark at the 2009 world championships in Rome.
A number of records set during the controversial super-suit era remain.
“I was there in Rome on the day when Steffen set the record and I remember thinking back then, ‘this one is going to stand for a while’. And it did,” Cusack said.
“For the super-suit era, the sooner it can be erased, the better. It was just a tumultuous time in swimming history and what it did at the time was it made a bit of a joke out of world record standards. It really discriminated against the ones who set the previous ones in the old lycra costumes,” he added.
“So it’s a great thing that Cate’s been able to erase that mark.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)