London 2012 Olympics: Magnussen gears up for freestyle showdown

JAMES MAGNUSSEN, and his sprint freestyle battle with Cesar Cielo, was the centre of attention yesterday as members of the Australia team faced the press with just five days left before competition starts in London.

Magnussen became Australia’s first 100 metres freestyle world champion last year in Shanghai and he is favourite to add the Olympic title after posting a textile world record of 47.10 seconds at the Olympic trials in March. Brazilian Cielo is the defending champion but his best in 2012 is more than a second slower than Magnussen.

Although many believe rankings count for little and all parties start the Games with a clean slate, it is hard to see who can prevent the Australian from standing on top of the podium on 1 August.

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In fact, the only other man to have dipped under 48 seconds this year is team-mate James Roberts, which bodes well for the 4x100m freestyle relay.

There is a healthy rivalry between Magnussen, known as ‘The Missile’, and Cielo – with the latter vocal at times – but the Australian yesterday preferred to play down any head to head and concentrated instead on himself.

He said: “No, I am not afraid of Cielo but I am aware he is one of my main competitors. In case you don’t know, there is also a guy from Australia, James Roberts, who is also faster than Cesar so I’ve got him to worry about.

“I know Cesar holds both world records and I do respect him for that but I think I am in a good position to win this one.

“I think at this stage where I am at with my preparation and my times at the moment the biggest competitors here this week for me will be myself and my headspace. I feel like if I can overcome the pressures from back home I know are there I’m sure I can better my results from last year at World Championships and get the job done.”

Cielo is defending champion in both the 50m and 100m freestyle as well as double world record holder with a mark of 46.91 in the longer race set at the 2009 worlds in the midst of the performance-enhancing suit madness.

Magnussen has openly talked in the past of wanting Cielo’s record, which he is closing in on, but again yesterday he was lower key. He said: “The time I set at trials would definitely point towards it being a possibility but, to be completely honest, I’ve come here to win gold not break world records.

“I think if you are going to leave a legacy in the sport you have to start with an Olympic gold followed by a world record. At this stage I think a world record would just be a bonus.

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“It may not take a world record to win that race. It may but, whatever the outcome, my first and foremost aim here is gold.”

With a nod to former Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband, Magnussen also revealed one of his favourite Games moments was the final leg of the 4x100m freestyle relay in Beijing four years ago when Jason Lezak’s astonishing final leg saw him pip Alain Bernard despite the Frenchman having taken over with almost a body length advantage. Lezak’s effort, which kept alive Michael Phelps’ dream of eight golds in a single Games, was described by Magnussen as “only a dream” but he acknowledged Australia are favourites to take over that crown after winning in China last year.

Team-mate Stephanie Rice has endured ongoing shoulder problems in a difficult lead-up to London which also saw her crick her neck.