London Eye: Australia's Missile James Magnussen is on target to make a record splash at Games

 

They like a nickname Down Under – there is a federal law that states no team can depart Australian shores without having "roos" attached to their name – but when it comes to James Magnussen, it's not so much a moniker as a statement of intent.

Meet The Missile, the anointed successor to the Thorpedo, the man who has to stop the Baltimore Bullet (yes, the Americans can do it too) and his US team-mates from taking all the attention away from Australia in the London Aquatics Centre this summer. Forget Michael Phelps and Co, Magnussen is coming to London not only to win gold but to swim faster than any man ever has.

Yesterday, he stood on the south bank of the Thames next to Tower Bridge at the start of a flying visit to the capital and was asked, by an Australian TV man, is this a city you are ready to conquer?

"I'd like to think so," said Magnussen. "I'm sure there are others with similar aspirations but I'll do the best I can to conquer the pool. I've heard it's pretty quick. I can't wait to get a chance to race in it and, hopefully, break the world record."

World records in the pool have almost dried up over the two years since hi-tech suits were banned. Only two new marks have since been set and it was expected that the times recorded in the sprint events in particular, like Magnussen's 100m freestyle, would stand for years. Then along came The Missile from Port Macquarie in New South Wales. Last year he won World Championship gold, turning in fifth and storming down the last length – the tag comes from his ability to produce such devastating late bursts of speed.

Earlier this month he won the 100m and the 50m at the Australian trials to earn his Olympic place, winning the first in the fastest time ever in a textile suit and 0.2sec outside the Brazilian Cesar Cielo's world record.

Magnussen was disappointed not to have broken it despite, in the words of his coach Brant Best, being "crook". Magnussen had a chest infection during the trials –athletes can't take cough medicine because it contains banned substances.

"I was under the weather in the trials," said Magnussen. "I didn't want people to know because I didn't want them to think that I had any weaknesses. But if I can stay fit and healthy and gain 0.2sec, I'm on my way to Olympic gold and a world record."

Best, who has accompanied his charge on a trip with VisitBritain to see the Olympic Park and take in some sights – and get to a Premier League game if they can find tickets (Magnussen is a Liverpool fan), is sure the 20-year-old's time is only going one way.

"I have no doubt he can go quicker," said Best. "He seems to love the pressure, the more he's under the better he gets. He doesn't see it as a burden."

And Magnussen is under pressure to bring gold back home. There are fears in Australia that this will be their worst Games in the pool since 1996, when they won two golds. Magnussen is their sole gold favourite in a young team. Beyond swimming, Australia are sending their smallest Olympic team since 1992 – a lesson for London, perhaps, as the 2000 Sydney Olympics did not lead to a rise in sporting participation, and Australia have since slipped down the medal table – and are banking heavily on a handful of stellar names delivering. A nation expects from Magnussen.

"It's pretty exciting," he admitted. "I feel it's something I can revel in, like that pressure and expectation leaves me no choice but to perform well."

He will not get to swim in the Olympic pool on this visit – "I'll just strip down to the swimmers and walk up and down the side of the pool and try and get a feel for it" – but for a first-time Olympian, the need to see the venue, the village, and distance between them, can play an important part in easing what can be an overwhelming experience come Games time. "It's about familiarity," said Best. "It makes it not such a mental strain when he gets here."

Not that coach or swimmer appears overly concerned about Magnussen dealing with what is coming. Others are most definitely worried about him. Noises out of the US and France, one of the world's sprinting powerhouses, signal he has made a deep impression.

"It's pretty flattering," said Magnussen. "There's probably a few mind games going on too –I'm sure that they're not as scared of me as they say they are."

The last word belongs to Best."He's put the cat among the pigeons," he grinned, imagining perhaps what might happen when he puts a primed Missile in the Olympic pool in four months' time.

Olympic news you may have missed...

Team GB's uniform may not have been universally welcomed, but Australia have responded much more positively (as is their wont) to their kit launch. It looks as you would expect, all green and what they call gold, what we call orange, although in some cases there is not much of it. "It's like a little bikini," said Sally Pearson, their world champion hurdler. "In a way it still feels like your skin, so it's like you're naked."

While the Aussies stripped off, the beach volleyballers have been given the option of togging up. The International Volleyball Federation decided that women can wear shorts and sleeved tops at the Games instead of bikinis, a damning comment on a British summer.

What's coming up...

On Wednesday the cycling world track championships get under way in Melbourne, with all Britain's big names in action. At stake are not only world titles but also Olympic places.

Who's up?

Lizzie Armitstead The British rider won the first women's Gent-Wevelgem road race to further her good start to 2012.

Achmat Hassien The South African Paralympian swimmer, who last year told The Independent the incredible story of how he lost his leg to a shark attack, won six golds and set two records at his national championships.

Who's down?

David Millar The Scot would be a high-profile beneficiary of the British ban on dopers being overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport next month, but he may not be fit after dislocating his collarbone in Belgium last week.

US footballers A goalkeeping blunder in the fifth minute of injury time meant the US were held to a 3-3 draw by El Salvador to end their efforts to qualify for the Olympics.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own