Australia’s head coach Rohan Taylor acknowledged it was a ‘big call’, one which could well deprive the squad of a coveted individual gold. But he backed McKeown’s brains trust to make the right call as she now goes all-in on her favoured backstroke events.
“We feel the conflict from the heat of medley with the final of the 100m back the next day could be a challenge for her, so we have made that decision, her coach has made that decision with her,” Taylor said.
“It is [a huge call]… but you have a rookie coming into the Olympics. It’s a big call and they have gone through it for months. I respect the decision, they will focus on the backstrokes and the medley relay.
“You have the heat of the 100 back and then the semi of the 100m back, then that night you have the heat of the 200m IM, then the next morning is the final of the 100m back. That night, it will be a late night with the heats, potential [lack of] sleep before the 100m back, it’s a tight event.
“They want to make sure she is sharp or at her best. I wouldn’t think any of the other 100m backstrokers would be swimming that night, they will be back in the village resting.”
Talk quickly shifted to the fabled American-Australian showdown in the pool, although that has been a lop-sided affair of late. This time, powered by a deep and talented women’s team especially and strong relays, the difference on the medal table should be less pronounced.
But as always, that comes with an ‘if’, one Taylor knows all too well. Rarely to the Americans turn up to a Games and stumble over their lines. The Australians, he said, must be sharp from the outset if they are to thrive beyond world-leading athletes like McKeown, Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon and Elijah Winnington.
“The Americans have proven, historically, they perform at the Olympics. That’s the standard we’re striving for. We haven’t performed to our potential and the reason we shifted our trials three years ago was to try to find a way to compete,” Taylor said.
“On paper it looks like we are (closing the gap). But it’s about who has the competitive IQ to perform under pressure. The American system breeds competitive athletes. When they show up, they know how to race.”
Never miss a medal or great sporting moment with our Olympic update emailed daily. Sign up for our Sport newsletter here.