Australian head coach Rohan Taylor acknowledged it was a ‘big call’, one that could well deprive the team of a coveted individual gold. But he bolstered the confidence of McKeown’s brains to make the right call, as she now goes all-in on her favorite backstroke events.
“We feel that the conflict of the heat of the medley with the 100m back final the next day could be a challenge for her, so we made that decision, her coach made that decision with her,” Taylor said. .
“It is [a huge call]…but you have a rookie going to the Olympics. It’s a big call and it’s taken them months. I respect the decision, they will focus on the backstroke and medley relay.
“You have the heat of the 100 meters back and then the semi-final of the 100 meters back, then that night you have the heat of the 200 meters IM, and the next morning the final of the 100 meters is back. That night it’s going to be a late night with the heats, potential [lack of] sleeping for the 100m back, it’s a tight event.
“They want to make sure she’s sharp or at her best. I wouldn’t think any of the other 100m backstrokers would swim that night, they will be back in the village resting.”
The conversation quickly shifted to the legendary American-Australian showdown in the pool, though that has been a lopsided affair of late. This time, driven mainly by a deep and talented women’s team and strong relay races, 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 do Americans come to a Games and trip over their lines. The Australians, he said, must be sharp from the start if they are to thrive over leading athletes like McKeown, Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon and Elijah Winnington.
“The Americans have historically proven that they perform at the Olympics. That is the standard we strive for. We didn’t perform to our potential and the reason we shifted our trials three years ago was to try and find a way to compete,” Taylor said.
“On paper, it looks like we’re (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.”
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