Thirty-five athletes, including veterans Cate Campbell and Emily Seebohm who will take part in their fourth Olympics, have been named in a powerful Australian swimming team bound for Tokyo next month.
There had been speculation whether the list of 17 men would include Mack Horton, who fell short in his individual events at the Olympic swimming trials in Adelaide this week. But the popular 400m Olympic freestyle champion and anti-doping campaigner makes the cut as a relay swimmer.
Former breaststroke world record holder Matt Wilson, who just missed his qualifying time, was also included as a relay option after he suffered a family bereavement this week.
“We got informed yesterday that there was some extenuating circumstances we needed to look at,” said Swimming Australia head coach Rohan Taylor on Thursday.
Backstroker Mitch Larkin said Wilson’s inclusion would further unite the team.
"It was a rollercoaster this week, pretty emotional and then watching Matt swim and just miss the qualifying time knowing he had missed it four years ago was heartbreaking,” Larkin said.
“I think every athlete on the pool deck felt it and tonight was a surprise to me, I didn’t know he was selected. Seeing his smile and the tears that followed shortly afterwards, it’s pretty raw emotion.”
Sixteen-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan and 17-year-old all-rounder Isaac Cooper make a team that has three athletes heading to their third Olympics, nine bound for their second Games and 21 debutants.
Sprinter Campbell, 29, whose younger sister Bronte makes the team as a relay swimmer, was bullish about Australia’s medal prospects in Japan after American breaststroker Lilly King this week suggested the U.S. swimming team could sweep the board in Tokyo.
“No-one on this team is here to make up the numbers,” Campbell retorted. “Every single person on the team is a legitimate medal chance. That is why the (Australian) qualification standards are so high, they are the toughest in the world.”
On Monday all 35 swimmers will head to different locations across Queensland for warm-weather training before meeting up in Cairns on July 3 and taking a chartered flight to Japan along with Australia’s rowers, hockey players and water polo teams two weeks later.
Swimming Australia has been brutal in its athlete selection this week. The decision to hold the trials six weeks out from the Olympics, rather than the traditional several months, added to raising Australia’s qualifying times above the Olympic minimum.
Up to 480 Australian athletes across all sports are expected to make the trip to Tokyo.