Why did Australia throw away a silver medal?

Coming into the Olympics, Cameron McEvoy was the poster child for the Australian swim team. A brilliant role model who broke records in the pool and pursued his passion for physics and mathematics on land, McEvoy was the favourite to win gold in the 100m Freestyle and was expected to carry us into medal contention in the relays.

In the 4x100m Freestyle relay, that was the case. McEvoy swam a blistering 47.00 split to bring Australia back into the Bronze medal position after sub-par swims from 2012 hopes James Magnussen and James Roberts. In the 4x200m Freestyle relay, he was nowhere to be seen.

Gerard Whateley tweeted the news with an appropriate conclusion:

Cam McEvoy not swimming 4x200m Freestyle relay. Have to read that as concession a medal is beyond reach
– @GerardWhateley

Unfortunately, this concession was oh so wrong. When questioned by a Channel 7 reporter on his absence, McEvoy informed the viewers that the decision was made by the swim teams coaching panel – including the head coach Jacco Verhaeren. With classic McEvoy grace, he then went on to explain that he respects, understands and trusts their decision even though he would’ve liked to have swum. The assumed logic is that if McEvoy swum the 100m Freestyle heats and semi-finals (earlier in the day), and the 4x200m relay, he would’ve been too tired for the 100m Freestyle the following night.

Well, McEvoy went into the 100m Free as equal favourite – alongside American Nathan Adrian who finished with Bronze – and he came 7th. So much for resting him the night before. Typically, McEvoy was classy in defeat, diverting the attention to 18 year old Kyle Chalmers who swam a personal best time en route to winning gold in the event.

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And the race that he missed? Australia came fourth, just 1.05 seconds from claiming a silver medal. Daniel Smith – our slowest in the relay – swam a time of 1:47.37, almost two seconds slower than McEvoy’s PB of 1:45.46. With a flying start, it’s not unrealistic to expect McEvoy to swim a similar time to that in the relay, even after two events earlier in the day. Even if he repeated his swim of 1:45.63 from the Australian Championships this April, we would’ve clearly won silver.

It’s not unrealistic to expect athletes to compete in multiple events at the games, with Michael Phelps, Katinka Hosszu and Katie Ledecky all swimming multiple events. For comparison, Phelps had his 200m Butterfly final earlier in the night where he not only swum, but he won a gold medal. Phelps then went on to swim quicker than any of our Aussie swimmers in the 4x200m Freestyle final.

Not only that, but Belgian Pieter Timmers (left) had exactly the same schedule as Cam McEvoy – the heats and semis of the 100m Free followed by the 4x200m Free in the evening and the 100m Free final the next night. Belgium were not a factor in the 4x200m relay, but Timmers swimming it clearly didn’t waste too much energy – he won silver in the 100m Free final.

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Clearly the Australian team has been far too conservative with McEvoy – they also pulled him from the individual 200m Freestyle – who now has just the 50m Free left in his quest for gold.

Clearly Verhaeren and his team have got this one wrong, but the consequences are widespread. Not only did Australia lose another medal, but David McKeon, Daniel Smith (who would’ve only swum the heat) and Thomas Fraser-Holmes have been robbed of a probable maiden Olympic medal.

 

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