Coming back from the depths
GIAAN Rooney says she feels like "a proud parent”.
The one-time team captain has been watching from close quarters in her role as commentator as the current Australian swimming squad has resurfaced from the depths of despair during a shambolic London 2012 campaign - and done so in such emphatic fashion.
Following a meet that yielded one solitary gold medal (in the women's 4x100m freestyle) - their worst performance in the pool at an Olympics since the 1992 Games in Barcelona - an internal review found the team culture of the time to be "toxic”.
"Participants reported that in the zealous and streamlined attempts to obtain gold medals, the delicate management of motivation, communication and collaboration were lost,” the damning report stated.
"Swimmers described these games as the 'Lonely Olympics' and the 'Individual Olympics'.”
There will again be a major push to collect gold medals - and there will hopefully be plenty of 'individual' wins to celebrate - but it will this time be backed by a far more harmonious team of swimmers and support staff, working as one cohesive unit.
Rooney, a member of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic teams, and winner of a 4x100m freestyle gold medal in Athens, is ready to be poolside in Rio as part of the Seven commentary team - and also as a fan.
"They've learnt so much in the last four years,” she told Australian Regional Media.
"They figured out what went wrong; they've changed the culture, they've changed how everything works, the communication channels within the team - if people do have a problem how it can be fixed.
"They went into London as a very inexperienced team. They probably had no elder statesmen to learn from ... how big the campaign can be.
"This time around we've got plenty of athletes who are lining up for their third Olympics, let alone their second; they've got great leaders, got great support staff, got a great head coach.”
New team captain Cate Campbell and head coach Jacco Verhaeren, appointed to replace Leigh Nugent in 2013, have set the standards.
"The last four years have been tough on them (the team),” Rooney said.
"It's something they haven't been used to. It's something they've copped a bit of flak for, but, to their credit, have used it as motivation to turn it around.
"I feel like a proud parent watching them all go about their business. I almost get that same nervous feeling because I want it so bad for them.”
Rooney said the Australian team in Rio could very well break its record of seven gold medals won in the pool in Athens.
"We - the Australian general public and the rest of the world - started to really sit up and take notice after last year's world championships; we had just a sensational performance overall,” she said of the event in which Australia won seven gold.
"Now heading into Rio, we've got eight events that we're ranked No.1 in. That's incredibly exciting.
"You can't say that's a definite eight gold medals, but it means we're on track, it means we've got the talent.
"They have very mature heads on their shoulders this time around.
"I think they are all as excited to prove themselves as we are to watch them do it.”
Like any proud parent it's hard to choose a favourite among your children. Rooney names four among the swimming team she hopes, more than any others, will do well.
"I have a soft spot for Emily Seebohm,” she said.
"She broke the 100m backstroke Olympic record in the heat in London four years ago - she is still the fastest 100m backstroker to have swum at an Olympics - but was beaten by (American) Missy Franklin in the final. I think a little bit of revenge or redemption is on the cards for Em.
"I would love to see Cate Campbell win the 100m freestyle after breaking the world record six weeks ago.
"Another one is (backstroker) Mitch Larkin. Mitch has been so consistent over the last two years it's ridiculous.
"And then there's Cam McEvoy, the professor.
"He has such a cool head, he's almost like the Roger Federer of swimming. I would love to see him put it all together on the day and win that 100m freestyle.”