By Ian Hanson, Swimming World's Australian Correspondent
BRISBANE, Australia, December 11: The Queensland Swimming Championships has a habit of throwing up a "smokey" on the eve of an Olympic year and the 2011 version looks to be following suit following an impressive opening night performance by Gold Coast teenager Cameron McEvoy.
The 17-year-old from the Southport Swimming Club emerged at this year's National Age Championships after breaking Ian Thorpe's 16-years 100m freestyle record and then bobbed his head up a second time when he won the 100m again at the recent FINA World Cup in Singapore.
Last night's win in the 200m freestyle with another personal best time of 1:48.08 will put the Glenn Baker coached youngster in the frame come the Olympic Trials in Adelaide next March.
The youngster who crept up on world 100m freestyle champion James Magnussen (2nd 1:49.09) and Thomas Fraser-Holmes (3rd 1:49.37) in the 10-man final which also included Korean 400m world champion Park Tae-Hwan, is growing in confidence and improving every time he swims.
They are sure tell tale signs of a swimmer on the move at the right time.
They just have to try and handle everything that surrounds "Olympic Trials" – something that can make or break young swimming hopefuls.
Former Australian head coach Don Talbot is now very much in retirement on the Gold Coast, but still runs his very keen eyes over the state of swimming in the country where he has taken the sport to the top of the world.
He has seen the best come and go over five decades of some of Australia's great golden eras but knows that there is no better time than to hit your straps than in an Olympic year.
"The Olympics brings out the best in people and young people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain," said Talbot.
"Boys like Cameron McEvoy look to have no fear and nor should they. The men's stocks in swimming, apart from James Magnussen, need a shot in the arm. They need some youngsters to step up and there is no better time to do that than in an Olympic year.
"We'll be following this boy with great interest and I just hope he can hold it together come the Trials. Having Glenn Baker in his corner and in an experienced squad, he's in good hands."
Talbot was in charge of the Australian Olympic team in the lead up to Sydney 2000 when a teenager named Leisel Jones from Redcliffe arrived on to the scene at the Queensland Championships under the maestro Ken Wood, continued in her development at the National Age Championships and then stole the show at the Olympic Trials making her first team at age 14.
Jones went on to win Olympic silver in the 100m breaststroke in Sydney, added Olympic silver and bronze in Athens before claiming Olympic gold in Beijing.
Now, as a fourth Olympic campaign emerges, Jones has a shot of history – as she prepares to become the first Australian swimmer to qualify for four Olympics.
And she has made the bold move of changing coaches, moving from the man who took her to Olympic gold in Beijing – Rohan Taylor at Melbourne's Nunawading Swimming Club to join fellow Olympic gold medallist Stephanie Rice at Michael Bohl's St Peters Western group in Brisbane.
It is a case of returning home to Queensland for the 24-year-old who has dominated Australian breaststroking for the past decade.
If you are to take on an Olympic campaign then you have to be settled, happy and in the best possible home environment and a return to the "Swimming State" – again on the eve of their Championships – could well be the magic tonic to add some sparkle to her preparation.
Rice on the other hand faces some agonizing decisions after her troublesome shoulders forced the triple Olympic gold medallist out of the Championships.
Scans have showed there is inflammation and Rice and astute coach Michael Bohl will now have to put another injury management plan together with her doctor and physios as the countdown to Adelaide in March hots up.
The biggest question is: Can they get the work done to ensure Rice can launch a successful defence on her Olympic 400m individual medley title?
To drop her pet event would be a bitter blow to Rice and the Australian team.
One thing is certain, Rice won't give in lightly but don't be surprised if some tough decisions have to be made and made quickly.
The Queensland Championships continue over the next week with all eyes on Magnussen and triple Olympian and former world record holder Michael Klim as they line up in the men's 100m freestyle tomorrow.
One thing's certain – they'll be keeping a closer eye on "the smokey" Cameron McEvoy.