FINA World Championships, Swimming: James Magnussen; Australia’s Son Of A Gun

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Feature by Ian Hanson, Chief Australian Correspondent

GOLD COAST, Austalia, July 28. WHEN swimming-mad Australia welcomes home its newest world champion in James "The Missile" Magnussen, a group of legendary sprinters are sure to seek out the youngster who has exploded onto the international swimming stage.

Australia has always had a proud tradition in sprint freestyle swimming, especially with the 100 metres often dubbed as the blue ribband event of Olympic swimming.

The history goes back to decorated World War I hero Cecil Healy who won 100m bronze in Athens in 1906 and then silver to the legendary surfing great Duke Kahanamoku in Stockholm in 1912.

But the Australians had to wait until their home Games of 1956 before they unleashed their sprinting prowess again, becoming only the second country in Olympic history (USA in 1920 and 1924) to capture the 100m trifecta.

The great Jon Henricks set a new Olympic record of 55.4 to hold off John Devitt (who would go on to win Olympic gold in 1960) 55.8 and Gary Chapman (56.7) before Mike Wenden sank the US pair Ken Walsh and the amazing Mark Spitz to claim Mexican gold in 1968.

Henricks, Devitt and Wenden are the godfathers of Australian freestyle sprinting – men who's names are synonymous with Olympic gold.

"It's great to have someone new, someone who is not afraid to get out and mix it and have the strength to bring it home at the end of the race – that's the secret for me and I'm sure it's only the start for James," said Devitt. "There is no doubt that his best is yet to come – he has certainly put himself very much in the frame; all he has to do now is stay focused. But I think it's great for the Australian Team to have a young gun who has no fear."

Devitt was front and centre on Wednesday night as more than 500 corporates rubbed shoulders with a host of fellow Olympians, politicians and sports heavyweights who had gathered at the Sydney Convention Centre for an important Australian Olympic fund-raising dinner.

And while there was constant discussion around the room about Australia's best prospects for London, much of the talk was about "that kid" Magnussen.

AOC president John Coates sidled up to 1980 Australian Olympic Swim Team captain Lisa Forrest, saying: "Have you heard about James Magnussen?"

Magnussen lives in the 2000 Olympic city of Sydney and trains in the Olympic Pool at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre under the astute guidance of former Queensland coach Brant Best.

A level-headed, happy-go-lucky country boy who hails from the popular beachside holiday town of Port Macquarie, on the NSW North Coast – who grew up watching the likes of Ian Thorpe, Michael Klim, Ashley Callus and Chris Fydler strumming their air guitars.

He was 10 when he sat in his lounge room with father Robert and screamed at the television as "The Thorpedo" swam down Gary Hall Jnr, in one of Australia's finest ever Olympic moments in the 4×100 freestyle relay – the same relay he led to gold in Shanghai as he lifted the curtain on what could well be a very exciting career on the opening night of the meet.

Next year in London there is every chance he will be rubbing shoulders with Thorpe and Klim as they too strive to make the team and under the leadership of Fydler, who is the Deputy Chef de Mission of the Australian Olympic Team.

He has already been able to achieve something the 2000 Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay gold medallists couldn't do and that's win the individual World Championship in the 100m freestyle.

But to stand on the gold medal dais in London would be a dream come true and see him join an exclusive club of the three who have won that rare Olympic gold – Henricks, Devitt and Wenden.

Magnussen translates into "son of a King" in his Norwegian ancestry and the 20-year-old could well be crowned Australia's new prince of the pool in London – a crown that may even sit snuggly on his head already.

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