Magnussen Must Find Way to Bounce Back

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By John Lohn

LONDON, July 31. WHAT is going on with The Missile? Not the American version. Missy Franklin is flying high, destroying what's on her radar. Ask the field in the 100 backstroke. The Australian version of The Missile, though, is misfiring. That would be James Magnussen, who headed into the Olympics as the heavy favorite for the gold medal in the 100 freestyle.

Magnussen, of course, was one of the big problems in Australia's failure to win an expected gold medal in the 400 freestyle relay. As the leadoff leg, Magnussen was nearly a second slower than the effort he turned in at the Australian Olympic Trials. He was joined in struggling form by James Roberts, nicknamed The Rocket. Termed the Weapons of Mass Destruction by the Aussie media, they were nothing but duds in the relay.

Now, Magnussen is off to an unimpressive start to the 100 freestyle. The reigning world champion qualified for the semifinals in the fourth position, but clocked a time of only 48.38. Perhaps Magnussen was holding back, as is typical in the preliminaries, but this doesn't look like the guy who was going to redefine the premier event in the sport.

Vocal about his chances of mining gold before the Games, Magnussen had a nervous look as he stood behind the blocks prior to the relay. He has also caught a lot of heat from fellow countrymen and Olympians. Ashley Callus, who was a member of Australia's triumphant 400 free relay at the 2000 Sydney Games, said Magnussen's chatter stoked fire in the opposition. Michael Wenden, the last Aussie man to win an Olympic title in the 100 free, spoke of inexperience and the potential of a carryover from the relay disappointment.

The only way Magnussen is going to change the tide and reassert himself as the man to beat in the 100 free is through his actions. He needs to go out in the semifinals and produce a victory, in part to show his capabilities and to also boost his confidence level. Whether that can happen is far from certain.

“It was good,” Magnussen said of his prelim. “I am still trying to recover from not getting a medal in the relay and trying to stay positive. I have spent a lot of time with my coach one-on-one, thinking about what went wrong. It didn't matter what anyone said, I gave 100 percent on the night. The swim this morning has been very positive, so I have to stay relaxed and focused. Hopefully, I will swim well tonight. My pride was hurt (in the relay). I think a lot of people think they can beat me now.”

**Because she was saving as much energy as possible for the final of the 100 backstroke, Missy Franklin didn't show her hand in the semifinals of the 200 freestyle. So in the championship final tonight, what can be expected of the 17-year-old? It will be interesting to see if Franklin can make a run at France's Camille Muffat and teammate Allison Schmitt, who won gold and silver in the 400 free.

A key for Franklin will be remaining in contact with Muffat and Schmitt during the early portion of the race. All three women will have strong finishes, but Franklin has regularly demonstrated the ability to complete a race with a final-lap surge. If she's lurking with 50 meters remaining, Franklin will be very dangerous.

**The United States is not as heavily favored in the 800 free relay as it was entering the Olympics, thanks largely to the way France has been performing. With a lineup featuring Yannick Agnel, the champion of the 200 free, the French will be a major factor. They also boast the likes of Clement Lefert, Amaury Leveaux and Jeremy Stravius.

Since upending Australia at the 2004 Olympics, behind Klete Keller's anchor leg, the United States has had a stranglehold on the event. It's going to need one of its best performance since those Athens Games to maintain the gold medal.

The preliminary foursome of Charlie Houchin, Matt McLean, Davis Tarwater and Conor Dwyer did an excellent job, combining for a time of 7:06.45. Tarwater and Dwyer had the fastest splits of the morning, going 1:46.33 and 1:45.52, respectively.

**One of the weaker events in the American arsenal is the women's 200 butterfly, but Kathleen Hersey started on the path toward changing that status during preliminaries. Hersey led qualifying in her sole event of the Games with a time of 2:06.41. While she'll have to drop time in order to get into medal contention, Hersey has to be feeling good about her performance.

**The British crowd was fired up during the Day Four morning session, and for good reason. It was probably the best showing — on the whole — by Great Britain so far. In the men's 200 breast, Michael Jamieson and Andrew Willison qualified second and third, and in the women's 200 butterfly, Jemma Lowe was third.

There was a disappointment, however, as Ellen Gandy failed to advance to the semifinals in the 200 fly. Gandy was the silver medalist in the event at last summer's World Championships.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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