Australian swimming head coach Jacco Verhaeren during a press conference at the Rio Olympics.
Australian swimming head coach Jacco Verhaeren during a press conference at the Rio Olympics. SAM MOOY

Swimming's 2020 vision for world championships

THE road to Tokyo 2020 begins now.

The Australian swim team is diving head-first back into international competition at the 17th FINA World Championships, starting tonight in Budapest.

And with it is a new strategic plan - and new mentality - officials hope will pay off in three years' time.

The Olympics are the end game. Always have been. Always will be.

The Aussies won three gold medals, four silver and three bronze in Rio last year.

It was an improvement on the disastrous haul from London four years earlier - which included one solitary gold - but still well below expectation of a team that arrived in Brazil with no less than eight No.1-world-ranked swimmers.

Mack Horton and Kyle Chalmers came away as Australia's only individual Olympic champions.

The likes of Cate Campbell, Cameron McEvoy and Emily Seebohm were all earmarked to stand atop the podium, but came up well short.

With swimming being Australia's long-time golden hope at any Games, there's a strong thought the team cracked under the immense pressure to perform.

Or it simply wasn't primed when the Olympics rolled around.

Either way, Swimming Australia head coach Jacco Verhaeren wants to avoid his swimmers being overawed and not having the competitive edge needed at major meets.

"We certainly had some great wins (in Rio), but we also had some losses, undoubtedly," he told News Regional.

"That's why it's very important to approach every tournament we go to - this year's world championships, next year's Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacs - in the most serious way to be able to step up on the big stage.

"There's definitely work to be done."

The Dolphins' haul from Rio meant they finished second on the swimming medal tally but a pool's length away from the dominant United States with its 16 gold, eight silver and nine bronze.


epa05460712 Mack Horton of Australia poses with his gold medal medal at the end of the men's 400m Freestyle final of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Swimming events at Olympic Aquatics Stadium at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 06 August 2016.  EPA/ESTEBAN BIBA
Mack Horton was one of only two Australian individual gold medallists at Rio last year. ESTEBAN BIBA

In the future Australia will replicate the US system of having national trials just five weeks out before a major meet like the Olympics.

"We'll have our most important competition closer to the bigger meets," Verhaeren said. "And leading into that, we'll have a monthly competition as well.

"There was clearly a push to improve upon that."

Next year's nationals will be held in late February and early March ahead of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast from April 4-15. The Pan Pacs will then take place in Tokyo from August 23-27.

"One of the things that we saw was in between May and August, there's very little quality competitions (for Australian swimmers)," Verhaeren said.

"Let's say it's summer in the US and Europe now ... you always see an increase in quality meets around summer time.

"With us it's the opposite. We have quality meets from December through to April, then it's over.

"So it's a significant change."

Aussie swimmers have recently been maintaining the rage competing in the Mare Nostrum series around the Mediterranean, before the Paris Open.

Seebohm was one to thrive, claiming Mare Nostrum records in the 100m and 200m backstroke events, in Barcelona and Canet-en-Roussillon, respectively.

The Dolphins then went into camp before heading to Budapest.

"It's certainly not business as usual for most Australian athletes and their coaches," Verhaeren said.

But it's one the veteran Dutch mentor, who is signed on until after the Tokyo 2020 Games, hopes will set them up for an outstanding world championship.

"Although it's not an Olympic year, the goal for the team, and most certainly for the individuals, is always to try and show your peak form at a major event," he said.

"Performing under pressure, dealing with those circumstances, is most welcome.

"Even if there is pressure it's really about embracing that and whatever happens show them the best we've got."

Verhaeren is optimistic about the future - be it over the coming days at the Dagaly Swimming Complex in Budapest or in the longer-term.

There are 13 rookies on the team, which has an average age of 21. Holly Barratt is the oldest at 29, Kaylee McKeown the youngest at just 15.

"From a rookie point of view it's very exciting for us," Verhaeren said.

"With some younger guys and girls qualifying, it's a great start for them and even looking towards next year's Commonwealth Games.

"It's great to have them on board.

"They qualified with excellent times. The qualifying standard is pretty tough here in Australia.

"(The times) mean you're a great swimmer ... if you can already show that when you're 15 - and we also have some 16, 17 and 18-year-olds - it's exciting for the future of swimming in Australia."

Defending world champions Seebohm, Mitch Larkin and Bronte Campbell will spearhead a 34-strong team.

For backstroker Seebohm, it will be her sixth appearance at a world championship.

Larkin has made his fourth world championship team while siblings Emma and David McKeon, James Roberts, Grant Irvine, Brittany Elmslie and McEvoy have all made their third.

Horton is also on board, though fellow Rio gold medallist Kyle Chalmers is still recovering from heart surgery, while veterans Cate Campbell and James Magnussen are taking some time out.