Mind games begin before the FINA finals in Barcelona.
Olympic champion Nathan Adrian has insisted Australia’s sprint star James Magnussen is the name to beat in the 100m freestyle with the pair set to clash at Barcelona’s world championships.
The rivals will race on Sunday night when Australia’s men defend their world 4x100m freestyle relay title ahead of the the individual heats next Wednesday.
Adrian narrowly pipped Magnussen, the reigning world 100m freestyle champion, to gold at London 2012 by just a hundredth of a second, but the American has insisted Magnussen remains the man to beat.
“He is the returning world champion so you know he has got to be the favourite. And he is ranked No.1 in the world right now,” Adrian said.
Magnussen has swum this year’s fastest 100m freestyle time of 47.53 seconds, while the American Olympic champion’s best effort of 48.08sec is only fifth in the rankings.
Adrian won last year’s Olympic final in 47.52sec, touching the wall a split second faster than Magnussen, who took silver in 47.53 — identical to his 2013 best time.
But the American admitted his London time may not be fast enough to guarantee world gold.
“As to whether or not 47.5 is fast enough, on paper, probably not,” said the 24-year-old.
“Whether I am faster or not, that is to be determined.
“Hopefully I will put down a decent swim in the relay and go from there.”
Magnussen had been one of Australia’s great gold medal hopes in London and the 22-year-old has matured mentally and physically following his 2012 disappointment.
A 3cm growth spurt during his six-week break after London means Magnussen now stands at 197cm (6ft 4ins) and having gone to London with the nickname “missile”, he cuts a much more humble figure.
Australia have brought a slimmed down squad to Barcelona and Magnussen’s first task will be helping defend the 4x100m freestyle relay title they won at the Shanghai 2011 world championships.
But Adrian said the Australians can expect a fight in the freestyle relay with France and Russia also strong in this event.
“No one is going to take a deal away from Team USA, not without a fight,” he said of the relay.
“There are a lot of guys who haven’t yet shown what they can do yet and they are ready to show the world what they can do.”