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We don’t change our flag for the medal dais, so why is it okay to butcher the anthem?

Our top swimmers are chasing Olympic gold medals in Paris. The least they deserve is a proper rendition of the national anthem. Jim Tucker reports.

Jun 07, 2024, updated Jun 07, 2024
Australia's 4x100 medley relay team celebrate a triumphant finish to the Commonwealth Games swimming program. (AAP image)

Australia's 4x100 medley relay team celebrate a triumphant finish to the Commonwealth Games swimming program. (AAP image)

Ask any Olympian and they’ll tell you point blank they don’t want any arty tricks played with their national anthem if they reach the gold medal dais at the Paris Olympics.

They’ll take the music straight for a once-in-a-lifetime rendition. Not for them the curve-ball dished up pre-State of Origin by Australian Idol singer Dylan Wright.

Sure, some loved it. It was a mangled version for most although not in the Hall of Infamy with girl group Bardot, who butchered the anthem five ways before a Bledisloe Cup rugby Test in Wellington years ago.

Who is the anthem being sung for? It shouldn’t be sung for the artist’s creative pleasure.

It’s being sung for the Origin footballers, who found it impossible to sing-along to, such were the variations. Some stopped or looked confused.

It’s being sung for the fans as well. They gave Wright a warm enough reception so it wasn’t a complete misfire. Still, keep the trick version for boutique gatherings.

We raise the national anthem because a finely-tuned group will be taking the plunge at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre at Chandler next week.

The elite swimmers who emerge from the cut-throat Olympic trials will be on the plane to Paris next month. The very best will reach the top of the dais in the French capital.

They’ll get to savour the Aussie flag being raised and Advance Australia Fair ringing out in its proper form.

We fuss a lot about selections and the high stakes of Origin footy but it doesn’t compare to how cut-throat it gets in the pool over the next week.

You could swim the 10 fastest times for your event over the past four years, be the world record-holder, have an off night in the final and miss the plane.

Only the top two placegetters in each individual event win a spot for Paris and they have to equal or better the Swimming Australia qualifying time. Aussies have to swim faster than Kiwis to make their Olympic team. It’s almost always a higher standard than the International Olympic Committee’s own qualifying standard to reach Paris.

It doesn’t leave much leeway when you look at the hot field assembling for the women’s 100m freestyle which will be decided next Friday.

Cate and Bronte Campbell, Shayna Jack, Emma McKeon, Mollie O’Callaghan and Meg Harris will all be on the blocks chasing two individual spots in the 100m for Paris.

The one golden lining is that all six, or the rising stars who crash the party, will be selected to form a crack 4 x 100m relay squad.

Our golden girls have smashed the world record five times in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay over the past decade and are hot favourites to win a fourth successive Olympic gold.

Drama at the trials? It’s guaranteed. You might realise by now it is 20 years since Ian Thorpe’s calamity at the 2004 Olympic trials when he overbalanced and false started in his 400m freestyle heat in Sydney.

He was erased from selection in that event. It took a wonderful gesture from swimmer Craig Stevens to give up his 400m swim so world record-holder Thorpe could swim and win the event at the Athens Games that followed.

You’ll be reminded even more of a golden era of Australian swimming when Channel Nine starts screening, Boiling Point – Swimming’s Greatest Rivalry, from Sunday.

The swim doco details some of the great Australia v US confrontations in the pool. It will also preview the classic that awaits in Paris where Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky will duel again.

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Duncan Armstrong’s 200m freestyle gold from the 1998 Seoul Olympics would have been superb no matter who was in the pool. The fact he beat American superstar Matt Biondi made it better, even gaining some advantage from “surfing” the American’s wake in the adjacent lane.

The Aussies can thank the Americans on one front. They highlighted the importance of relays and the late coach Don Talbot turned winning relays into the heartbeat of the team.

Of course, Thorpe and his freestyle mates detail the epic relay takedown of the US at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 for the doco.

It’s another Thorpe moment that really captures that period.

By the time of the 2001 World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka, Thorpe was an even bigger world star.

The Japanese loved him and painted a transit bus with his image and the full “Thorpedo” treatment.

Which bus turned up at the swimmers’ hotel to take them to training was arbitrary. One day, the American team waited and, guess what, their swimmers all had to pile onto the “Thorpedo” bus.

Talk about getting into the heads of the Americans. The Australians won more golds than the Americans at that landmark meet.

The Dolphins will joust with the Americans on multiple fronts again in Paris but the cauldron of the trials must first be negotiated.

Titmus, backstroke wonder Kaylee McKeown, Cate Campbell, in her swansong year, rising freestyler Sam Short, “Mollie O” and so many others are well worth a peek at the pool at Chandler over the next week.

Very few have sponsorships or funding to sustain a full-time swimming career in the face of NRLW, AFLW and rugby sevens becoming increasingly enticing for our best female athletes.

That’s another story yet they will all be racing fiercely for one thing … a seat on the plane to make a splash at the Paris Olympics.

Jim Tucker has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media. He reported on the swimming at the 1988 and 2012 Olympic Games.

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