SYDNEY, July 11 (Reuters) - Australia is sending its smallest team to a Summer Olympics since the 1992 Games, with 410 athletes set to compete in London with the goal of a top five finish on the medals table.
The team, finalised on Wednesday and supported by 319 officials, is 25 members smaller than the party which won 14 gold, 15 silver, 17 bronze medals in Beijing to finish sixth.
It is comfortably bigger, however, than the 290 who competed at the Barcelona Games 20 years ago when Australia last finished outside the top seven (10th).
The AOC’s target at the July 27-Aug. 12 Games is a tough task given hosts Britain will expect the medal boost that comes from home advantage and China, the United States and Russia are again likely to occupy the top three spots.
That is likely to leave the Australians battling it out with big-spending countries like France, Germany, Italy and Japan for the fifth spot.
The AOC’s own benchmark projection in February last year predicted an eighth place finish in London but president John Coates has received better news with this year’s analysis.
“I wasn’t that confident last year when I saw the benchmark results coming in and saw that we’d dropped back from the 40 to 46 overall medals we’d need to be in the mix for the top five to 35,” he told a news conference last week.
”I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far this year, particularly in sailing and in cycling and in rowing, and I‘m aware that we’ll get better results this year than we did last year in equestrian and shooting.
“The swimming results at the trials were better, albeit we’re still going to be counting on some improvement on the times they were doing at our trials compared to the times the Americans are doing now to get up to 15 medals in the pool.”
Coates has long seen the pool, always one of Australia’s strengths and the venue for 20 Australia medals in Beijing, as the key battleground in his team’s bid to reach their medal target.
If all else fails, however, he should at least have the satisfaction of watching James Magnussen bring the gold for the blue riband 100 metres freestyle sprint back to Australia for the first time since Michael Wenden in 1968.
Another key battleground is the velodrome where Anna Meares will be out to become the first female cyclist to win four Olympic track medals and the first to medal at three Games.
When it comes to longevity at the Olympic, however, Meares is a mere neophyte compared to equestrian competitor Andrew Hoy, who will be competing at an Australian record seventh Games.
Hoy’s team mate Mary Hanna, one of 186 women in the team compared to 224 men, is the oldest Australian at the age of 57, while 16-year-old diver Brittany Broben is the youngest.
The Australian team also features a father-daughter combination for the first time with David and Hayley Chapman taking part in the shooting. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)