LONDON (Reuters) - James Magnussen, his confidence restored after a pedestrian start to the London Olympics, is back on track to fulfill his promise to be the fastest man on water.
The Australian will line up on the starting blocks at London’s Aquatic Centre on Wednesday as the favorite to win the men’s 100 meters freestyle final, the blue riband event of the swimming competition.
Following his win in last year’s championships, Magnussen bragged that he would win the Olympic gold and break the world record but lost his nerve when he got to London.
On the opening day of competition, Australia’s relay team, of which Magnussen was a part, suffered a humiliating loss in the 4x100 freestyle relay.
They had dubbed themselves the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” but failed to ignite when it mattered and finished fourth, with Magnussen bearing the brunt of criticism after he was beaten in the lead-off leg.
Rattled by the loss, his confidence started to waver but he regained it in the nick of time to qualify fastest for the final, just ahead of American Nathan Adrian in a high quality field that includes Brazilian world record holder Cesar Cielo.
While the freestyle sprint looms as the feature race on Wednesday, Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima gets the chance to complete an elusive golden treble in the men’s 200 breaststroke final.
If he gets his hands on the wall first, he will become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three Olympics but faces a tough task.
He only qualified fifth fastest almost a second behind Michael Jamieson, who is bidding to become the first Briton to win a swimming gold in London.
The United States and China have been battling it out for top honors in the pool and are poised for another showdown in the women’s 200 butterfly final on Wednesday.
American Kathleen Hersey qualified fastest but Chinese world champion Jiao Liuyang will be in the lane next to her.
The two countries could slug it out again in the women’s 4x200 freestyle relay, the last of Wednesday’s four finals.
Michael Phelps, who won a record 19th Olympic medal on Tuesday, will not be swimming in any of the medal races but will be action in the 200 medley, which he won at the last two Olympics.
It will be the second installment of his highly-touted clash with his team mate Ryan Lochte, who is also in the 200 backstroke, which will start another busy day of racing.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury