Australian Olympic athletes are cracking up

GREG FORD
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012
James Magnussen
Getty Images
DEFLATED: James Magnussen was pipped for gold in the men's 100m freestyle by 0.01sec.

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It's official - Australia's traumatised Olympians are lining up for psychological support and relaxation advice as pressure mounts around their underwhelming London Games campaign.

And New Zealand is partly to blame for inflicting our Anzac cousins with the sudden crisis of confidence.

Just a day after one of the Hockeyroos' star woman players confirmed she was physically ill after her team's opening 1-0 loss to New Zealand's Black Sticks and that she and other team-mates had to seek counselling to cope with the defeat, the Australian implosion continued with their crack swimming team the chief culprits.

The Australian Olympic Committee has been forced to fiercely defend the team effort that, after the fourth day of competition, had reaped one gold, three silver and two bronze medals. Flustered officials insist a top five ranking in the medal table remains realistic because the best is yet to come.

But athletes on the 410-member team are showing the strain as they contend with their own pressures - some dealing with the AOC's controversial decision to ban the use of sleeping medication Stilnox on the eve of the Games, and others looking for methods to settle their nerves.

Several superstar Australians have fluffed their lines in London. They include the fastest man in swimming, world champion 100m freestyler James Magnussen.

The 21-year-old world champion admitted he had struggled to sleep for two days before competing and that nerves had overwhelmed him ahead of his key role as team leader in the 4x100m relay and the 100m individual event, both of which he was expected to collect gold in.

The Aussie women, led by Beijing swim queen Stephanie Rice, has been just as underwhelming with a tearful Rice limping out of the Games while Emily Seebohm, another failed gold medal hopeful, spent 20 minutes crying on the pool deck afterwards.

The AOC is denying any links between its last-minute imposition of rules on sleeping tablet use for the London Games and the large appetite for information on relaxation techniques it reported yesterday.

Australia has set up a more elaborate recovery centre in London than at any Olympic Games before, taking over the John F Kennedy School in London and opening it 24 hours a day throughout competition.

On hand is a clinical psychologist, two recovery physiologists and three massage therapists. The team psychologist for the Olympics is embedded in the village with the athletes.

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"'We checked with our doctors yesterday and there's been a huge request for literature on the relaxation techniques that we've been promoting. Relaxation techniques leading to sleep," Aussie deputy chef de mission Kitty Chiller said.

"A lot of the section managers, a lot of the athletes individually, are seeking out Ruth Anderson our psychologist, and the doctors, to get information on that and relaxation CDs, which we're really happy with.

"Very, very few athletes have asked for sleeping medication from the doctors, though under doctors supervision they can take the likes of Tamazepam for three days.

"I have no problem at all that all our athletes and team members are receiving the absolute best psychological help in terms of preparation."

While taking the opportunity to rub in the fact that Great Britain was a "lowly" 21st on the medal table, Chiller deflected criticism of Australia's medal count, which had it ranked 12th, after four days. It is Australia's worst start to a Games since Atlanta in 1996.

- Canterbury

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