SYDNEY, July 6 (Reuters) – Swimming young gun Elijah Winnington is heading into the unknown at the Tokyo Olympics but the 21-year-old Australian is trying to treat it just like any other meet.
Winnington swam the fastest time in the world this year (3.42.65) to win the 400 metres freestyle at the Australian trials last month, punching his ticket to his first Olympics.
With reigning champion Mack Horton failing to make the cut in the same race and China’s world champion Sun Yang banned for doping offences, the battle for the gold medal is wide open.
Winnington, though, said he was simply focusing on continuing to improve his own performances under coach Dean Boxall.
“It’s all about bettering myself,” he told reporters from Australia’s training camp in Cairns.
“I’m going into the 400 ranked number one so if I can just improve on myself, I think the results will come.
“I’ve only been with my coach for a year and I’ve been improving every major meet I’ve come to, I’ve hopped in the pool and I’ve done better and better,” he added.
“I’m really putting no expectations on how fast I can swim … it just seems to be getting better and better.”
Winnington, who will also race in the 200m freestyle in Tokyo, said he was getting tips from Horton in training but trying not to get too carried away about the magnitude of the event.
“I know it’s going to be an Olympics and I know I’m going to be racing the world’s best but, at the end of the day, it’s another pool, just in another country and another meet,” he said.
“The distance of the race doesn’t change and the only thing I can control is how fast I swim it.
“I’m not just looking to go there to snag a medal or win or whatever, I actually want to do better than what I’ve done previously.”
Despite that approach, Winnington conceded that there might be a few nerves come race time.
“It’s really difficult because it is the Olympic Games and in swimming it’s the pinnacle, right?” he said.
“I like to think I can perform well under pressure and with nerves, so if it makes me a little bit more nervous, I don’t actually see that as a bad thing. I like to use that.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)