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Australian Leisel Jones hoping to emerge from Rebecca Soni's wake

Updated: Tuesday, 10 Jul 2012 18:16

Leisel Jones will become the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympic Games this summer
Leisel Jones will become the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympic Games this summer

Leisel Jones will dive into London's Aquatics Centre pool as the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympics and try to reclaim her crown as the world's best woman breaststroker from American Rebecca Soni.

Jones, the self-appointed "Mother Goose" of the Australian swim team, captured the 100 metres breaststroke title at the Beijing Games to cap her tortured quest for Olympic glory but promptly gave up the throne in 2009 on a year-long sabbatical.

Soni, who took silver behind Jones at Beijing, swam straight into the power vacuum and has fended off the 26-year-old's challenges in the interim years.

Jones was runner-up to Soni when the American defended her 100m world title at Shanghai last year, and was upstaged by young team mate Leiston Pickett at the national trials earlier this year as she struggled with a virus.

But her second-placed finish behind Pickett at the trials was enough to put her in the frame to defend her title and she has her warned rivals that she prefers being the hunter, rather than the hunted.

"I didn't think I'd ever make it to four Olympics, that's just an absolute dream," she said at the trials.

"I am the Mother Goose ... I love watching the younger guys, and obviously I train with them day in day out.

"I think Leiston is obviously a very good competitor as well so I think she'll get there and we'll be mowing Rebecca Soni down."

Seven-times world champion Jones has her work cut out for her to get up to Soni's speed, and is 17th behind the American who tops the 2012 timesheets.

She has turned to Michael Bohl, the coach of team-mate and triple Olympic champion Stephanie Rice, to give her a final push in what is likely to be her Games swansong.

GIANT CRAB

Born in Katherine, a remote rural town in northern Australia, Jones was discovered by former coach Ken Wood at a Brisbane pool where her mother worked as a cleaner.

Wood taught the teenage Jones to imagine a giant crab was chasing her during training to have her kick faster, and she later swapped the crab for the image of a Ferrari and herself behind the wheel as she powered down the lanes.

She burst onto the world scene as a 15-year-old at the 2000 Sydney Games, winning silver in the 100m breaststroke and 4x100m medley to become her country's youngest Olympic medallist.

Her achievements and telegenic looks brought crushing pressure along with instant stardom, however, and she was savaged by Australian media after her failure to win individual gold at the 2004 Athens Games, accused of being graceless in defeat.

After admitting to depression and self-esteem issues, Jones split with Wood and embarked on a four-year period of dominance under Swiss coach Stephan Widmer, capturing the 100 and 200 world titles in Montreal in 2005 and defending them successfully in Melbourne two years later.

Jones has not ruled out a fifth Olympic tilt but sees herself going to the 2016 Rio Games as a tourist or an athlete liaison officer rather than a competitor.

"I'd love to go to Rio but I think it would be on a holiday at this stage, so I would have to take a massive break and would have to do a comeback," she said.

"But I'm not one for comebacks, so pretty much London, I'm going to make the most of it and I really want to go out with a bang."

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Medal Table

Country Total
USA 45 27 30 102
China 38 28 23 89
Great Britain 29 17 19 65
Russia 25 25 32 82
South Korea 13 8 7 28
Ireland 1 1 3 5
Full Table

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