Eleven gold medals. That's the incredible total predicted by U.S. sports magazine Sports Illustrated for the Australian swimming team at the Rio Olympics, and Australian coach Jacco Verhaeren seemed unfazed in Rio overnight when asked if it was a realistic assessment.
"We are here to do our best and everyone has prepared well to do that. Nobody is busy with what might happen," the 47-year-old Dutch coach said.
Usually, an Australian coach would swat aside such a bullish prediction. And while Verhaeren didn't exactly say, "Yeah, sure, 11 golds, that's pretty much what's going to happen", the fact he didn't dismiss it is a sign of just how well the Australian team is preparing.
Another who oozed quiet confidence overnight in Rio was freestyle superstar Cam McEvoy, who despite dropping the 200m freestyle from his crowded Olympic schedule, could still win four gold medals (in the 50m and 100m freestyle, the 4 x 100m freestyle relay and the 4 x 200m freestyle relay).
"The mood within the team is really, really good," McEvoy said. "It aligns with how I like to approach my competition, a very relaxed vibe, a feeling of we know what we have to do individually and we're comfortable with that."
Five Australian swimmers faced the world's media in unison today, in what was the biggest pre-games press conference in any sport so far in Rio. The American press was out in force sizing up the Aussie rivals, in a room called the "Samba Room", which fits 700 and which was nearly full.
This was a major show of strength from the Australians. McEvoy, Mitch Larkin, Emily Sebohm, Cate Campbell and her little sister Bronte are all either world champions or world record holders (or both). All are at the peak of their powers, and all could be multiple gold medallists at these Games.
But unlike London where the team mood seemed to be marked by hype bravado, the vibe now is all about calm. And about peaking at the right time.
Mitch Larkin, a surprise backstroke finalist in London 2012 at his first Olympics who has since matured into a 100m and 200m backstroke world champion, said the mood in the team now was all about unity.
"The team has changed so much. The team now gets along, there's a sense of pride and a lot of respect in the team. We all know how hard we've worked to be here. We trust each other."
Trust. Respect. Pride. Words you didn't hear too often in association with the Australian swim team in London. And they might just help Australia win 11 times as many gold medals as they did four years ago, when they won just the one.
And who knows? Perhaps more.
Meanwhile, in further evidence of a team united, Bronte Campbell said she was "proud and a little astounded" when she heard that her big sister Cate had broken the world record at a minor swim meet in Brisbane a month ago.
"I certainly didn't expect it and Cate didn't either," Bronte said.
But the the younger Campbell sister was not quite ready to concede the Rio 100 to big sis'.
"It's all about what happens in the [Olympic] final," she said.Suggest a correction