MANCHESTER: Things will be very different in less than two weeks when the beard comes off, and Olympic gold medals are in the offing. But for now, with the hype and warming hysteria of London still a few miles down the road, James Magnussen is content just being Port Macquarie James.
Just as he was at yesterday's media day in Manchester, Magnussen will be in the eye of the spotlight when he arrives in London, and that light will continue to burn brightly throughout the swimming program. The expectation of a nation is on him to be our London Olympic superstar. The expectation of the swimming world is on him to be the sport's next icon, someone to take over from Michael Phelps.
He knows it, he doesn't shy away from it, instead he just becomes James from Port Macquarie.
Hair today, gone for London … a bearded James Magnussen limbers up at training in Manchester. The 100m gold medal favourite says he feels 100 per cent after shaking off an illness last week. Photo: Steve Christo
''It's something my coach and I talk about, coming into these big competitions where there's a lot of media, a lot of fans, a lot of pressure, is just being Port Macquarie James, which is laid-back, wakes up at 10 o'clock in the morning and struggles down to the beach with his mates,'' he said. ''Not the guy that swims 46, 47 seconds in the 100 metres freestyle. It's just having that laid-back approach to competing.''
Laid-back James also has a mongrel alter ego: ''He does when he needs to. It's not really a different persona, it's who I really am.''
Magnussen had his first training swim in the Manchester pool which is the base for the Australian team for the week before they head to London at the weekend. He was happy with it considering he only flew into town on Sunday, and added: ''I think we are where we need to be.'' That is despite a glitch last week when he was hit by illness. It only lasted a few days and he now feels 100 per cent.
At last year's world titles in Shanghai, he suffered from pneumonia. At this year's Olympic trials, he was struck down with a chest infection. Each time, however, he managed to perform amazingly, winning the world title and in Adelaide clocking the fastest time ever in a textile swimsuit. So what is he capable of fully fit?
''As soon as I started feeling sick I thought, 'Here we go again, same old,''' Magnussen said. ''I talked to the people I talk to in these times, and they said, 'If it was anyone else we would be worried but you have been there before.' I said, 'I know but I'd like to be racing healthy.' Then a day or two later I felt 100 per cent, and it was like, 'Here we go, this is something different, being healthy and 100 per cent fit going into a race.'
''I think that means I should definitely be going quicker than I did at trials. I think we kept it under wraps going into trials, the level of sickness I had … so to get the results there while being under a bit of duress, being healthy this time will be a huge bonus.
''I think the most exciting thing for me is throughout my career so far … I have constantly been pushing the barriers in training and improving in training and improving my strength and fitness … and it's always a bit of a mystery what I can do [when healthy].''
There has been much talk about Magnussen breaking the 100m world record at the Games. If he missed it would he be disappointed? ''If in 10 years' time you said to people, 'Do you remember James Magnussen as the world record-holder or the Olympic gold medallist?' I'm sure I'd say gold medallist rather than world record-holder. Gold medals are something you have for life.''