MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Constant shoulder pain has led Stephanie Rice to play down her chances of a repeat of her swimming gold medal haul of four years ago when she takes to the pool at the London Olympics.
The 24-year-old Australian won three golds in Beijing, two individual and one relay, but has since been dogged by an injury that has needed surgery and which requires a long list of daily treatments.
Despite tearing apart the opposition in Australia’s national swimming trials earlier this year to qualify for her second Games, Rice refuses to install herself as a favourite in the 200 and 400 Metres individual medleys.
“You guys (media) look at it like I‘m the reigning champion but I look at it like I‘m not number one so for me I take a lot of pressure off in the fact that I‘m not going in as the fastest ranked swimmer,” she told reporters on Friday.
Rice has said American world champion Elizabeth Beisel is the woman to beat in the 400 IM and is happy merely appearing at another Olympics after her injury setbacks.
“I don’t have to do anything I haven’t already done,” she said at the Manchester Aquatics Centre where her team are training ahead of the July 27-August 12 Games.
“Even if I just make a final and that was it I’d be so proud of how I’ve dealt with getting to this point. If there’s no gold medals it doesn’t matter because it has been such a character-building experience and I’ll take that through life and in business as well.”
Her troublesome shoulder requires icing after every training session, while she also has daily doses of physio and massage and must do stretches and take anti-inflammatories.
“I can’t wait to not have to be so high maintenance with it, to be able to do a swim session and leave would be just awesome,” she said.
“I thought the surgery I had in December would have settled down a lot of the pain and irritation I was getting but that’s been pretty constant. It’s been really frustrating not having as much freedom as I would’ve had in a normal training situation.”
Rice said she took confidence from the fact she had already achieved at the highest level and also from the mental strength she has needed in dealing with her injury.
“I’ve definitely put 100 percent into it but whether it will be enough to get me what I achieved in Beijing I‘m not sure,” she said.
”What I’ve achieved in swimming, I‘m already so grateful. If I can add to that I’d be really stoked but if I don‘t, oh well.
“At least I can walk away saying I couldn’t have done anything more and that’s all I wanted to do walking away from these Games.”
Even if she does not get a medal, she will be going home with one cherished item after U.S. basketball player Kobe Bryant gave her a pair of his signed boots in exchange for an autographed swimming cap for his daughters.
“I‘m pretty happy with the tradeoff,” she smiled, describing how Bryant had thrilled Australian swimmers by dropping into their training session on Thursday before his team played a warm-up match in Manchester.
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