Fallen stars: shameful games began long before the Olympics

In deep water … James Magnussen, centre, with Cameron McEvoy, left, and Eamon Sullivan at their news conference on Friday.”INSPIRE a generation” was the motto of the London Olympic Games. But what might the rising pool of Australian swimmers make of the public shaming of the men’s 4 x 100 metre relay team?

That they were ”truly, sincerely, deeply” sorry for taking a banned drug less than a fortnight before the Games was not in doubt – each athlete atoned in turn for the media. One television station brought no less than seven cameras to the Sydney mea culpa – Julia Gillard would be grateful for so many.

Asked who had taken the prescription sedative Stilnox, after the ”hypnotic drug” had been banned by the Australian Olympic Committee, five men raised their hand like errant schoolboys: Tommaso D’Orsogna, James Magnussen, Cameron McEvoy, Eamon Sullivan and Matt Targett.

Only James Roberts abstained. But he could still face sanctions, with Magnussen and McEvoy, for ”inappropriate behaviour” towards two female team members at the pre-Games camp in Manchester. The swimmers admitted making prank calls and knocking on the women’s hotel door but denied allegations they entered their room.

The entire team denied drinking alcohol or staying up late. ”We were all in bed by 10.30pm,” they said in a joint statement.

They now face a Swimming Australia integrity panel inquiry, though you might expect any penalty will pale against the pain of missing out on an expected gold medal in London.

A sheen of sweat lit the face of Magnussen, who looked into his lap with a thousand-yard stare. His ”childish behaviour” could cost him the $10,000 he received from the AOC for winning a silver medal in the 100 metres freestyle.

He discovered then the pain of being beaten by a fingernail. Now here was the full face slap of public ignominy. ”I think one of the reasons I agreed to go along with this night is I was feeling under so much pressure and it had been building for the best part of a year,” he said. ”The chance to

sort of bond with these guys and, you know, be normal for one night were my intentions.”

Taking Stilnox did not affect his performance in the pool, he insisted.

That infamous Manchester evening in July 2012 began with a movie – The Dark Knight Rises – and tapas before talk turned to initiation rituals. Senior squad members Sullivan and Targett spoke about taking Stilnox and it was decided, the team said, ”to continue in what we felt was a harmless activity and tradition”.

The tablets were prescribed to Sullivan and Targett before the AOC ban and dispensed in Australia. Each team member – barring Roberts – took a tablet. ”Hindsight is a wonderful thing and of course I regret my decision, and as a senior member of the team I should have stood up and shown more leadership at the time,” Sullivan said.

Head coach Leigh Nugent was told the next day about the prank calls and doorknocks but failed to act. Yet Swimming Australia’s president, Barclay Nettlefold, expressed full confidence in his coach on Friday.

The AOC said it would await the report of a Swimming Australia integrity panel before deciding on possible penalties, such as withdrawing the athletes’ funding. The AOC has also engaged a QC to conduct its own investigation.

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