O’Neill and Rice to fans: Take the pressure off Emma
SWIMMING legends Susie O'Neill and Steph Rice have implored fans not to lumber Emma McKeon with expectation ahead of the Games as talk ramps up of her potential to win six gold medals.
O'Neill and Ian Thorpe jointly hold the record for most gold won at a single Commonwealth Games with six, and there's every chance McKeon could match that feat on the Gold Coast.
McKeon will compete in the 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle and three relays at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre next week and is a realistic chance of gold in each event.
While she did not win individual gold at the Olympics in 2016 or last year's world championships, McKeon has been Australia's most consistent swimmer of the past two years, winning 10 medals at the events to underline her status as one of the world's best.
And while the 23-year-old has emerged from her shell to show a real hunger for success, Olympic champions O'Neill and Rice said the public needed to temper their expectations.
"Take the pressure off," O'Neill said.
"At Commonwealths, the events are spread over more days than the trials, so hopefully she'll get more of a rest.
"I think she'll go better doing lots of events because she's a workhorse, she's fit and it'll stop her thinking.
"But she's got some hard competition."
Rice broke through at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games to win gold in the 200m and 400m individual medley before going on to take the double at the Beijing Olympics two years later.
And while McKeon has already had a taste of Olympic competition, Rice - who was mentored by Gold Coast-based Michael Bohl, the same man that guides McKeon - said performing in front of a raucous home crowd and family and friends could provide a perfect springboard leading into Tokyo.
"Obviously Em's done Olympics, so she's more experienced but I had my first international meet in Melbourne and Comm Games is such a nice breakthrough international scene," Rice said.
"And this is Emma's first time racing in front of a home crowd, so that brings a number of different elements and adrenaline.
"I've spoken to her a lot, we had the same coach.
"She's trying to emulate what Phelps did in Beijing (win multiple gold) and just do enough to qualify to get herself in (to the finals).
"And then when it comes time to actually race the final, then really execute."
McKeon was beaten in the 200m freestyle and 200m butterfly at trials and while it has since emerged she was battling a shoulder niggle and was not full tapered, O'Neill said the results were likely to have annoyed her.
"She'd be hating the trials results, I imagine, even if she wasn't fully tapered," said O'Neill, who acknowledged similarities between herself and the reserved but determined McKeon.
"Everyone says (there are similarities between us). Yeah I do (see it)," O'Neill said.
"I hope she does really well."