Campbell sisters facing a wave of new challengers
THE incredible rise in depth of Australia's female sprinters is threatening to split swimming's greatest sister act at this year's world championships in South Korea.
Cate and Bronte Campbell have represented Australia in the individual freestyle sprints at every major international competition since 2013, expect for the 2017 world championships, when Cate was on a sabbatical, and last year's Pan Pacs, when Bronte took a break to rest her ailing body.
It was business as usual last year when they ended 2018 ranked first and second in the world for the women's 100m freestyle, but 2019 has brought fresh challenges which means no-one's assured of anything.
"Bronte and I are very aware that we have to fight tooth and nail for those positions because the gaps are so small," Cate said.
"But that's how it always is. If you want to swim for Australia in 100m freestyle you really have to swim fast and earn the spot because the domestic competition is so strong."
The current world rankings has Cate, Emma McKeon and Shayna Jack all in the top four with Bronte, still recovering from a mystery virus, just outside the top 10.
"That just shows why we're so dominant in the relays but for the individual races, no-one can even think about the world championships because the domestic competition is so strong, but it keeps everyone on their toes," Cate said.
The Campbell sisters are now heading to a secluded 10-day high-training training camp in Thredbo with their coach Simon Cusack which Bronte hopes will help her shake off the bug that she has had for six weeks, forcing her to pull out of the weekend's Sydney Open.
With Bronte absent, McKeon finished a close second to Cate to reinforce her status as a genuine contender for the 100m individual event after most of her previous successes have been in relays.
She teamed up with the Campbells to win Olympic gold in Rio but now has her eyes on the 100m freestyle individual race after previously being selected in 200m freestyle and 100m butterfly.
"I've always felt like I still have a long way to go and I think that's a good thing," she said.
"It's probably what keeps me going because it is the same thing year after year so you've got to know you've got more improvement in you to keep the drive going."
Held at Sydney's Olympic pool, the three-day Sydney Open was a new addition on the Australian calendar, specifically designed to give elite swimmers a final hit=out before the world championship trials starting in four weeks.
The weekend meet included top swimmers from Japan and is expected to lure even more internationals in 2020 because it's an Olympic year.
"This event was born from the need to create a meaningful meet four to five weeks before the trials," NSW state coach Ron McKeon said.
"But is was always critical to create something that was meaningful so we also have the internationals and the best University swimmers."