Libby Trickett, 100m butterfly champion at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, believes Australia's women swimmers have the potential to upstage the United States at the July 21-28 world championships but stressed that the ultimate goal is still the 2020 Tokyo Games.
"We love being the underdogs, we love having those challenges," she told The Straits Times yesterday at the National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI), referring to the likes of Olympic champions Emma McKeon and sisters Bronte and Cate Campbell, as well as teenage freestyler Ariarne Titmus.
"Our women's team are really strong and we need to focus on the Olympics next year, because we have in the past done really well in the world championships the year before, and haven't been able to consolidate that the following year.
"So if we don't beat the Americans (at the world championships), there's nothing to be ashamed of."
Trickett, who also has three Olympic relay golds, was in town as a guest at the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship awards ceremony on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old spoke to ST yesterday after a sharing session with young swimmers and their parents, as well as staff from the Singapore Sport Institute and NYSI. It was moderated by national swimming head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer, who was her former coach.
Wearing a smile as sunny as the yellow prints on her dress, Trickett shared stories of her experiences and gave advice on matters ranging from swimming-specific tips to body image.
The Australian and US women each won five world titles in Kazan, Russia, in 2015. But, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the US took eight golds, including two relays, to their rivals' sole gold in the 4x100m free.
On how the Australian s can translate a strong performance at the world championships to next year's Olympics, she said: "We need to think about the mental preparations. Physically, we're great, we have incredibly talented swimmers.
"It's about how we can stand behind the blocks and do our race process, and not be overwhelmed by the occasion."
Australia swept the women's 4x100m medley, and the 4x100m and 4x200m free titles at last year's Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, and she feels they have a good shot of repeating that feat at this month's world meet in Gwangju, South Korea.
Despite the absence of two-time defending 200m backstroke champion Emily Seebohm, Trickett believes their 4x100m medley team will remain "exceptionally strong" with the current crop of young backstrokers coming through.
Referring to the 2001 world championships, where Australia eclipsed the US as the best swimming team, she added: "A year out from the Olympics, it would be quite a statement to be able to pull that off again, but it's a huge mountain to climb as an entire team.
"What all the athletes can do is work on their race processes and this is an amazing stepping stone to implement what they hope to do next year, learn and do better."