Aussie swimmers plunge towards deep end

Australian swimming is plunging towards its worst Olympics in two decades as James Magnussen's bullet-proof armour takes a hurtful silver bullet.

Magnussen fought back tears while trying to fathom the pain of missing the 100m freestyle gold medal he, and his nation, believed was his destiny.

His swagger disappeared after settling for a silver medal in Wednesday night's final by swimming's slenderest margin - one-hundredth of a second.

"I just felt pretty much bullet-proof coming into this Olympics and it's very humbling," Magnussen said.

"It's a pretty tough time to learn that you're human."

Magnussen's malaise comes as Australia's swimmers slide towards their lowest medal haul at an Olympics in 20 years.

While the women's 4x200m freestyle team added another silver medal on Wednesday night, the swim team have collected eight medals in London - and just one of them is gold.

They will be hard-pressed to sneak another gold to surpass the return from the 1992 Barcelona Games of one gold from nine medals.

At every Olympics since Barcelona, Australian swimmers won at least two golds in double-figure medal hauls.

In Beijing four years ago, they snared six golds among 20 medals - but head swim coach Leigh Nugent conceded London's results where "nowhere near it" compared with recent Games.

"If you look at football teams, cricket teams, basketball teams, they all go through this type of phase," Nugent said.

To make matters worse, the three long course world records held by Australians entering the London Games have all been broken.

While Magnussen arrived in London as the star attraction, Alicia Coutts has stolen the Australian show.

Coutts teamed with Bronte Barratt, Melanie Schlanger and Kylie Palmer to snare silver in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

Coutts now has four medals in London and a chance to equal the Australian record of five medals at a single Olympics, jointly held by Ian Thorpe and Shane Gould.

The 24-year-old, who will likely feature in the 4x100m medley relay on Saturday's final night of swimming at the London Games, was shocked to even be in the freestyle relay team.

She was having a massage at midday when told she would race in the relay final just nine hours later.

"I had no idea, I hadn't planned for it or anything ... I don't normally do 200 freestyle," Coutts said.

Schlanger's relay silver followed her impressive win in her 100m freestyle semi-final, qualifying second fastest for Thursday night's final.

Teen Mitch Larkin was a surprise qualifier for the men's 200m backstroke final, as was Sally Foster in the 200m breaststroke.

Brenton Rickard was seventh in the men's 200m breaststroke final as Hungarian Daniel Gyurta smashed Christian Sprenger's world record - the last remaining long course record in Australian hands.

Earlier in the meet, Stephanie Rice's 400m individual medley world record and Rickard's world best in the 100m breaststroke were broken.

AA