Humbled Magnussen takes silver

James Magnussen has just learnt there's a fingernail between coming home a hero and returning as a humbled man.

Magnussen came to the London Olympics feeling, as he says himself, bullet proof.

He was expected to come home from London as Australia's golden boy of the Games, with two gold medals and untold commercial and personal opportunities laid out before him.

Instead, the world champion will return with a silver and massive questions over his temperament, character and ability to handle the big moment.

He understands that and hopes his tough Olympic initiation improves him personally, even moreso than physically.

"It's been a tough Olympics," he said.

"They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so hopefully I come out of this a better swimmer and most of all a better person."

But he was only one-hundredth of a second away from holding a completely different conversation.

He led the 100m freestyle within sight of the wall until American Nathan Adrian reached over the top of him to touch in 47.52 seconds to the Australian's 47.53.

Devastated, he lingered in the pool, hanging over the lane ropes as he contemplated the week that got away.

Magnussen says he's had little sleep since the 4x100m freestyle failure on Sunday, in which Australia went in as raging gold medal favourites only to slump to fourth.

He's copped much of the flak for the result after his sluggish opening leg put Australia behind from the start.

It took about 24 hours to pick himself up after the shattering loss and he says there were times since then that he "wanted to go away and hide and forget about these Olympics".

To his credit, he didn't and he thanks those who gave him messages of support from home for keeping him on track.

It's been an educational, rather than a golden, week for the 21-year-old.

"I felt bullet proof coming into these Olympics. It's very humbling," he said.

"As my coach said earlier in the week, it's a pretty tough time to learn that you're human."

There's no doubt he bounced back well after the relay to qualify fastest for the individual final to restore his pride and status as race favourite.

And he was only the barest margin possible from the ultimate comeback.

The brash man who told the competition to "brace yourselves" says he won't be changing his confident approach because that's the man he is, but at least he's learned what it's like to be vulnerable.