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'Best place in the world for a camp' - Australian Olympic team training in Auburn
The Australian Olympic swim team takes a team picture at Auburn's Aquatics Center.
July 27, 2016

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - Anyone who has ever ventured on a long road trip knows it’s a good idea to break up the journey.

That explains why the Australian swim team is training in Auburn this week before heading to Brazil on Sunday for the Rio Olympics.

Nearly 9,000 miles down. Another 4,740 to go.

“We’re having a wonderful camp here. A beautiful city,” said Wayne Lomas, general manager for the team known as the Dolphins. “It’s a beautiful city. Beautiful university. Two pools. We’re absolutely stoked to be here.”

Before making the decision to train on the Plains, Lomas visited three times at the invitation of Auburn swimming & diving coach Brett Hawke, a former member of the Australian team.

“As Dolphin alumnus Brett Hawke kept telling us, he knew it was the best place in the world for a camp. He just had to convince us of that,” Lomas said. “Well, we’re convinced.”

The Australians arrived last week to continue their training. Hawke gave them a pep talk before departing for Rio, where he is the head coach for the host team.

“The weather is a massive improvement on the cold of being at home,” Lomas said. “With the two-hour time change from (Auburn to) Rio, it’s a perfect way for us to acclimatize our way from the coast of Australia and into America.

“It’s a beautiful way to gradually bring ourselves across to the competition times that we will confront in a week and a half in Rio.”

Their schedule is packed with workouts in the afternoon and evening, plus team-building activities like games, puzzles and even coloring at The Hotel at Auburn University.

But these world-class athletes managed to carve out a little time for sightseeing.

“I have sampled your amazing lemonade up at the drug store,” said Cate Campbell, a gold-medalist in the 2012 Games in London. “I was told that you had to go and do that. Bronte (Campbell’s sister and fellow Olympian) got strawberry and I got vanilla lemonade, and we could switch halfway.”

<em> Cate Campell and Matt Abood, with their team mascot, at Australia's media day.</em>
Cate Campell and Matt Abood, with their team mascot, at Australia's media day.

Campbell, the world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle, noticed her name on the wall, among the sport’s legends like Phelps and Ledecky.

“When I walked in the first day, I was like, ‘World records are up there, I wonder if I’m up?’” Campbell said. “They just put me up on the wall. It was a pretty special moment. I think they had Britta Steffen’s world record in the rubbish bin. That’s probably where I’m going to be in a couple years’ time.”

Auburn’s James E. Martin Aquatics Center earned rave reviews from Team Australia.

“Completely blown away by the facilities and the town, and the friendliness of the people here,” said Matt Abood. “It’s been really relaxing. I’ve had a very interesting preparation with a lot of travel and changes, which has been pretty exciting. Another new place to see. Looking forward to heading down to Rio this weekend.”

“It’s been a great environment. Really great facilities,” said Alicia Coutts, who won five medals in London in 2012. “Really enjoying just being here, not in the freezing cold. It’s been nice and warm. Everyone has been really welcoming. We’ve been really enjoying the camp.”

“We have enjoyed getting away from the cold winter on the sunshine coast,” said Taylor McKeown. “It’s a beautiful campus and they put us up in amazing facilities, and the hotel is just immaculate. It’s just been all really great.”

Bronte Barratt, who will be competing in her third Olympics, said she would like to return to Auburn when all of the students are on campus.

“It’s really incredible,” Barratt said. “I would love to be a fly on the wall when it’s actually college season here because it’s such a great atmosphere, even with us here. I can only imagine what it’s like with the whole Auburn swimming team here.”

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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