MITCH Larkin wants Australian swimming to return to its glory days. And the world champion backstroker is doing a damn good job of leading the way.
Larkin was just seven when he watched a star-studded Australian team enjoy an amazing swimming meet at the "best ever Olympics" 16 years ago in Sydney, finishing second only to the US.
In London 2012, the Aussies fell well short off those lofty heights taking home 10 medals (with just one gold) compared to 18 at home (five gold).
Far from being "toxic" - the word used to describe the environment in the Aussie camp in 2012 after an independent review - Larkin said there was a far more harmonious vibe heading into Rio 2016 next month.
"Some of the managers talk about it being just as good or almost as good as Sydney," the Buderim product told Australian Regional Media.
"There's a great feeling.
"A lot of us have grown up together - there are so many Queenslanders.
"We have each others' backs, there's a great energy, great enthusiasm and a great excitement within the team.
"It's great to have a team that supports each other. Swimming is an individual sport, but having the support of the team is really important.
"I think that might have been something we missed in London and I think we've really improved on that."
Larkin has also improved a great deal since London 2012. Then 19, he finished eighth in the 200m backstroke final.
Last year he was crowned world champion in both the 100m and 200m backstroke in Kazan.
"I was looking back at photos (from London 2012) and I was like 'who's that skinny guy?'" he said. "Physically and mentally I've changed so much in four years."
It was while standing on the dais as a world champion that Larkin finally realised the world was at his feet.
"I realised 'wow, I've done something I've been dreaming of for years. Maybe this really is my path'," he said.
"It was a good surprise. You always do dream of it but until it actually happens there's that element of doubt still in your mind.
"The realisation was in Kazan, standing on the dais and looking around."
Larkin is well-mannered, relaxed and respectful towards the many media and fans who now want a piece of him after his exploits in Kazan.
He credits his girlfriend and fellow 100m and 200m backstroke world champion Emily Seebohm for keeping him grounded. It is rare they talk swimming when they're not in the water.
"It's great to have each other to know what we're going through in terms of being tired, sore, the hours that we train or wanting to have a nap or the importance of resting on weekends," Larkin said.
"We try to get away from swimming on weekends and it's important to rest and watch a movie rather than being on your legs and running around after something. It's really good to have her around.
"I don't mind kids' movies just quietly. We watched Zootopia the other day and we went and saw Finding Dory, which was nice."
While Larkin says it's important to stay relaxed away from the pool, all training sessions are high in intensity.
Under coach Michael Bohl, the two are constantly striving for perfection.
After Larkin won the 100m backstroke in Kazan, he was surprised when Bohl told him his efforts were "solid".
But without such a hard taskmaster, Larkin may not have been crowned the 2015 FINA male swimmer of the year.
"He (Bohl) is tough at times. Tough when he needs to be," he said.
"But it's really exciting. I think a 'solid' is good for him. There's always that next level which keeps me hungry."
Larkin said he believes Australia's outstanding tally of seven gold in Kazan - second only to the US (eight) - is a sign of things to come in Rio.
"Kazan was an amazing week - there was excitement everywhere with the support within the team," he said.
"You'd walk back and everyone would cheer and clap. I think that's something we want to improve on more this year and replicate in the Olympic village.
"I think it's a personal process (the improvements to team morale since London 2012). If everyone can improve on themselves then the team culture improves.
"I think we've done that. Everyone knew the changes they needed to make and I think there's a great understanding of the importance of the team.
"In London I think we were so caught up on trying to perform individually that we missed developing the team environment rather than supporting each other."
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