James Magnussen: Why Aussie Is Really Michael Phelps' Biggest Threat in London

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 23:  Swimmer James Magnussen of Australia smiles during a press conference ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Main Press Centre in Olympic Park on July 23, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

All of the talk leading up to the Olympics has been about the budding rivalry between Michael Phelps and fellow American Ryan Lochte. But there's another name to watch out for in London: James Magnussen from Australia.

As Phelps prepares to swim in his final Games, most of the focus has probably been on his own conditioning and Lochte. Don't be surprised if Magnussen ends up stealing the spotlight, however, thanks to his dominance in the sprints and relays.

Although Magnussen will be competing at the Olympics for the first time, don't expect it to be the last. The 21-year-old Aussie is one of swimming's fastest rising stars and figures to have a long, successful international career ahead of him.

He's already earned the nickname "The Missile" for his explosive speed, which makes him a strong contender in both the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle events. He will also take part in two relays against Phelps-led United States teams.

That means it's completely reasonable to believe Magnussen could walk away with four medals, and potentially all of the gold variety. That would be quite an impact to make in his first appearance on the biggest stage of them all for swimmers.

Another factor to consider is how exciting the shorter races are. Magnussen has completed the 50-meter course in a lightning-quick 21.74 seconds. That type of instant gratification lends itself to television because of all the drama packed into a short time period.

His biggest matchup with Phelps will come in the 4x100-meter relay event. The United States has claimed gold every time it has been contested at the Olympics, but the Australian team headlined by Magnussen figures to give them a run for their money.

If Magnussen can lead the Aussies to a win in that event, and it's certainly possible, he has a good chance to serve as an Olympic show-stealer.

As it stands now, Magnussen is well on his way to becoming the biggest Australian swimming star since Ian Thorpe. The "Thorpedo" was the sport's biggest star when the country hosted the Games in 2000 and had some success in 2004, as well.

So while Phelps and Lochte get ready to stare each other down a couple times, keep an eye on Magnussen too. He's going to prove there's room for more than two stars in London, and he might just shine brighter than the others.

It might be the first time you're hearing his name, but it definitely won't be the last.