James Magnussen came to the 2012 London Olympics as the man to beat.
Affectionately known as "The Missile," the Australian swimmer was considered a lock to win the men's 100-meter freestyle at the Olympic Games and establish himself as the fastest man in the pool.
Magnussen had, after all, set the fastest time of the year back in March according to FINA—a sizzling 47.10 that had many discussing whether he would break the world record time set by Brazil's Cesar Cielo Filho.
The world would get their first opportunity to watch the man from down under power through the pool in the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay and were no doubt ecstatic that he was kicking off the relay for the Australian team—meaning that he could break the world record time and it would stand.
He was expected to pull away from the competition; he was supposed to be just too strong for his opponents.
So much so that as he got up on to the starting blocks, commentators in Australia were already discussing how far ahead he would be by the event of his leg and whether or not he would have broken the world record in the process.
Oh how wrong they were.
The Missile simply didn't get off the ground.
He fell over a second short of breaking the world record, and didn't even win the opening leg of the relay—finishing in second behind the United States.
He put Australia in a terrible position for the remainder of the relay, though that was ultimately overshadowed by France's thrilling come-from-behind victory over the United States in the final lap of the race.
It was, on all accounts, a terrible performance from Magnussen and the question that now must be asked is as to whether it changes anything for the men's 100-meter freestyle final—an event in which Magnussen was supposed to cruise to victory.
In simple terms, absolutely.
Magnussen cannot be considered a lock to win the event, as his time in the relay highlighted, and he most likely will not enter world record territory throughout the duration of the London Olympics.
It also means that fellow Australian swimmer James Roberts and Cesar Cielo Filho are both real dangers to taking out the gold medal.
Roberts in particular has the second-fastest time of the year behind Magnussen and was impressive in his leg of the relay which Magnussen was also a part of. Despite his best time of the year being over half a second behind the best time of his countrymen, he must be considered a genuine threat should The Missile fail once again.
You'd also have to concede that the world record holder, Cesar Cielo Filho, cannot be counted out. As shown by Magnussen's inability to crack the 47-second barrier, his world record is a very fast time and he is a swimmer capable of producing a time that the rest of the world cannot beat.
However, having said that, Magnussen is likely to enter the 100-meter freestyle final as the hot favorite and he deserves to be in that position.
He is the fastest man in the world this year and should have a gold medal hanging around his next by the time the event is over, though his performance in the freestyle relay does highlight that he is no lock to win the final, as many had expected.
He will no doubt be frustrated at his first swim and will be driven towards not spluttering again in the pool—living up to the hype and the expectations placed upon him.
Whether or not he can actually go out and put that into practice remains to be seen, but definitely don't count The Missile out yet.
It's still more than capable of taking off.
Will James Magnussen win the men's 100-meter freestyle final?
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