Rio flop poses headaches for Dolphins

The Australian swimming team have some nagging headaches to address if they are to live up to their promise of challenging the all-conquering United States again in the pool.

Team spirit is no longer a concern for the Dolphins, after their "toxic" London campaign, but the results? Not so much.

Australia arrived in Rio de Janeiro hoping to reclaim the world No. 1 title for the first time since 2001, but they departed having been humbled by a Michael Phelps-led and Katie Ledecky-inspired U.S. team that nabbed half of the gold medals on offer -- a staggering 16.

Australia won three gold medals, four silver and three bronze in an effort described by national coach Jacco Verhaeren as a "mixed bag".

Teenager Kyle Chalmers became Australia's first 100m freestyle champion since 1968, but world record-holder Cate Campbell pulled off what she described as the "greatest choke in Olympic history" to finish a distant sixth in her 100m final.

"You can't pinpoint one reason or a generic reason why some people step up and others don't," Verhaeren said.

"Every performance has its own story, and this is what we need to find out."

Fine-tuning Australia's approach to the Olympics may be part of that story.

The Dolphins held their Olympic trials in April, while the powerhouse U.S. held their selection meet in late June-early July.

"It will definitely be part of the review, looking at what is the best time for trials," Verhaeren said.

"But whether you qualify six weeks before or four months before or a year out, it comes down to race day."

And it seems, the competitors' mindset.

Chalmers - just 18 - admitted he was oblivious to the pressure. He wasn't even sure who some of his famous competitors were.

Australia's other individual gold medallist, Mack Horton, even amped up the mind games ahead of his 400m freestyle triumph by calling China's defending champion and doping offender Sun Yang a "drug cheat".

By contrast, unassuming veteran Campbell choked while quietly spoken, red-hot favourite Cameron McEvoy -- a dual Olympian -- "got stage fright" as he finished second-last in the 100m freestyle final.

"Sometimes ignorance is a blessing," Verhaeren said.