James Magnussen says life lessons all part of 'crazy' London Olympics

In his first column for ESPN, Australian Olympian James Magnussen reflects on the experiences of the London Olympics, including his silver medal in the 100m freestyle and the Stilnox saga that brought into question the culture of the swim team.

Every athlete has a moment when that Olympic seed was sown for the first time, and for me that came in Sydney in 2000. I was nine-years-old, and my dad and I drove down to Sydney from Port Macquarie and watched the heats of the athletics; I think that's all we could get tickets to.

That was pretty exciting, and that's when the spectacle that is an Olympic Games really hit home for me; when you see it live and you see the hundreds of thousands of people who were commuting to OIympic Park, that's when it really started things off for me.

It was a few years before I really thought I could make it as a swimmer though; that moment arrived when I was 16 and made my first Australian junior team. They had us all in a room at the time, I think we were down in Canberra, and they said to us: "Statistically, one in five people here will go on to represent Australia in swimming."

So you sort of look around and do a bit of a headcount and you try to cross a few people off the list who you think you can beat. So that was probably the first time I actually thought that I could represent my country in this sport.

Five years later and I was in London, and it was an experience I would describe as "crazy". From the build-up, to the racing and then all the stuff that happened away from the pool, it was a massive learning curve.

I don't have a lot of memories from the London Games just because there was so much emotion, such a lack of sleep, such a crazy environment, and one that seemed to fly past so quickly. I really have little memories of the swimming itself at all.

As a life experience, I learned and grew a lot from London; it made me grow up a lot faster than I would have had I not had that experience. Had I become world champion three years out from an Olympics and had that full cycle to, I guess, learn about the sport and get comfortable in that position then it could have been different.

But it is what it is.

Going into an Olympics as a 21-year-old, as a bit of a poster boy, was pretty tough. I'd gone from almost anonymity walking down the street to every second person stopping me and wanting to talk about the Olympics, and that made it pretty hard to switch off. The Olympics were everywhere; I'd see myself anytime I turned on the TV, and it was the same story in the newspapers. It really became a pressure-cooker environment a few months out, and, in hindsight, it was probably a bit much for me to handle at that stage.

And then to miss the gold medal by the barest of margins, one one-hundredth of a second, was heart-breaking. Still, all I could say was "well done" to the United States' Nathan Adrian, and then be proud of my own efforts and the silver medal. It certainly left me hungry for more, though.

While I was proud of the silver medal, there was some stuff that went on in London which I wasn't so proud of; by that, of course, I'm referring to the Stilnox issue. The use of Stilnox was an attempt by the men's 4x100m freestyle relay team to bond, but it was a bad decision that went wrong. I think what happened was an attempt to bring the group closer together, which is a noble cause; but it was done via the wrong means.

On the other side of the Olympics, it was a little bit of a shock to cop the brunt of the blame for what went on. It was pretty tough to take a lot of the heat, as I did, but I came out the other side a little bit wiser and stronger. If you learn from it and don't do it again, then you put yourself in good stead for the rest of your career.

It was just another thing I have learned through my career in sport.

A lot of the things I've learned in and from swimming, about having to be disciplined and the like, have helped me be more personal and form better relationships outside of the swimming pool.

I was asked recently whether all the training you do as a swimmer as a kid prohibits your social development, but I certainly believe that in no way is that the case.

In my early life, I swam only in summer and played team sports in winter; I played football and lived a completely different life and, to this day, I am able to interact with people of all standings from society. I pride myself on my ability to be personable and interact socially with anyone, but that isn't necessarily needed on a swim team.

The thing that people need to understand about a swim team, and the thing that is tough on a swim team, is the people you are on the team with aren't necessarily your friends for the best part of the year; they're your competition. They're the people you're trying to beat to get on the Olympic team; it's a very cutthroat environment. And then to have to turn around and be teammates with those same people, it can be tough to form that bond. And that's why I'm enjoying developing strong relationships with my new teammates ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.