Few expected Australia to win just one gold medal in swimming at the 2012 Olympics. The men’s 4×100-meter relay team was expected to win gold but ended in fourth.
After all, this is a country that prides itself on its ability in the pool and the dearth of gold in London hurt. What hurt more though was the news of what actually happened away from the pool in England, which nobody expected.
In February, members of the men’s 4×100-meter relay team – James Magnussen, Eamon Sullivan, Matthew Targett, Tommaso D'Orsogna and Cameron McEvoy – revealed that during a team-bonding session in Manchester ahead of the games, they used a drug used to treat insomnia called Zolpidem, referred to as Stilnox in Australia.
The pill is already banned by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and there are growing calls for the drug to be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Some athletes have become addicted to it and the high that it brings.
"Hindsight is a wonderful thing," Sullivan said at a press conference. "Of course I regret our decisions and my decision.” The leader of the team denied that the drug was behind their disappointing fourth place finish.
Sullivan continued, "As a senior member of the team I should've stood up and shown more leadership at the time. For that, I'm truly sorry. If I thought for one moment that these actions and our communal decision to take Stilnox would affect our performance in no way I would've done it."
Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser has called for the athletes to be banned.
"Those people who take drugs in sport should be banned forever, not to ever be allowed to come back into sport … especially in this example,” Fraser told Australian Associated Press. “They should be punished severely because they are setting a bad example for the younger generation for our country. They wouldn't inspire me if I was a youngster coming up in the sport of swimming."
The AOC is launching an investigation into the affair and how it was subsequently handled by Swimming Australia. The committee added that it expects full cooperation from all athletes involved.
Some members of the men’s team also made late night prank phone calls and knocking on the hotel room doors of their female teammates during these bonding sessions.
“We acknowledge that our actions on the night were stupid,” the swimmers said in a statement.
The AOC chief John Coates said that the body is determined to get to the bottom of the affair and ensure that the sport is clean and seen as wholesome by sponsors and the population as a whole.
"The biggest worry I have, because of swimming behavioral problems, is that the public doesn't think as highly of our Olympic teams," Coates said after the opening of the AOC’s new office last Wednesday. "The last thing we want is for the mums and dads not to think of our Olympians as role models. ‘Is that what happens when I send my little girl to the team or my little Johnny to the team?' That's what scares me."