Eye on the prize: Medals not money the focus for Titmus ahead of Tokyo

The coach of rising Australian distance star Ariarne Titmus says his swimmers won’t be racing in the rebel International Swimming League (ISL) if there was a "one per cent" chance it detracted from their preparations for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

After a tense standoff that included threats of a boycott by some of the biggest names in the sport, swimming’s governing body FINA finally agreed to allow its athletes to compete in the ISL without risk of penalties or suspension.

Chasing Katie: Ariane Titmus has her sights set on challenging the great Katie Ledecky at the Tokyo Olympics.Credit:Paul Harris

The ISL is the brainchild of Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Konstantin Grigorishin. He has promised prizemoney of some $7.7m for the eight-week event to be held in the latter half of the year in the wake of the world championships in Korea in July.

While some in the sport are questioning whether the money will eventuate, the ISL represents a pivotal moment for swimmers as they seek an avenue for more prizemoney, at the same time trying to drag the notoriously archaic FINA into the modern sporting world.

Freestyle sprint great Cate Campbell has been one of the most outspoken Australians in support of the ISL and will be one of its leading faces later in the year, while Rio gold medallists Kyle Chalmers and Mack Horton may also be on board.

But for all of its apparent appeal, not everyone in Australian swimming circles is jumping at the chance to suit up at the series of ISL meets, which was due to culminate in a grand finale at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas.

Dean Boxall, who also has Olympic silver medal-winning backstroker Mitch Larkin as well as Titmus in his stable at St Peters Western in Brisbane, said his team was focused solely on the Tokyo Olympics and the path would be planned meticulously to ensure his swimmers were peaking precisely at the right time.

That’s not to say Boxall, one of the up-and-coming coaching stars in the Australian ranks, has ruled a line through it entirely, nor the new series of FIFA meets that were cobbled together in reply to the ISL challenge.

But with Titmus, in particular, one of the athletes to watch heading towards Tokyo and attempting to chase down American giant Katie Ledecky, Boxall said nothing would see them deviate from the course even it it meant a one per cent drop in output.

“The prize is the Olympics. Nothing comes before it,” Boxall said. “Arnie [Titmus] would only swim if I thought it would benefit her going to the Olympics and she needed an extra race.

“But it’s all about the Olympics. If it’s about taking away what we want to achieve because we would miss a training block because we want to go and race and make some money, that takes away what we want to do in 18 months.”

Boxall said he would send off his squad with blessing after the Tokyo Games but was wary in the lead-up. While a more seasoned swimmer like Larkin may happily take on the extra racing, Titmus is preparing for her first Olympics and Boxall wants to ensure nothing is left to chance.

There would also be the matter of how many times they may want to swim against Ledecky ahead of the Tokyo Games, assuming the American is one of the swimmers in the ISL ranks.

“After the Olympics, my group, if they said ‘Hey Dean, we wouldn’t mind chasing a bit of coin for 12 months’, then go for it. Absolutely go for it,” Boxall said.

“If we sit down and we think racing is beneficial at any stage, we will put our hand up for it. But if it one per cent has an effect on the plan, it’s out. If I have a gut feeling that says no, that that phase is too delicate, than it’s a no.”

Boxall understands the desire of swimmers to earn extra money given most make financial sacrifices to pursue their dreams of being an Olympic or world champion. But he said in the case of someone like Titmus, an Olympic gold would carry far more currency and that remained their sole focus.

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