Melbourne: Stephanie Rice, who was the star of Beijing 2008, winning three gold medals in swimming, is being snubbed this Olympics in favour of comeback athletes.
Rice, 23, is the missing superstar from Australia’s promotional material for the Olympic selection trials starting in Adelaide on Thursday.
Eight swimmers were used for the advertisements, including comeback heroes Ian Thorpe, Libby Trickett and Geoff Huegill.
New world champion James Magnussen features prominently, as expected, while other team members Alicia Coutts, Eamon Sullivan, Leisel Jones and Kylie Palmer are also present as 2011 world title medallists.
But the absence of Rice, the darling of the pool in Beijing in 2008 who has become one of the most well known swimming personalities, is glaring.
The snub, however, is not a Swimming Australia oversight. It is a consequence of the governing body’s decision to pay the comeback athletes more than the existing stars.
The perception that the returning heroes are being paid significantly more than existing stars of the sport to support their campaigns has reportedly split the team.
It is believed that Thorpe has an agreement worth close to 150,000 dollars with SA while Trickett and Klim each have deals worth 50,000 dollars. Rice was offered less than 12,000 dollars after a year interrupted by shoulder troubles, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The paltry sum is believed to have upset the medley swimmer, who refused to sign her athlete agreement, leaving SA unable to use her image for any promotional appearances.
Head coach Leigh Nugent refused to confirm whether the likes of Thorpe, Trickett and Michael Klim were being paid more than current team members.
“It’s very hard to say what everyone gets, it varies. It’s been tailored to the athletes’ individual preparation and needs,” Nugent said.
He denied the comeback stars had received preferential treatment or that there was any friction within the team.
“If assisting athletes to prepare in their daily training environment is favouritism then we’re favouring an awful lot of athletes. We’ve probably got 50 or 60 athletes in that category.”
“Guys like Libby and Ian who are historically just unbelievable producers for us. I think it’s probably the right thing to do to help these guys. I can only see positives in this. I think you’d be a pretty ungrateful Australian to not assist our proven best performers,” he added.