March 18, 2012

A reckless celebration after the 2008 Australian selection trials cost Nick D'Arcy his spot at the Beijing Olympics, resulted in a criminal conviction after a barroom altercation with another swimmer and damaged his reputation.

After dominating the 200-meter butterfly on Sunday night to gain selection for the London Olympics, he planned a quiet dinner with his parents - and maybe have a few friends over when he gets home later in the week.

"I'll keep it a little bit quiet," the 24-year-old D'Arcy said after winning the 200 fly in 1 minute, 54.71 seconds, ahead of second-place Chris Wright in 1:56.40.

After being barred from competing at Beijing and the 2009 world championships in Rome, he is not taking any chances ahead of his Olympic debut and a chance to take on American Michael Phelps.

D'Arcy was only recently cleared to be eligible for selection at London by the Australian Olympic Committee following protracted legal proceedings triggered by an altercation at a Sydney bar with former Commonwealth Games medalist Simon Cowley after Australia's previous Olympic trials.

He was convicted of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm to Cowley, who sustained fractures to his jaw, eye socket, cheekbone and nose. But his sentence of 14 months, 12 days in jail was suspended, meaning he did not have to serve time in prison unless he breached certain conditions.

He also lost a civil case against Cowley and was ordered to pay damages, but filed for bankruptcy last November - angering his critics again.

D'Arcy said his focus is now just "staying on the right path".

"It has affected me, it's impossible to argue otherwise," he said. "It has been a massive journey, it has been a public journey. Performance-wise in the pool, and out of the pool, it has been a very challenging four years.

"I think that is something that is going to make me a better athlete, just because I have had to show that mental discipline - especially leading into events when there is other things hanging over my head."

D'Arcy knows that people have different opinions of him, but he wants to channel his energy into competition: "I don't find a lot of positives from hanging onto the past."

"How I'm perceived in the public is not something I have control over," D'Arcy said. "It would be great to have everyone behind me, but I'm realistic.

"I've had some ups and downs. It's just great to come out on top. It has been a rough ride at times. I think I've come out of it a better athlete for it."

D'Arcy said he considered quitting at times, but his family, friends and a rare win over Phelps in a minor meet at Santa Clara last year kept him going.

"There have been some times when I wasn't sure if I was going to continue on, but days like today make it all worth it," he said. "It's a fantastic feeling to be able to go overseas and represent your country as part of the Australian swim team. I'm just honored to be a part of it."

Triple Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Rice won the 200 individual medley Sunday and will defend her title in London.

She won the 400 IM last week. Despite persistent pain in her right shoulder since surgery last year, she held off world championship silver medalist Alicia Coutts to win the 200 IM in 2 minutes, 9.38 seconds - the fastest time in the world this year.

It was also the fastest time Rice has swum without the aid of the high-tech suits that are now banned in competition.

"The preparation has been so rough and it has been hard for me mentally to be confident," she said. "I'm really happy to have come away with a PB in these suits and, more than anything, just to execute the race I wanted to execute."

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