They'll be the faces of what looms as Australia's worst Summer Olympics in two decades.

One is a diminutive hurdler; the other a hulking swimmer.

Sally Pearson and James Magnussen cut contrasting figures, but both carry the same weight of a nation into the London Olympics.

Amid grim forecasts of Australia's lowest medal haul in 20 years, Pearson and Magnussen are under extreme pressure to win gold.


Anything else will harshly be judged a failure for the duo who ruled the world in 2011.

The 1.66m tall Pearson's domination of the 100m hurdles led to a rare accolade: the IAAF's female athlete of the year, the first Australian to collect the gong.

And 1.95m tall Magnussen went from virtual anonymity to swimming superstardom in precisely 47.63 seconds - his winning time in the blue riband 100m freestyle at the world championships.

Both have burdens to bear in an Olympic year bursting with fascinating sub-plots for Australia.

Can Ian Thorpe make the swim team, let alone add to his record collection of nine Olympic medals?

Will national hero and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans race in London?

What of Steve Hooker's bid to defend his Olympic pole vault title and follow the 24 Australians who won consecutive Olympic gold in the same event?

Can Ric Charlesworth's all-conquering men's hockey team claim gold and swat the proverbial Olympic monkey from their backs. The Kookaburras have won medals at the past fives Games, yet only one was a coveted gold.


Will revered figures such as track cyclist Anna Meares and swimmer Leisel Jones rise again? Is swim starlet Stephanie Rice to recapture substance over style?

All of the above will enter the Olympic year with oft-suffocating pressure of expectation and associated demands from sponsors, fans and media.

Pearson has a simple solution: reject them.

"Just say no to the outside influences, literally," she says.

"It is that simple.

"It sounds selfish, but you have to be selfish to be the best athlete.

"I have to put my needs first. I have to put my training first and my competitions - and everything else comes second.

"Some people might not like that I say no to a lot of functions and stuff.

"But they have to realise that without results, no one wants to speak to you. You have got to make sure that you get the results first."

The money can wait for Pearson and her athletic ilk, but not for Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates.

Forecasting a slide down the medal table in London, Coates says only more cash - and lots of it - can buck a downward trend.

Coates predicts Australia winning about 35 medals in London, the lowest haul since Barcelona in 1992.

Australia finished sixth on the medal table at the 2008 Beijing Games with 14 gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze.

The China haul was a slip of two places from Athens in 2004 and Sydney 2000, where Australia snared medals in 19 sporting disciplines.

Coates reckons that number may fall to 10 disciplines in London, where Australia plan to send around 430 athletes and 250 support staff.

"It's a very worrying trend and it's pretty bloody obvious," Coates says.

The AOC budgeted A$15.3 million ($20 million) to prepare Australia's Olympic team, and another A$15.1 million to send it to London. Then there's the A$700 million Australia has spent on elite sport over four years.

But it's not enough to achieve top five Olympic status, says Coates, who has called for more funds to arrest the drop down the pecking order.