BRISBANE, Australia — Top Australian swimmers have admitted that they abused a banned prescription drug before the London Olympics and lied to cover it up.
Five of the six members of Australian men's 4 x 100m freestyle relay team used the sleeping medication Stilnox during a "bonding" session at the team's pre-Games staging camp in Manchester, they said at a news conference covered by the Fairfax media.
All six — Tommaso D'Orsogna, Cameron McEvoy, James Magnussen, James Roberts, Matt Targett and Eamon Sullivan — could be banned from future Olympics for taking the sedative.
One of the team, Roberts, said he had never taken the drug, although according to the Australian Associated Press he was present when his five teammates took one pill each about 10 days before the London Olympics began.
The swimmers, through a spokesman, also admitted that they had engaged in disruptive behavior as their team prepared for the Games, including knocking on teammates' doors and prank calling them, News.com.au reported.
They described the pranks as "childish" and "stupid," the BBC reported.
Their statement said:
"We acknowledge by our recent action in continuing a recent tradition in the Australia swim team, we have let ourselves down and the people who have supported us."
The public mea culpa came after the release of a review of Australian swimming after the country's worst Olympic swimming performance in two decades.
It found that a "toxic" team culture developed marked by bullying and misuse of prescription drugs.
The team — nicknamed Weapons of Mass Destruction by the Australian media — was viewed critically in their home country after finishing fourth in the Olympic final despite going into the race as favorites.
However, besides criticising the behavior of competitors, the report cited a lack of leadership and standards that were "too loose."
At least two female members of the team also spoke out about one particular night, dubbed by the Murdoch press as "Australian Swimming's night of shame."
Jade Neilsen accused three members of the men's freestyle relay team of "inappropriate behaviour" towards her and a female roommate.
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Neilsen and her roommate at the team staging camp in Manchester were awoken by late night phone calls, door knocking and disruptive behavior, specifically by Magnussen, Roberts and McEvoy.
According to News.com.au, Neilsen and her roommate were also barged in on by Magnussen and McEvoy wearing nothing but jeans.
One of the men tried to lay on the bed of Neilsen's roommate.
The women told their coaches that they felt frightened during the incident, as the men were stumbling and acting "strangely."
Magnussen, a world champion, said Friday that he took Stilnox to "bond" with his teammates.
"In hindsight it was a ridiculous choice and ridiculous method ... but I don't feel it affected my performance."
However, he also contradicted the story of fellow Olympian Emily Seebohm, who said she was called by members of the Australian men's team between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. one night in Manchester.
Seebohm said that at the time a complaint to Australian head coach Leigh Nugent was dismissed, with him saying, "I don't think it would be them."
Seebohm told a local news channel on Friday:
"They can't just walk away from this and say sorry. That is not enough."
Magnussen — a favorite to win the men's individual 100 metres freestyle who won silver — claimed that all the male swimmers in question were in bed by 10:30 p.m. that night.
However, Neilsen corroborated Seebohm's story, saying:
"I won't specifically say [what happened]. It has sort of already come out pretty much what they've done. All I can say is their behaviour was completely inappropriate, it was so inappropriate it was not funny. That is all I can really say about that."