Australian Olympic athletes have defended champion breaststroker Leisel Jones after a media outlet here suggested she had put on weight and ran a poll asking readers if they thought she was fit enough to swim.
The Murdoch press published photos of the 26-year-old four-time Olympian taken during her first training session for the Olympic Games in London and compared it to a shot of her taken in 2008.
The caption under the picture read: "The Olympic veteran's figure is in stark contrast to that of 2008," and an online poll asked readers if they thought she was fit enough to swim.
The poll question had been removed from the website by 10.30am on the same day it was posted.
However, the article said coaches were privately worried about Jones' condition.
Jones has won eight medals on the Olympic stage since her first Games at the age of 14, in Sydney and has set numerous world records in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke.
A number of Olympic greats reacted angrily to the criticism of Jones, as did fans who voiced their anger on Twitter.
Olympic sprinting gold medalist Cathy Freeman called the report "un-Australian," adding that such coverage was "not very friendly or encouraging at this stage," so close to competition.
"I think it's very un-Australian, to be quite frank," Freeman told The Age. All of us need to be supportive of our athletes.
"Leisel is an Olympic champion and we have to give her the respect she deserves."
The Australian team's Chef de Mission, Nick Green, echoed Freeman's comments, opening his daily media conference in London with what the Fairfax media described as "the most impassioned statement of his tenure."
''She's a triple Olympic gold medalist and a winner of eight Olympic medals for this country. I think she deserves a lot more respect than she was given," Green said.
''I'm pleased that there's been unanimous support for Leisel Jones by her fellow competitors, by other athletes. I've seen comments from Cathy Freeman, Giaan Rooney, Libby Trickett,'' Green said, referring to two other Olympic swimmers.
''It's just unfair that she has been targeted this way on the eve of what, for her, is an historic competition. It's her fourth Olympic Games. She is the only female ever in swimming to go to four Olympic Games.''
Rooney, a former Olympian, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the photos of Jones were taken from a bad angle and suggestions Jones was in poor shape were "incredibly unfair and incredibly judgmental."
"I would love to ask the question after the Olympics whether she’s the same weight now as she was 12 months ago because for me, I would think it’s an unflattering photo angle," Rooney said.
Rooney also suggested speculation about the swimmer's weight could hurt her state of mind before the competition.
The website Fat and Sassy pointed out meantime that Jones was, by all measures, one of Australia’s finest athletes.
The site called the Murdoch story "a grubby piece of reporting."
Jones' coach, Michael Bohl, said the athlete had been performing well in training and was in good condition to compete next week, Fairfax reported.
While Jones had repeatedly said the London Olympics were the icing on the cake for her, Bohl rejected suggestions that she was treating the Olympics as anything other than serious competition
''She's competitive. She wants results,'' Bohl said. ''She's looking OK. She has got to get back down to her best [times] and if she's not down to her best she's not going to be competitive here.
''She's in pretty good condition. You can only really go off the time trials and what she's doing here. She went one minute 08.3 seconds [in the 100-meter breaststroke] in Manchester in a pair of nylons, which is one of the best ever times in training.
''She's a different sort of athlete. She's not a 14 or 15-year-old girl who is doing 10 really hard sessions a week. She's probably at the end of her swimming career. She's been doing nine sessions a week, and two gym sessions a week coming into this, and we were really happy with her from coming off Santa Clara [in California, where she swam faster than she did at Olympic trials].''