Not so long ago a man who felt invincible, James Magnussen is taking a very human approach into his 100m freestyle world title defence in Barcelona.

Before last year's London Olympics, Magnussen was the tough-talking, headline-hogging swimming superstar who considered himself "bulletproof".

A year on from narrowly missing out on Olympic gold, a reformed Magnussen is more relaxed, humble and - for the first time since exploding on to the international scene - keen to embrace underdog status.

Just as he was the face of Australia's underachievement in London, the 22-year-old is at the forefront of a swimming team seeking redemption and looking to put the harsh lessons of the past 12 months into practice at the world championships, starting on Sunday.

"I feel like I've aged about five years (since London)," Magnussen told AAP on Thursday.

"It's a really different feel this year.

"There's been a lot of guys retire on the team so I feel like one of the older heads on the team now and I think I'm just learning slowly to relax and enjoy the experience more."

Magnussen remains confident and his results and times suggest he should be.

His 100m time of 47.53 seconds in retaining the national title in Adelaide in April remains the quickest in the world this year.

But gone are the big statements and bold predictions as Australian swimming's alpha male plans to do his talking in the pool rather than out if it.

"It's been a conscious effort of mine to take the pressure off myself," Magnussen said.

"I think it's a bit easier this year when I'm going into this as the Olympic silver medallist and the Russians are swimming really well as well.

"I'm probably not the headline event I was last year."

That, he insists, suits him just fine.

After admitting he let the hype get to him in London, Magnussen is happy for his Olympic conqueror - American Nathan Adrian - and rising Russian star Vladimir Morozov to hog the limelight.

"Times might say differently but in terms of international results, I definitely feel like the underdog," said Magnussen, who also considers the defending champion men's 4x100m freestyle relay team outsiders.

Magnussen spearheads a 36-strong squad in Barcelona, Australia's smallest swim team in eight years as it rebuilds from the post-Olympics wreckage.

The nation produced its lowest Olympic medal haul since the 1992 Barcelona Games in London and was without an individual gold medal for the first time since 1976.

The fallout featured two independent inquiries, which pointed to squad which lacked leadership and had a "toxic" culture with instances of drunkenness and bullying going unpunished.

Australian swimming's president, chief executive and head coach have all moved on since and the loss of a major sponsor dealt the sport another heavy blow.

Under new leader Michael Scott, Magnussen said the early signs in Barcelona indicated the culture within the team was back on track and he feels it will be reflected in the pool.

"It's the only way the sport can move forward," Magnussen said.

"If we stop talking about the past and looking at past results and start to actually make some steps forward."

Despite losing the likes of Stephanie Rice, Leisel Jones, Libby Trickett and Eamon Sullivan, Australia look well-placed on paper.

The nation holds the top world ranking inn seven events, one more than the powerful US team which is also in a rebuilding phase and adjusting to life without Michael Phelps.

Alicia Coutts again looks poised for a multiple-medal haul after picking up five in London and has the fastest swims this year in the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

Cate Campbell is ranked first in the 50m and 100m freestyle, raising hope Australia could dominated the men's and women's sprint events while Christian Sprenger (50m, 100m breaststroke) is also ranked first in two events.

There's also an encouraging sign of a resurgance in distance events, notably the 1500m freestyle with 17-year-old Jordan Harrison ranked second to China's Olympic champion Sun Yang.

 

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