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Sweetenham To Lead Australia Review

Aug 6, 2012  - Craig Lord

Australia is to conduct an investigation into its swim team's performance at London 2012 Olympic Games, at which 10 medals were toped by one gold. In Beijing it was six gold, in Athens seven, five in Sydney: not since 1976 had Australia failed to win a single solo gold in the pool, its status as world No2 swimming nation behind the US gone to China, whose swimmers are coached part-time Down Under.

The focus of a review will be Swimming Australia's high performance programs and administration. That last word is to Australia's credit: it is the first nation among those to under perform in London to recognise that there may be improvements to be made at board level, among management. Britain's debrief ought to be followed with similar scrutiny of the board and the CEO: the man who earns the big bucks, so to speak.

Bill Sweetenham, joined by Susie O'Neill at the helm of the review in Australia, led Britain to better days after it returned from Sydney 2000 with no medals for the first time since 1948. Will Britain be brave enough to hold an independent inquiry? It held one when David Sparkes, CEO, thought it appropriate to do so after a handful of softies accused the head coach of being a bully. An inquiry cleared Sweetenham but Britain took a backward step on some of the cutting edge issues raised by the Australian before he left in late 2007.  

Down Under, one of the legends of the sport, Shane Gould, the only woman ever to win five solo medals at one Games (three of her 1972 tally gold) pointed to far too much emphasis on statistical analysis and sports science rather than technique, while Susie O'Neill, 200m butterfly and freestyle champion in 1996 and 2000 said Australians had lost their work ethic.

Gould told reporter Michael Cowley at the Herald: "I think it's over-scientised … [too much] cranking numbers and making graphs and looking at angles." She said that the model of training needed to change: "99.9 per cent of swimming coaches are male. I think women are more likely to look at the quality of strokes instead of crunching numbers."

O'Neill weighed in with: "It's really difficult in my situation to feel like I'm bagging the current athletes, and it's easy to do that as a past athlete. But what I've been hearing a little bit from different people is the work ethic from Australian swimmers is maybe not the same as it used to be 10 years ago. Talent gets you this far in an Olympics. Work ethic gets you across the line. That's what I tell my kids, I tell everyone. It's one part talent, it's four parts work ethic. 

"Especially in these distance events. We didn't get any Australians in the 800m freestyle [final]. We didn't get any Australians in the 200m butterfly [final]. Talent gets you this far. In those events, especially, it's all hard work. If you want to put the time in, you're going to get there.''

Head swimming coach, Leigh Nugent, said O'Neill had calked it wrong. "I did see Susie's comments and I don't think that's accurate," said Nugent. "What's work? Is it volume, how often you train, how much dry land you do? Everyone does different things. You need to be specific when you are making statements like that. No one could have trained harder than Steph Rice with the limitations she had. What she couldn't do in the water, she did on dry land. Our guys train hard. And Bronte Barratt, a middle-distance swimmer, trained hard, really hard.

"I'm happy with the work ethic. I suppose without talking about every individual athlete, there will be someone on every team that perhaps didn't do what you would like them to do 100 per cent. But I'd say generally our team has prepared themselves pretty well."

Former Aussie boss Don Talbot pinpointed the focus of Australian coaches on preparing overseas athletes for a higher fee than they can command in Australia.

"A lot of [Chinese athletes] are in Australia working with our coaches and … they pay more money," Talbot said. "If someone starts throwing money at them, they're going to start paying attention to those people."

In a comment that could have been said in general about British, German and swimmers from many other nations in the London, Talbot told Cowley: "They seem to be too happy to accept the fact that they're not doing well."

All of which led to President of Swimming Australia, David Urquhart issuing the following statement today:

I along with the Swimming Australia Board, am responsible for setting the strategic direction for swimming in Australia.

There has been a lot said by people here in London and back at home about our overall medal performance. While everyone is entitled to their own view, no one should doubt the commitment or effort of our swimmers. All of them are proud to represent their country and have done their best in an incredibly competitive swim meet.

It is clear the world has lifted the bar when it comes to swimming and so must we.

In the last 24 hours following the swimming competition I have been in contact with my fellow board members.  To this end, we have agreed we must do everything possible to get Australian swimming back on top. This is not a time for blame and scape-goating, this is an opportunity to make the changes required to rise to the international challenge.

We are a proud swimming nation, we have a proud history and have the swimming talent and coaches to be the best in the world.

After every Olympic Games we assess our results and these Games will be no different. I am today announcing a review of our London performance, focusing on Swimming Australia's high performance programs and administration.

The review will be conducted by one of Australia's most experienced coaches, Bill Sweetenam together with Olympic gold medallist Susie O’Neill. They will bring extensive knowledge and experience that will help Swimming Australia prepare for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The terms of reference for the review will be developed by the Swimming Australia Board once the Paralympic Games have been completed. This review will be independent and it will come to its own conclusions. I will make the terms of reference public once they have been developed.

I am very proud of our swimmers and I am confident they will come back stronger in the future.