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Russia Targets Foreign Head Coach

Oct 18, 2012  - Craig Lord

Russia is to appoint a new national swimming coach by December 1 to replace Dr Andrei Vorontsov, whose official term comes to an end on the last day of the year. 

Novosti, the Russian agency, reported that "a wealth of foreign candidates are being considered for the vacancy". Like Germany, Italy, Britain and several other nations, Russia had its own reasons for leaving the pool at London 2012 disappointed.

Russian swimmers won two silvers, Anastasia Zueva and Evgeny Korotyshkin, and two bronze medals, Yulia Efimova and the men's 4x100m free relay. Vorontsov talked of the deep-seated problems related to finance of sport, infrastructure and organisation of schools, clubs and excellence centres. Even so, Russia enjoyed a better result in the London pool that the hosts Britain, with its budget of £25 million in the last Olympic cycle to the Games this year. 

Vorontsov's replacement, said Russian Swimming Federation president Vladimir Salnikov, the first man to crack 15mins over 1500m free back in 1980 and Olympic champion over 30 laps once more eight years later in Seoul, must be "a fusion of an organizer and a person who has exemplary knowledge and see the trends in world swimming".

Internationally - and despite huge development programmes and the easier spread of knowledge  among coaches and swimmers in the internet age - the club of Olympic honour is tighter than it has been at any time in the last 30 years. If the US celebrated its best result at a Games since 1984, then you have to go back that far to find a Games with fewer nations making the podium than the 17 that celebrated medals in the pool in 2012.

It is one of the reasons the IOC points to when it justifies giving a far greater cut of broadcast revenues to track and field than it does to FINA for aquatic sports. In track and field, 41 nations won medals. African athletes account for much of that success, while African swimming, South Africa and the odd individual such as overseas-based swimmers Oussama Mellouli and Jason Dunford, remains the weakest link, by far, in the league of swimming strength. 

Funding and resources for a sport that at base costs far more than it does to run down the road and over the hill are central among issues that hold Africa back. Much is spent, of course, on flying officials from the continent around the globe in their blazers to stay in plush hotels and collect free kit, presents and hefty per diems. 

FINA was headed by an African for more than 20 years. The question is: how much progress was made in African swimming during those years? In terms of success at the very high end of the sport with results apt to make the IOC sit up, the answer is not a happy one.