The Danish Swimming Union is under heavy criticism after a Danish Radio (DR) documentary reported on mid-2000s policies of weighing athletes publicly at the country’s national training center. The documentary also alleged that coaches degraded and bullied athletes during that time, tying the coaching behavior to athlete eating disorders.
The DR report is titled “Swimming Stars – Under the Surface.” You can find a written overview of the documentary, in Danish, here. The documentary reports that the mistreatment of athletes began in 2003, when Denmark hired Australian coach Mark Regan as its national team head coach. The report says that Regan “threw chairs into the swimming pool, spoke degradingly to the swimmers and introduced public weighings, where the swimmers were weighed in front of each other,” in a rough translation of the original Danish.
The report says that another coach, Jens Frederiksen, brought the behavior to the attention of the Danish Swimming Union in 2004, but never received a response. Then the team’s dietitian called a meeting with Regan and another official to recommend that the public weighings stop and be replaced by voluntary weighings in private. The DR report says the officials agreed to the new guidelines, but then continued the weighings anyway, with 23 swimmers confirming to DR that the weighings continued into 2005.
The documentary says the methods even continued after Regan stepped down as national team coach, with his successor Paul Wildeboer continuing the public weighing until at least 2012. The story also says junior coach Michael Hinge called a 14-year-old junior star fat in front of others.
Regan declined an interview with DR, but said he didn’t do anything wrong, claiming that he was a “hard coach” and that “sometimes you should tell the swimmers things that they do not want to hear.” Wildeboer died in 2014, and Hinge declined to comment to Danish Radio.
The documentary says that future world champ and Olympic medalist Jeanette Ottesen left the national training center at age 17 with an eating disorder and depression, and also shared the stories of Kathrine Jorgensen, a top swimmer who developed anxiety, depression and bulimia and tried to overdose on pain medication in 2008, and Sidse Kehlet, a junior standout who developed bulimia, depression and medication abuse and was told by a doctor to stop swimming at 18 to recover from those conditions.
The Danish Swimming Union said it was not aware that the public weighings continued after the federation’s policies changed, and condemned the behavior.
“It makes me really sad when I hear these stories,” said Danish Swimming Union director Pia Holmen Christensen in a follow-up DR story. “And it is not in order.
“If we had known about this, or had I become aware of it, then of course we would have put an end to it,” Christensen said later in the story. “So if what you say is right… It’s not [expletive deleted] okay.”
Danish Swimming Union chairman Lars Jorgensen also gave a speech at the Danish Sports Federation annual meeting addressing the issue. He says Team Denmark officials from the time say that the new guidelines were followed from 2005 to 2008, but also reflects that the guidelines “were not good enough to protect and promote the well-being of all national swimmers.” You can read his full speech here.
DR Apology For Out of Context Quote
The Danish Swimming Union did object to a quote from Holmen used in the documentary. The swimming federation complained that the quote was taken out of context, and Danish Radio ultimately agreed, responding with a public apology:
“In the Evening Show on Tuesday, April 23, as a part of a panel debate on DR’s documentary ‘Swimming stars – below the surface’, a brief clip was brought with the Danish Swimming Union director, Pia Holmen. The clip was brought after a talk with the swimmer Jeanette Ottesen and the former swimmer, Kathrine Jørgensen about the former coach Mark Regan‘s personal behavior as coach. Afterwards, the Evening Show brought the clip with the director of the Danish Swimming Union, where she stated that she did not know about it.
The clip with Pia Holmen was an answer to a question from DR’s journalist, who was not about Mark Regan‘s behavior, and the use of Pia Holmen’s response thus created an erroneous picture of what the Danish Swimming Union leadership knew about Mark Regan‘s behavior and how to respond to it. behavior. We are sorry.”
Minister of Culture Calls For Independent Study
The story has crossed beyond sport governance as well. Denmark’s Minister of Culture, Mette Bock, met with the Danish Swimming Union, Danish Sports Federation and several swimmers to discuss the issue. She ultimately called for an independent third party to undertake an investigation into the allegations.