Shannon Rollason, just halfway through what was to be a three-year run to the 2016 Rio Olympics, is leaving Denmark. It’s a terrible loss for Danish Swimming. Almost a year ago I wrote that Danish Swimming seemed at its peak- now it seems to have found a new one. Coming off a dominant performance in Berlin, Denmark emerged as legitimate gold medal threats in any worldwide 400 medley relay. When will we say that again?
One non-Danish coach I spoke to told me about his first board meeting after starting work. For three hours, the members spoke entirely in Danish. The coach left dejected and confused. All around you will meet people who say they are interested in hearing different ideas but when decision time comes will politely mutter “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to the agreeing crowd of fellow Danes. To compound things, the collective level of gossip (and decisions made via gossip) in the country recalls everyone’s worst memories of high school, and even speaking the language won’t completely help.
Danish egalitarianism, one of the principle reasons for Danish happiness, can also have a frustrating effect on high achievers. The greater you achieve, the harder many Danes work to make you feel like what you accomplished is “not so impressive, and anyone could have done it, so don’t feel so good about it”.
It’s a country full of nice people, intelligent people, warm people (when you get to know them, if you ever do) who simply don’t understand what it means to be “not-Danish” in their country. When these nice people ask what integration is like, they often seem genuinely disappointed to hear how tough it is. At the same time, there is little motivation for change.
Now Denmark will lose it’s best coach, someone who’s performance record in his short time here should go without question, but also a person whose contribution to Danish swimming goes far beyond the medal count. Shannon Rollason is more than a swim coach- he was someone who was changing lives. He encouraged athletes to live whole lives- not just be “swimmers”. He did the same for coaches, arguing tirelessly that being a complete person is not just a key to success in sport but the right way to live. Swimming needs more like Shannon out in front. Danish Swimming definitely needed Shannon, but now they will have to do without.