DeSantis: The Departure of Shannon Rollason and a Steaming Pile of Egalitarianism

When most Americans picture Denmark, they see an icy country. They think of Vikings, their beards frozen, hiding fierce faces under helmets with horns. The truth is that winters are quite mild and snow rarely survives more than a few days. But for a foreigner coming to Denmark, there is a different cold feeling that awaits.

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?

Denmark is a beautiful country with a lot going for it- but it is not a welcome place for foreigners. Even while most Danes would tell you they welcome immigration by educated and high achieving Westerners, they lack a collective understanding of the challenges these migrants face. It is far too simple to call Danes “cold”. They are not- there are so many nice people in the so-called “happiest country in the world”.

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.

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7 years ago

“that’s the way we’ve always done it” sounds like what is said in a lot of LSC meetings as well.

7 years ago

nicely written chris. I also think living in the dark for months is tough on his family when all this is going on with the job. good luck to Shannon and his family. he is an outstanding coach and will definitely get a good job back in Australia.

7 years ago

I think the same can be said of ANY country. I have experiences like this in our country – as CroeyCC says – at the LSC level. And in other countries. People push back against change.

lady swim
7 years ago

Add the USAS Board with its 6 cliquey past presidents.

7 years ago

I don’t think any of that is a uniquely Danish thing. I think you’d find the same sort of attitudes very prominent in much of Northern Europe, I certainly find it in Britain. Achievement is diminished wherever you turn.

7 years ago

Egalitarianism is one of the world’s greatest sources of unhappiness.

7 years ago

Spot on, and it touched upon one of the worst things about Denmark the Jante Law.

Me being Danish, I have met several foreigners in Denmark, – through work, through university among others and while all foreigners come here with great excitement, and wanting to perform, they all seem to fail due to the Danish culture and mentality, and end up leaving with the same excitement to come home. I think the main problem is while Danish “high-performers/ambitious people” tend to mingle around with other ambitious people with the same kind of mentality and goals, or at least only share their ambitions with people who shares their ambitious. Its almost an impossible task for foreigners to get such network, where… Read more »

Chris DeSantis
Reply to  TGV
7 years ago


Thanks for the comment. The story on the board meeting was not me. In fact I speak and read/write Danish, so I have a bit of a unique perspective on the matter too. I move in some circles where people consider me Danish and others where I am “foreign” so I can feel the difference.

Darth Vader
Reply to  TGV
7 years ago

Another point to remember is that the Danish suck. So there’s that too.

7 years ago

Please remember that Mie and Viktor does not swim for Shannon and they brought home 4 gold from Berlin.Rikke represents another team as well. Lotte swims at NBAC and the boys at the National Training Center did not do well this Summer.

Chris DeSantis
Reply to  Charlotte Petersen
7 years ago

Good point, great things happening in Aalborg under Eyliefur Johanneson. As the commenter below points out though, Rikke is at the NTC.

Reply to  Chris DeSantis
7 years ago

I was a bit fast on the medal count since Mie lost her 3’rd gold medal by the DQ. Regarding Rikke, I went by her Herning affiliation. Don’t believe I missed the point.Been there, done that.

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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