After the 2012 Olympics in London there was a great deal of change within Danish Swimming. The National Team Head Coach and National Training Centre (NTC) Coach Paulus Wildeboer‘s job was split into two and he was replaced by Nick Juba, who became the the Head Coach of the National Team and Shannon Rollason, who became the NTC Head Coach.
After having an extremely successful campaign in Denmark, which included a ninth place finish at the 2013 World Championships (one gold and three bronze) and a fifth place finish at the 2014 European Championships (six gold, one silver and one bronze), Rollason left his post as the NTC Head Coach ind December of 2014 for family reason. That was not the only change within the swimming federation as Mikkel von Seelen, the Danish Swimming Federation’s Director of Sport also resigned.
Juba was the only consistent presence with in the leadership structure of Danish Swimming, “Over the last four years we have had considerable change within Danish swimming, especially amongst personnel, and, without doubt, these changes have made the journey through to Rio that bit trickier,” Juba told SwimSwam. “From my point of view I have tried to offer some stability, some consistency, throughout this period, and yet at the same time try to keep things moving along. I suppose some might see me as the constant figure in a bit of a roller-coaster ride!”
In December of 2014 Stefan Hansen, who was Rollason’s assistant at the NTC, took over the Head Coaching duties while Juba took on extra management responsibilities within the NTC. In February of 2015 Lars Green Bach was hired as Danish Swimming’s High Performance Manager and in April of the same year Dean Boles was hired as a National Coach in charge of the development of the program leading into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
When Juba was hired his primary focus was to translate the Danes success in the years outside of the Olympics into medal performances in Rio, “We had targeted two medals in the build-up to Rio but of course it made absolutely no sense to ‘second-guess’ what would happen,” said Juba. “Denmark seems to have swam pretty well in 2012 [they qualified for 8 finals] but ultimately came away empty handed medal-wise. Whilst my brief in Denmark was to focus predominantly on Rio and upon winning medals there, I was equally okay with the wider concept of a small country such as ours [just 5.7 million people] making a significant impact on the biggest stage of them all.”
The changes with the program between 2012 and 2016 did result in a significant improvement in Rio. In 2012 the Danes finished in the top eight in six individual events and two relay events Their top placings was which was accomplished by both Lotte Friis (400 freestyle) and Rikke Moeller Pedersen (200 breaststroke). In 2016 the team had seven individuals and one relay compete in the finals while collecting two medals, which included Pernille Blume taking gold in the 50 freestyle and the women’s 4 x 100 medley relay winning the bronze. The women’s relay also set a new European record in the event.
“Obviously I have to be very pleased. This was Denmark’s best result since the Second World War. The country has only won two swimming medals in the intervening years – a silver in 1988 and a bronze in 2008 – and now, in less than an hour, we added another two! Both Pernille’s and the medley relay girls swims were outstanding and it was a remarkable night.”
“I was also pretty happy with a number of our swims throughout the week’s racing and some of the men especially performed above expectations. Equally, of course, I felt sad for the swimmers in the races that ‘got away’ and especially for Mie Nielsen who was just a 0.04s whisker from the 100 back medals.”
“One third of our Danish team in Rio [5 out of 15 swimmers] are now Olympic medal-winners. Personally I think that is a great achievement.”
When an athlete from a smaller nation wins Olympic gold things do not only change for the athlete, but there is often significant change within the sport. Juba is hoping that Blume’s success will both result in an increased level of funding as well as creating a stronger belief within the Danish athletes that they to can be successful at the highest level.
“Well everyone is excited and proud. Pernille’s was Denmark’s first Olympic swimming gold medal in 68 years and it is quite a story. So there is certain to be a big impact in every way,” said Juba.
“From my point of view I hope that it will encourage more financial investment in the sport within the country and, along with the relay performance, inspire a new generation of great swimmers. Pernille’s success should encourage swimmers, coaches and clubs here to believe that they too can be involved at the very highest levels of our sport.”
If the Danes are to build on their success in Rio in 2020 Juba feels that there needs to be a higher quality of swimming by a greater number of athletes for the country, “Over the next few years Denmark would benefit from a bigger group of high quality swimmers. I feel that there needs to be more pressure on team places and selections. With this in mind our coaches must learn the necessary skills to successfully develop swimmers from being a good age and youth level to become senior swimmers who have the ability to challenge internationally. Denmark requires depth in all events.”
Increasing the depth within the country will Juba’s and the current leadership group’s primary focus over the next four years.