While current Swimming Australia leadership is talking about implementing elite international team pre-selection procedures as a possible change in direction after the nation under-performed in Rio, a past Australian voice is calling for a coaching overhaul as a solution.
At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the Australian team carried with it a current World Record Holder and the fastest 100m freestyle ever in a textile suit in Cate Campbell and Cameron McEvoy, yet both were medal-less in their individual events at the end of the meet. Emily Seebohm, Mitch Larkin and Bronte Campbell were all double World Champions in 2015, yet brought home just one individual silver medal among them. Pegged to win anywhere from 8 to 11 gold medals in Rio, the Australian pool contingency swam away with just 3.
In response, Bill Sweetenham, who coached at the Australian Institution of Sport (AIS) in the 1980s and 1990s before becoming National Youth Coach for Swimming Australia in 1995, is calling for Aussie Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren and High Performance Manager Wayne Lomas to step down and for fresh leadership to take over.
Speaking with The Daily Telegraph, Sweetenham said, “The problem lies within the leadership of Swimming Australia. John Bertrand, [Swimming Australia CEO] Mark Anderson [Swimming Australia High Performance Director] are honourable people, given that, they should do the honourable thing, they should stand down and hand the reins over to a new generation.”
Relating the running of a national swimming organization to an everyday business, Sweetenham says, “This is normal practice in any corporation or business, especially if you expose to the world, how wonderful things are going, you set high expectations that put the athletes under pressure.
“Every athlete that went to the Olympics felt they had to achieve a minimum of eight gold medals — and probably an expectation of 10.”
“Who wants to perform in that environment?, Sweetenham asks rhetorically. “This time it is not the athletes. This is not an athlete issue. It is a leadership issue.”
While Verhaeren chalked up the relative poor performances of Cameron McEvoy and Cate Campbell to a case of nerves and stage fright, Sweetenham has no qualms pointing the finger at coaches.
“This is not an athlete problem, it’s a leadership problem,” Sweetenham said. “To fix it? Before a review — John Bertrand must do the honourable thing and walk away.”
“Mark Anderson should do the honourable thing and walk away. Wayne Lomas, perhaps, age group swimming somewhere. And Jacco? He should be appointed the sprint coach for Australian swimming.
In Sweetenham’s opinion, “Michael Bohl should be appointed the head coach.” Bohl is the current Head Coach of St. Peters Western, the home club of seven 2016 Olympians including Mitch Larkin, Madeline Groves and Emma McKeon.
When evaluating the green and gold’s lackluster performances, Sweetenham also explains what he calls ‘a preparation problem.’ “These athletes are some of the most experienced athletes in the world. Cam McEvoy, it’s his second Olympics, he’s been to a world championship. Emily Seebohm and the Campbell sisters are very seasoned athletes.”
“Allowing swimmers to break records a month out from the Olympics? The managers saying what a perfect preparation? You put yourself under pressure. Cate Campbell is one of the most perfect swimmers we’ve ever seen but she was misled with advice.”
“The psychologists and the media managers got it wrong. They provided bad advice.
“The athletes did not get it wrong.”
“Some of our athletes were happy, socialising, and the inexperienced media people were saying; ‘look how relaxed they are, look how happy they are’ … and they didn’t win any bloody thing.”