Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 50 to 41

The third annual Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of the Year list is upon us. There is no set-in-stone criteria, but priority is given to achievements in Barcelona at the World Championships. World records and textile best times also carry a lot of weight. Other outstanding achievements away from Barcelona were acknowledged, but it took an extraordinary feat to better a World Championship medal. Also worth noting, as this is a list of the Top 50 individuals, relay medals did not come into play, however race-changing relay contributions were valued highly.

50. Chase Kalisz: 2013 Highlight: A fast finishing 400 IM in Barcelona to win silver in 4:09.22 and announce his arrival on the international scene.

49. Jimmy Feigen: 2013 Highlight: Winning a surprise silver in a loaded 100 free final 0.02 seconds ahead of compatriot Nathan Adrian. Would have been higher up the list but a poor (by his standard) anchor leg helped France win the 4x100 free relay over the US.

48. Melani Costa - 2013 Highlight: While Katie Ledecky was chasing the world record in the 400 free, the race for second in Barcelona was comfortably Costa's with nobody getting within a second of her in the last 200m.

47. Laszlo Cseh - 2013 Highlight: Silver in the 100 fly gave him his ninth World Championship medal 10 years after his first.

46. Belinda Hocking - 2013 Highlight: The Australian put her 2012 disappointment behind her to repeat as World silver medallist in the 200 backstroke

45. Pawel Korzeniowski - 2013 Highlight: 1:55.01 in the 200 fly to take silver in Barcelona. Led Chad le Clos with 50m to go.

44. Radoslaw Kawecki - 2013 Highlight: A new European record in the 200 backstroke on his way to silver, pushing Ryan Lochte all the way.

43. Emily Seebohm - 2013 Highlight: Not able to recreate her 58.23 fireworks in the 100 back from London, but her 59.06 effort in the final was good enough for silver in Barcelona. Hopefully the next few years will see some more classic 100 backstroke battles between Seebohm and Missy Franklin.

42. Connor Dwyer - 2013 Highlight: A blazing 26.59 closing split in the 200 freestyle final at Worlds to move from 5th at 150m, up to silver at the touch. This marked the first major individual long course medal for the talented American.

41. Fabien Gilot - 2013 Highlight: A stunning 46.90 third leg of the victorious French 4x100 freestyle relay team. Gilot took over in 4th, and put Jeremy Stravius in the water first. His relay split was half a second faster than all others in the race.

On the bubble: David Plummer, Florent Manaudou, Arkady Vyatchanin, Eugene Godsoe, Marco Koch, Tyler Clary, Camille Muffat, Elizabeth Beisel, Fran Halsall, Konrad Czerniak, Connor Jaeger, Michael McBroom, Ying Lu, Wu Peng, Gregorio Paltrinieri, Fred Bousquet, Felipe Lima, Ye Shiwen, Hilary Caldwell, Giulio Zorzi, Matti Mattsson, George Bovell, Steffen Deibler, Jiao Liuyang, Elizabeth Pelton, Michael Jamieson

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Swedish swim stars form new company set out to lift swimming

PARTNERS: Sarah Sjöström, Lars Frölander and Stefan Nystrand are teaming up - to help young swimmers improve.
Lars Frölander, Stefan Nystrand and Sarah Sjöström are some of Swedens biggest swimming names in the nation's history. Now they've formed a company aiming to help the Scandinavian nations aspiring swimmers to a higher level.

Champions Crew Swimming, a stock noted company planned to start up this fall, are targeting young swimmers who wants to take their swimming to a higher level, writes Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

"We will try to stimulate and motivate Swedish age-swimming to get even better."

Speaking at the Swedish National Championships in Halmstad, Lars Frölander, who originally intended his career after swimming to be separated from the sport he's excelled in and made a living from for the last 20 years, explained why the swim stars have joined together.

"The main idea of the project is to use the experience we as elite swimmers have gained throughout the years. We are quite strong brands, profiles and idols for young swimmers so I believe we could have a great influence in their motivation to get better", Frölander said.

The 39 year old retired after the Olympics last year, but has returned to the pool for the ongoing Swedish championships, only to see his 12 year winning streak in the 50 meter butterfly broken. Karlskrona (and Texas A&M)-swimmer Henrik Lindau beat the living legend.

That should not interfere too much with the six time Olympian and 2000 olympic 100 butterfly champion's standing in Swedish swimming.

The business idea is a website set up with a variety of different training methods and targets for swimmers to report and aspire to. Swimmers will have their own profile, and the different targets will have different levels - so that there are always things to reach and do better. Profiles will be more or less open, meaning that users will be able to measure themselves against opponents and see how their own development is going.

SILVER MEDALISTS: During the World Short Course
Championships in Shanghai (2006), Nystrand (far right) and
Frölander next to him teamed up to form part of the silver
winning 4x100 meters freestyle team together with Jonas
Tilly (left) and Marcus Pihl.
There has been a debate in Sweden if local talent is training enough, particularly as the nation has a tendency of being a force in the sprint-events, but less so in the middle-distance and long distance events.

"It's not about training harder, but smarter. To improve in different skills. Sometimes I think we focus on the wrong things," says Frölander.

When the young swimmers reach different targets they will be able to buy performance medals marking their achievement. This is intended to be the company's main income. If the company makes money, some of it is intended to go back into the clubs.

"Some of the money from buying such a medal will go to the clubs, and the rest into the company for further development, where we are also looking to help our best swimmers in the race against the world's elite," says Lars Frölander.

And if anybody wonders about the 39-year olds stature in Sweden, just listen to the newly-crowned swedish champion Lindau after beating the retired old man by 0.07 of a second.

"This is huge for me. Lars has always been an idol for me, ever since I started swimming. I've always thought that sometime I have to beat him. And now I have. It feels great" said the 23-year old gunning for Rio.

PS: Nordic countries Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are all having their countries national long course championships this weekend.

Norway: Results and live-streaming
Sweden: Results
Denmark: Results
Finland: Results

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Watch Full Races From Australian Nationals

Full list of races here

Watch Steffen Deibler's 51.19 swim in the 100 butterfly from German Nationals

World leading swim (51.19) from Deibler and a time that would have won Olympic gold last year (although Phelps did swim 50.86 in the semi-final). The 100 fly will be wide open this year in Barcelona with Deibler going up against the likes of Chad le Clos and Evgeny Korotyshkin. It should be a tremendous race, but the event will have Phelps' shadow looming over it until one of the men take the event back under 51 seconds.

More highlights from German Nationals can be found here.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

2013 EnergyAustralia Swimming Championship

The Australian World Championship trials get under way tomorrow (April 26) in Adelaide, South Australia.

Amid a backdrop of wholesale changes in Swimming Australia, the never-ending Stilnox saga and news that Alicia Coutts considered quitting the sport following alleged bullying from Matt Targett; Australia's finest will reconvene in Adelaide to determine the make-up of the next national team.

Start Times
World Champs Selection Policy

Rather than focusing on the negative stories swirling around, let's take a look at some of the exciting talent coming through the ranks in Australia.

Names to watch out for this week

Jordan Harrison - A distance freestyle star in the making under the tutelage of Dennis Cotterell. Just 17 years old and has already been a world class 3:48 in the 400 free this year.

Kyle Chalmers - Not an immediate threat to the naughty national teamers, but the 14 year old's 50.86 time in the 100 free made the swimming world sit up and take notice.

Remy Fairweather - The 16 year old is right in contention for a spot on the team having been 8:29 and 4:08 this time last year in the 800 and 400 free. She is an intriguing prospect behind the favourites Kylie Palmer and Bronte Barratt in the 400, while the 800 could be wide open.

Alexander Graham - 17 year old who has been 49.11 (100 free) and 1:47.70 (200 free) already this year. A relay spot looks like a very real possibility in the 4x200 free. Versatile swimmer will also swim the 100 back and 100 fly.

Ami Matsuo - Remarkably the 16 year old has been at an elite level for 2 years after clocking 55.26 as a 14 year old. In 2013 she has been 25.57 (50 free), 54.76 (100 free) and 1:58.22 (200 free). Women's freestyle strength in Australia is among the deepest in the world, but this could be the year that Matsuo breaks through into the national team.

Shayna Jack - The 14 year old was a star of the recent Australia Age Championships with her times of 25.41 (50 free) and 55.36 (100 free).

Cameron McEvoy - He swam the heats of the 4x100 free relay in London last year and is still a month away from turning 19. He's still plenty young enough to make major leaps forward in the sprint freestyle events where his best times from last year were an impressive 22.26 (50 free) and 48.58 (100 free).

Jenna Strauch - 16 year old with a chance of making the team in both the 100 and 200 breast. Her times of 1:08.90 and 2:27.55 this year rank her 5th amongst Australians in the 100 breast and 3rd in the 200 breast. She will need to find a second in the 100 and two seconds in the 200 to make the cut for Barcelona, but that's not outside the realms of possibility for a 16 year old.

Mack Horton - 17 year old goes into the competition ranked fastest in the 1500 freestyle. Will need to drop his time of 15:04 from the Australian Age Championships down to a 14:58 to make the team.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

This Aussie Stilnox Story Just Won't Quit

h/t Swimmers Daily

When it rains, it pours for the Aussie 4 x 100 Freestyle relay team

Checklist of Shame

- Let down all of Australia in the relay final
- Busted for having a Stilnox pill party
- Woke up team mates in the middle of the night
- Bullied younger swimmer on the team
- Peer intimidation, hazing
- Binge drinking
- Shameful televised press conference admitting their mistakes
- Fined
- Suspended sentences

Now there appears to be video evidence from the flight home from London showing the fellas taking Stilnox. Brutal.

«Iron Lady» Katinka Hosszu: "I can still get tougher"

MACHINE: Katinka Hosszu was dubbed "the machine" in Bergen following her hectic
schedule at the Alexander Dale Oen Memorial. (Photo: Kjell Eirik Irgens Henanger, BSF)
Katinka Hosszu dived in the water an astonishing total of 36 times during the Bergen Swim Festival - Alexander Dale Oen memorial.

She was entered in 15 events, made the final in all of them, and with the 50 meter dashes being arranged as skins the races really added up for the girl dubbed swimming's «Iron Lady». For the skins she only miscalculated in the first heat of the 50 meters butterfly, otherwise she made the final event for those too.

She wasn't taking it easy either setting a total of seven meet records along the way.

The Hungarian swim ace is well known for her toughness in terms of swimming a lot of races. She did the Swim Festival in Norway jetlagged the weekend after racing the Grand Prix-meets in Mesa, USA. There she swam nine events, and eight finals.

Her nickname seems to be well deserved, but she does deliver a warning to those who think shes pushing herself to the limit.

"I felt pretty good about being called the Iron Lady when I first heard it", admits Katinka Hosszu in the interview I did with her for Norwegian TV 2.

"But I feel like I still could be tougher. Sometimes I start to feel like I'm really tired and I don't really want to do it or push it any more. I have it in me to be tougher."

You can watch the full interview here.

If you want further proof that this girl is special, here's a treat:

Speed Endurance-writer Sander Englund Smørdal
interviews Katinka Hosszu for TV 2 following the meet.
She won best performance of the short course meet following her 2.07,47 in the 200 IM. That was her 30th(!) race of the weekend and just minutes after a 400 freestyle (which was one of the few events she controlled an easy victory in 4.22,19).

That is a world class time in any circumstances, and in Sentralbadet with a shallow end its just plain out impressive, even though her PB is in the 2.04s.

"To do a 2.07 right now, and after a few events, is pretty good", says the humble 23 year old.

The intensive racing schedule has a two-sided effect. In Bergen she walked away with a total price money payout of 37.500 Norwegian kroner (around 6.500$ or 4200£), in addition its a great workout.

"Its all together [price money and training], I guess. It's really good for training and I like doing it during season cause when I go to a big championship meet I feel it is really easy to just swim one event. Its definitely a good preparation for a bigger meet, and I like to do it a lot. I like to race, and its really fun to do it" says Hosszu.

Hosszu was not happy with the 2012-Olympics, changed coaches and moved back to Hungary.

So far that seems to be a successful move with great success on the World Cup Circuit and in the World Short Course Championships. The 23 year old is optimistic going into the final months of preparation, but will not set a specific target - in public.

"I don't really like to talk about my goals in public, but I definitely have goal times in my mind. What I want to reach and if I reach those times I will probably be on the podium" predicts Hosszu.

You can watch the full interview here.

Furthermore she discusses the Bergen Swim Festival, her relationship with Alexander Dale Oen and her general happiness with her own performance.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Swim stars promise to return to Bergen Swim Festival

Winners of the best performance awards at Bergen Swim Festival: Rikke Møller Pedersen (DEN), Daniel Gyurta (HUN), Katinka Hosszu (HUN), Cameron van der Burgh (RSA), Michael Jamieson (GBR), Jeanette Ottesen (DEN).
(Photo: Kjell Eirik Irgens Henanger, BSF)
The Bergen Swim Festival was particularly star studded this year, due to it being the Alexander Dale Oen memorial.

A short course meet in late april is not ideal, but the swim stars were unanimous: They want to come back to Bergen.

Whether or not they were influenced by the emphatic crowd in the old pool that facilitates the BSF is hard to say, but most of the stars expressed a desire to return the next time the competition is arranged - even if by then it will not be a memorial meet.

The meet, established in 2007, will make the highly anticipated transition into a long course meet during the next year or so, as the City of Bergen (approx. 250.000 inhabitants) gets its first long course pool.

"Its not ideal with a short course meet now, as it is long course season basically" said Katinka Hosszu who used the meet as an intense training session swimming all 15 events - prelims and finals.

"When they get the long course pool here, this will be an ideal preparation for the upcoming summer-championship," said frequent guest Cameron van der Burgh swimming his fourth Bergen Swim Festival.

Photo: Kjell Eirik Irgens Henanger
Alexander Dale Oen will probably be close to the action although the meet will no longer bear his name. Whispers about the pool bearing Norways first, and only, long course world champions name are getting stronger.

This year, as it normally is at BSF, the mens 100 meters breaststroke was the main attraction. Cameron van der Burgh won in a meet record of 57,82, ahead of Daniel Gyurta.

"It was a tough and emotional race for me, but its nice to get a chance to honor Alexander by racing guys like Daniel Gyurta and Michael Jamieson. Not so much competing with them, but racing together in Alex's spirit", said van der Burgh immideately after the race.

See Norwegian TV 2s interview with him directly after the final here.

One of the things that makes the meet attractive is the Festival's festive setting for the finals session. With the pool being brought to complete darkness a smoke, and light show is put on while an announcer presents the swimmers. At the same time the public goes mad. This is what attracts the swimmers.

"Stefan Nystrand once said to me that noone else makes meets like these ones" said international liaison Jan Allers.

He confirmed that most international competitors had signaled a desire to return to the meet.

"Its not often you get to feel like a boxer preparing for a swim. It makes it a bit more exciting", said van der Burgh.

The meet organizers have lofty ambitions for the meet as they enter into the brand new national arena.

"We want to put Bergen on the international swimming map. In the long term we want it to be the biggest swim meet in Europe" said head of the organizing comittee Gjert Dahl.

A total of 19 meet records were set during the three days of competition. In addition Estonian backstroker Ralf Tribuntsov set three national records. One in the 50 backstroke (24,33) and two on the double distance (52,33 and 51,97).

Friday, 19 April 2013

Katinka Hosszu kicks off Bergen Swim Festival with two meet records

 Katinka Hosszu at Bergen Swim Festival. Photo: Kjell Erik Irgens Henanger

Katinka Hosszu impressed the audience setting two meet records during day one of the Bergen Swim Festival - Alexander Dale Oen memorial in Bergen, Norway. The competition is being swum in short course metres.

Despite it being prelims, and the fact she led both events by a country mile, the Hungarian swim princess went at it with all guns blazing setting a meet record in the 100 meters breaststroke (1:08.98) and the 200 meter freestyle (1:55.35).

She also qualified first for the 50 meters freestyle and the 100 meters backstroke finals, while she was second in the sprint butterfly behind Jeanette Ottesen. Hosszu is going to swim all 15 events this meet, and you would forgive her if she did not go all-out in all races.

Undoubtedly the danish breaststroke ace Rikke Møller Pedersen will give Hosszu more of a fight in the breaststroke final tomorrow. Pedersen's 1:10 Friday effort did not look too hard on her.....

Alexander Dale Oen Memorial.
Photo: Kjell Erik Irgens Henanger
In other races the favourites all qualified for the mens 100 meters breaststroke-event which will be the highlight of the meet in terms of quality across the field. Martti Ajland (EST) with the best time in the first session 1.00,77, narrowly edging Cameron van der Burgh. Also in that field: Daniel Gyurta, Michael Jamieson and Andrew Willis.

"I think I can do a 57 in the final", says van der Burgh who left the South-African Championships to participate in the memorial meet.

The best Norwegian finished tenth in the prelims, an event in which Norway is suffering in after losing Alexander Dale Oen, and Aleksander Hetland going into retirement.

The meet features some swimmers, like Hosszu and the breaststrokers, which really shows Norwegian swimmers where the international level is. It's quite a stretch for some.

See all results and livetiming at livetiming.no.

The meet continues at 8 AM GMT Saturday with finals commencing at 4 PM GMT.

Several media reports leading up to the meet has been focusing on the swim stars, and the breaststrokers in particular, and their relationships with Alexander Dale Oen.

TV 2 made a story from when Cameron van der Burgh visited Dale Oens grave. 

They also made a clip from when van der Burgh, Daniel Gyurta and Michael Jamieson visited their studio.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Green Pool Not A Good Look For South African Swimming

St Patrick's day was weeks ago...

This comes after a day in which this happened...

South African swimming came out of London 2012 smelling of roses off the back of golds from Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos, but less than a year later it is struggling through a severe financial crisis that is forcing their athletes to pay for their own flights to the World Championships in Barcelona.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

British Gas International Swimming Meet 2013

The post-Adlington era of British Swimming begins today with the British Gas International Swimming Meet 2013. 

The four day competition sees a number of international stars competing alongside the best of Britain. Those who have made the journey to Leeds include Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Natalie Coughlin, Anthony Ervin, Femke Heemskerk, Jeanette Ottesen, Sharon Van Rouwendaal, Joeri Verlinden and Sebastian Verschuren. Ruta Meilutyte will also make the slightly shorter journey from her base in Plymouth.

In a welcome move, British Swimming will be offering Live Streaming throughout the competition.

Live Results here
Schedule here

Twitter Hashtag: #BGIM13

Thursday, 21 February 2013

"A fish rots from the head" - What the Aussies are saying facing Olympic scandal

IN HOT WATER: The Australian mens 4x100 freestyle relay team is set to tell their story on friday.
The Australian fallout post the Olympic reviews is the gift that keeps on giving, if you like a good melodrama.

As Jade Neilsen more or less names and shames James Magnussen, Jason Roberts and Cameron McEvoy from the team-building-event gone horribly wrong in Manchester, the mens 4x100 freestyle team looks set to tell their story on Australian TV. 

Exactly what they will say, and what they hope to achieve is hard to estimate. However - I'm expecting a tearful sorry.

Meanwhile a lot of opinions has been voiced in this matter down under.

Wednesday Speed Endurance argued the public wash-up will be a gain for the sport in Australia.

That opinion is shared by Lisa Forrest, a 1980 Olympian who in the Sydney Morning Herald tells the tale of when Bill Sweetenham in no way sweet-talked the athletes before the games. This was four years after the shambles that was the 1976 Olympics.

She claims tough talk is the tonic to create a team of serious swimmers. Sweetenhams speech left her in tears but also galvanized her.

Lisa Forrest at the 1980s Olympics.
" On the sporting battlefield (or in the pool) of today, if you can't win for Australia then all you've got to do is lose well. Silver medals can be celebrated; bad sportsmanship cannot. [....] The road to recovery after the London Olympics is the same one we took after Montreal. Swimmers need to be serious and tough, as Bill Sweetenham said. If that isn't a job you feel up for, then try another sport."

Anthony Sharwood of the Herald Sun makes no one wonder how he feels about the teams mental strength. He claims the Bluestone Review lacks two words: Grow up. Between the lines you also get the feeling he is saying: Grow a pair.
  • Mollycoddled swimmers are on social media for the fan love but the poor darlings can’t handle a bit of gentle trolling.
  • Mollycoddled swimmers all want individual coaches, individual sponsorships, individual “brands”, individual wealth and fame while still young enough to live at home, to the point that they have no idea what teamwork means.
  • Mollycoddled swimmers who aren’t as good as other swimmers don’t deal with their status well.
  • Mollycoddled swimmers who are better than other swimmers don’t like to hang with the slow ones and sometimes bully them.
  • Mollycoddled swimmers complained they had no private refuge in the magnificent, new athletes’ village constructed entirely for their use.
    And so on...

James Magnussens success-coach, Brant Best, has come out in defence of his adept and claims the elite squad of Australia is not in fact "pampered brats".

Maybe so, but they were in dire need of leadership and guidance, something the reports conclude they were not. Leadership is not only sanctioning, it's preventing. The Morning Heralds Chief sports columnist Richard Hinds writes:

David Brent from hit TV-show "The Office" is not what
you would normally call a a good leader.
"IT DOES not seem long ago that Australian swimmers were beacons of athletic supremacy and models of wholesome virtue. [...] Now, after the release of two reports on Tuesday, a far less flattering image of Australian swimming has emerged. That of an Olympic team deeply confused and divided. Young swimmers distracted by troublemakers, daunted by unrealistic expectations, depressed by failure, belittled by a star system and led by befuddled coaches and officials whose management skills make David Brent look like Donald Trump."

Great leadership also means assembling a great team with supplementing skills. In wednesdays post I critizised the fact that Magnussen was not taken down to earth, and the fact that the swimmers seemed ill-prepared for bad results. Now it seems they were not prepared for anything on the mental side of things at all.

The lack of a sports psychologist among the team is being voiced by Kenrick Monk, but maybe more heavily by veteran Libby Trickett.

The before mentioned Lisa Forrest in an interview with the Herald Sun also criticize the lack off competition leading up to the Games, claiming that this was a bad choice - on the mental side of things.

But now we are digressing into the sporting side of things. A very few is actually voicing that point of view. It's all the things that happened outside of the pool that led to the poor results. That seems to be the widespread opinion.

Alan Thompson, former Australian head coach
Stathi Paxinos, a sports journalist, has a really interesting take on the lack of team spirit in the YouTube-video embedded under. He claims that even with big, big names like Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett etc. the feeling of a team was more present before.

As the new breed of Australian swimmers, undoubtedly good swimmers but as a whole maybe not the standard of the era before them, came through there was a shift in culture. The senior swimmers expected to lead the team was not able to, and neither were the coaches replacing names like Don Talbot and Alan Thompson.

Video via Swimmer's Daily.

This, he argues, is a combined effort between weak leadership from coaches and staff, but also due to the difference in characters.

That is probably as close to the reasons we are going to get, but fridays Australian relay revelation is going to be an interesting one. Who will they bring with them as they plunge into the deep end?

Nicole Jeffery writes for the Australian that "A fish rots from the head." Swimming Australia needs their best swimmers performing. Their best swimmers need good leaders to perform.

And perhaps a good old wake up call.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Olympic public dirty laundry beneficial to Swimming Australia

The backwash and dirty laundry from the Australian swimming team at the London Olympics continue to be splashed into the open. Swimming Australia is hurting, but in the long run it will help the sport "down under" - in more ways than one.

The two reports that dissect the Olympic effort of the Aussies has hit swimming Australia like a bombshell, despite reports of unsuitable behaviour emerging soon after the Olympics.

It seemed that the early news of bullying and team-mates sabotaging each other were just the tip of the iceberg. The report slams the team atmosphere as "culturally toxic" and that a distinct lack of leadership led to a deteriorating team feeling. Misuse of prescription drugs, bullying and breach of team rules and protocol when it came to alcohol was not acted upon by team leaders thus leading to athletes describing the games as "the lonely and individual games".

In addition the emphasis and focus solely on gold medals as a measure of success meant that team spirit took a new plunge as athletes felt undefended, alone and alienated by those in charge.

Who's the villain(s)?
The outrage of course puts head coach Leigh Nugent under pressure, but the ones seem to be cutting the worst deal is the men's 4x100 freestyle team.

As Australian media cries out for the drunken crew to be named and shamed, that relay team, whom had so much expectation to bear on their shoulders - seem to be the ones in the centre of most attention.

James Magnussen was the focal point of that team, and the one getting the most attention. "The Missile" has admitted trouble handling expectation during the Games, leading to a lack of sleep. The use of Stilnox, a sleeping aid, is in such a way not very surprising. A misuse is a very different matter, and is subject to a probe.

Members of that relay were also in the media's attention for the alleged bullying incident of a junior male member of the team. In addition unsuitable behaviour towards team members, disrupting their preparations, also occurred during a "team-building exercise".

The report concludes that there was enough incidents, involving a large enough part of the team, that measures should have been taken.
UNDER FIRE: Leigh Nugent gets a
fair bit of media attention at the moment.

Numb Nugent
Leigh Nugent denies knowing anything of bullying or the misuse of Stilnox. He does admit that he should have acted sooner on some incidents, but still wants to keep his job, despite coming under fire.

The fact that the coaches themselves are being investigated for their relationship to alcohol also tells you that these leaders are being criticized not only for the lack of active leadership - they were not leading by example either.

Nugent has been getting some support, but I doubt that Nick D'Arcy, with all due respect, is the sole man he wants standing next to him bearing in mind D'Arcy's somewhat turbulent past.

It's hard to imagine Nugent keeping his job. Ironically what might save him, is the controversy surrounding the Olympics. He might be able to hide bad results behind internal struggles.

If everything went perfectly, and Australia still only got one gold medal, they would certainly not stick with the man responsible for results, would they? Now - the blame could be carefully placed among the athletes or some diffuse entity which no one really knows what it is.

My aussie experience
I trained for one year in Australia (2011). My stay at Norwood Swim Club in Adelaide, under coach Peter Bishop, was for me not the best year when it came to results in the pool, but I learned so much about swimming - in and out of the pool. (I just couldn't execute it.)

First of all it gives perspective to barely be possible to find on results at Australian nationals with a time that, albeit not a good one for me, would place me handsomely in the final at Norwegian nationals. It also gives perspective to have a team mate, eight years younger, around the same level as me saying: "I'm a crap swimmer." In Norway he would be lauded as a great talent.

That attitude and the fact that the bar is raised that high is one of the main reasons Australia (a nation of 21 million) often fights above it's weight. Not just in swimming, but sports in general.

It's an attitude also used by Norwegian skiers. If you're the best in Norway at cross-country skiing, odds are you are the best in the world. (For the record: I'm under no illusion the international competition is comparable.)

No longer unbeatable
That's the way they are used to having it "down under", when it comes to swimming. However the nation's best swimmers seems to have adopted a minority complex when it comes to the big stage.

Advertising during the Olympics.
Pressure much?
James Magnussen went into the games seemingly very confident of his own ability. Some suspected his cockiness might be his downfall. It was all a charade.

After London, and with results in hand, it's easy to say that he was fazed by pressure. He even admitted it himself.

And no wonder - watching it all from the outside it seems he not only carried the relay team, he carried the weight of the nation.

But he, and the others, should have been given the tools to handle it.

The question is: Why wasn't he?

Probably because they have been spoiled by athletes managing it themselves.

The fear of failing is something most swimmers have felt during a swimming career. The immense inner pressure and feeling that if "I don't succeed, it will be disaster". I dare the statement that it is the most common psychological barrier in sports as well as the most paralyzing way of thought.

Especially if you feel alone, and not a part of a team.

It is such a common thing, that at the top level it should be 'easily' handled.

Smells of bad team spirit - but who's to blame?
The fact that the team failed to make use of the boost that was 4x100 freestyle shock gold medal of the women tells a tale of a group of people who was more together by coincidence, than a team proud of each other.

Huge egos, competitors for most of the year, coming together competing for their nation is a challenge for every national team across every sport.

To me, team spirit comes naturally. If I'm part of a club or team I automatically wish the others well and feel connected. However I've realised that this is not the case for most. But it's not all due to a lack of leadership.

The athletes are adults and should be held responsible for their actions. A "toxic team culture" is not the sole responsibility of the management, but a cohesive effort by swimmers and staff.

That collective effort clearly does not pass the mark.

Media attention: Pure gold!
BUT: No one would care about the swimmers drunken behaviour on the flight back home if they returned back with 10 gold medals. No one would give a rats ass about James Magnussens use of Stilnox if the relay team won took home gold, or if he didn't just miss out on Nathan Adrian in the individual 100 freestyle.

The bullying should still be an issue, though. It's just not acceptable.

However - this media frenzy in Australian and world media will not itself improve results for the team. It's still excellent for the sport of swimming in the country.

Why? Because controversy is the bread and butter of media attention, and media attention is the bread and butter of financial development of sports.

So while it's detrimental to the athletes and coaches currently involved in the long run a washout like this is good news for Australian Swimming, for more reasons than one. The reports should be used to improve performance, by athletes and staff alike. In addition it creates a stir and the "sensation" of something happening amongst the public.

A poor result with some controversy surrounding it is better than an average result with a "let's carry on doing what we're doing attitude".

In the long run the fact that its all out in the open is great news for Swimming Australia. No matter what happens to Leigh Nugent.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Marseille Update: Camille Lacourt Back In Training, Florent Manaudou Branching Out

Romain Barnier, the head coach of CN Marseille, has updated the swimming world on two of his most successful charges, Florent Manaudou and Camille Lacourt. In an interview with Vosges Matin ahead of the Meeting International d'Hiver FFN he reveals that Lacourt took 5 months off after the Olympics and that Manaudou is planning to add a few extra events to his repertoire in Barcelona.

100 backstroke world champion Lacourt only returned to training on January 5th after spending 5 months away from the sport after a disappointing Olympics. He will be in a race against time to get back to full fitness in time for Barcelona, but has reportedly returned in a different mental state. "With Camille, we advance every day. Five months off is a bit of a novelty. For him, it is a bit like starting a second career.What makes me happy is to have found a Camille Lacourt with his doubts and uncertainties. His desire to be the best, too. There is a little extra something" says Barnier.

Barnier's 50 free Olympic champion Florent Manaudou set his sights on qualifying in the 50m sprint for all four strokes, unfortunately he eventually gave up on breaststroke due to doubts that Barnier had that he could challenge for a medal. Barnier is more bullish for the backstroke and butterfly. "Outside the freestyle, his greatest chance is likely the backstroke, even though he is still working on his start. But whether backstroke or butterfly, he has potential in both."

In an exhibition event last weekend Manaudou beat Lacourt in a 50 back duel. Given his lights out natural speed the revelation that Manaudou is aiming to add the back and fly to his Barcelona schedule should give sprinters the world over cause for concern.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

University of Tennessee does the Harlem Shake

Swim teams do tend to enjoy doing different kinds of viral music videos. You had various versions of Call Me Maybe and we saw even more versions of Gangnam Style.

University of Tennessee Swimmers are gearing up for the conference season and the Southeastern Swimming Championships in a couple of weeks time by doing the newest viral video craze: the Harlem Shake.

"This is what happens when our team starts tapering and gets an abundance of energy", says Norwegian team member Øystein "Oy" Hetland.

(Øystein is the little brother of Aleksander Hetland who gave up his professional swimming career after winning a World Championship Gold Medal in Istanbul before Christmas. Read that story here: Hetland goes out with a big bang.)

Tennessee earlier this year were accused of tapering for a small-scale dual meet against Georgia after creating a bit of an upset by beating the favorites. Read SwimSwams story.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Alshammar pregnant - but swimming career might not be over

Swedish World Champion Therese Alshammar is pregnant and will not be swimming the Barcelona World Championships this summer.

Alshammar (35) reveals that she and her coach and partner Johan Wallberg are expecting in an interview with Swedish national broadcaster SVT today.

"I've got a new challenge and a different perspective on life" says Alshammar, who is expecting her child in june.

"It's a big change for me, of course physically, but also mentally. It brings along with it a lot of thoughts and philosophizing about life which are about far bigger subjects than before".

Alshammar is a two-time long-course swimming World Champion, but in addition has ten short course titles. The Olympic Gold medal though has eluded the two time silver medalist from Athens 2000. A grand total of 71 international championships medal makes her one of the most successful athletes ever.

The freestyle and butterfly sprinter, who has taken the crown and $100,000 cheque of World Cup Winner on several occasions is held in high regard in her native country, widely thought of as one of their all-time great athletes - regardless of sport.

Although out of the World Championships this year, the 35 year old refuses to draw a line over her swimming career.

She says shes been training during her pregnancy, albeit not as usual.

"It's strange to feel that no matter what I do my physical condition gets worse" jokes the swimming star with a tattoo that reads "Diva".

"One of my greatest dreams is to continue to try to compete and see if I can still improve. I still have a longing to be the fastest in the World"

The safety and well-being of her child naturally comes first, but the Swedish swim Queen does not even rule out swimming in Rio for the next Olympics.

"Never say never. I find swimming really fun and as long as I feel that way I will continue to do my sport. I don't promise anything, but it would be really great if that could happen."

Alshammar has not previously revealed in public that Johan Wallberg in addition to being her coach also has been her boyfriend for the last couple of years. Wallberg and Alshammar returned this year to Sweden after several years of training and traveling mainly abroad.

"Every relationship has its challenges, no matter if it is of a private or professional nature. It has been important to us to separate those two roles, so that we could focus on swimming" says Alshamar.

Listen to the interview here:
(In Swedish)

Monday, 4 February 2013

Michael Phelps and Ray Lewis: Swimming's Super Bowl Connection

When you're Michael Phelps, you don't watch the Super Bowl from the cheap seats, instead you go to the locker room after the game to congratulate your victorious home town Baltimore Ravens.

But this wasn't just a perk of being an Olympic great, the connection between Phelps and Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis has been forged over the years as the two have become friends, and it goes deeper than just mutual admiration. Who do the US have to thank for Phelps returning to swimming post-Beijing? Bob Bowman? Milorad Cavic? Ryan Lochte? Turns out it was Ray Lewis.

“He was probably the single reason I came back for four more years,’ Phelps said. “A lot of people don’t know that, but things that he has said to me, I can never thank him enough.”

Amazingly Phelps isn't the swimmer with the closest link to one a Super Bowl winning Ravens player. (via Texas Swimming)

PS. WADA and USADA must have broken into a cold sweat when Ray Lewis gave credit to Phelps saying "you gave me the formula". Hopefully he wasn't talking about Deer Antler Spray...

Friday, 1 February 2013

Welcome Mr. Rollason!! Yesterday you made my day!

Yesterday the name of the new high performance coach in the national training center in Denmark was announced. Much to my surprise but also delight it was Shannon Rollason. I was surprised because I have been told now for ten years by the Danish federation and its coaches that all Danish coaches and clubs are "too soft" on their swimmers. And I expected that to be the case for the direction of any newhire this year too.

When reading up on mr. Rollason (and asking about him in the small part of my network who have actually spoken to the man) a very different picture than "mindless pursuit of toughness" emerged. It seems that Shannon Rollason incorporates a new way of coaching - new at least to the Danish federation. As I could figure (I am sure he will tell us more when he starts) his starting point is to listen to the swimmers and encorporate a regime that allows them to be as much a part of the process as the coach. I even found a site which stated that Shannon Rollason was frowned upon in Australia because he was not "tough enough" on his swimmers. Hallelujah! (I was beginning to doubt it ... but it seems that maybe people CAN perform without being yelled at and scared/ridiculed?!)

For ten years now the general consensus in our federation has been to work against the general attitude in the educational sectors in Scandinavia: That young people should be able to think and make decisions for themselves. The result being that a ludicrous number of swimmers in the national training centre quit their careers or huried to the United States to swim in the college system. And every time someone left or quit it was excused with the phrase "He/she was not tough enough. They did not have what it takes". The swimmers that succeeded were praised for "Having what it takes". And they DID perform - no question about it. But it was never accepted that there might be swimmers that could reach world class level without "toughness" and yelling. There was one one way towards the target - the hard, yelling, tough, Alpha male-way.

I thank God (and this comes from an atheist) that this seemingly acknowledged process from a national body is about to change.

I welcome you to Denmark Mr. Rollason! If just half of what I have read and heard about you is true, this "could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship" ....

Ricki Clausen
Danish club coach and a very firm believer in the power of own thinking!

Friday, 18 January 2013

British Diver Peter Waterfield Has His Funding Cut... Hits Out At British Swimming on Twitter

More criticism of British Swimming: When it rains, it pours.
Just a week after Tom Daley's mum publicly hit out at British Swimming CEO David Sparkes, Daley's diving partner Peter Waterfield has taken to twitter to criticise the fact that he wasn't informed of his funding cut by his own sport's governing body.

Waterfield is obviously disappointed to have his funding cut, and while not wanting to weigh in on the pros and cons of the decision, for him to have to hear about the decision from other sources is not a good look for British Swimming.

British Swimming is not the only governing body that has issues with their athletes, but the number of current and former swimmers that have publicly stated their displeasure in the organisation continues to grow at an alarming rate. The big question for this next Olympic cycle is whether their voices will be heard and change is implemented from the top down. Many swimmers and divers hope so.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Katinka Hosszu Is Relentless... Luxembourg Euro Meet Is Up Next

Post race conversation: Jakabos and Hosszu planning their next competition together.

Katinka Hosszu is starting 2013 as she started, finished (and everything in between) 2012... by racing. This time around it is in the long course Luxembourg Euro Meet which runs from Jan 18-20. Just as she did in three weeks ago in La Reunion, Hosszu has entered every event on the women's programme. That's 16 events in 3 days.

Also competing is her ever present compatriot Zsuzsanna Jakabos as well as Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte and her Plymouth Leander team mates. A number of German internationals (Yannick Lebherz, Hendrik Feldwehr, Christian vom Lehn, Marco Koch, Dorothea Brandt) as well as Ukraine's Daryna Zevina will also be racing this Friday to Sunday.

Live Stream
Meet Records
Prize Money

Monday, 14 January 2013

Gyurta presents Dale Oen-family with Gold medal - in Norwegian!

Alexander Dale Oen's brother, Robin, with Daniel Gyurta. Robin holding the prize for Role Model of the Year, given to Alexander posthumously.

Hungarian Olympic breaststroke-champion Daniel Gyurta promised after winning in London to give the family of deceased competitor and friend Alexander Dale Oen a replica of his Gold medal.

On Saturday Gyurta put action behind his words as he presented the family of Dale Oen with a Gold medal. As the IOC do not allow the medals to be replicated the medal was created especially for this event. The symbolic gesture of the event being more important than the medal itself.

The presentation was done at the Norwegian Sport Awards Gala, an annual event held in Hamar every year.

The Hungarian travelled to Norway, and even held his speech in Norwegian to honour the memory of his friend and competitor.

He presented the medal to Alexander's brother, Robin, also a former Norwegian record holder in the pool.

This is what Gyurta said:

"I wish all guests and athletes a warm welcome. Special regards to the family of Alexander Dale Oen. It is a great honour for me to be present here at this great event.

As I promised at the London-Olympics I will present a medal to the family of my friend Alex.
I am convinced that Alex would have won gold at the Olympics so this medal is representative of what he could not achieve because of the tragic event. With Alex’ death Norway didn’t only lose a great swimmer and athlete but a fantastic human being.

I talked a lot with Alex. We often watched final sessions together and we liked each other a lot. Due to the international rules that you are not allowed making replicas of an Olympic Gold Medal, and my application for doing so was denied, I present an artistic medal that is made especially for this occasion, and that symbolize my respect for Alexander."

"He's a good friend of the family. We are forever grateful that he is thinking of us. It's a fantastic gesture to honor Alex in this way" said Robin Dale Oen after the presentation.

It was a fruitful night for Norwegian swimming. Alexander Dale Oen was honoured posthumously as Role Model of the Year, while Head of the National Team, Petter Løvberg was presented the award as Coach of the Year after several years of being nominated. Paralympic double champion Sarah Louise Rung was given the prize as the best handicapped athlete.

Daniel Gyurta will, as Speed Endurance has written before, compete at the Bergen Swim Festival - Alexander Dale Oen Memorial in April - also in memory of the Norwegian swimmer.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

British Swimming CEO David Sparkes, the Cat with 9 Lives, does it again

David Sparkes, arguably the least popular man in British Swimming, just can't help himself. Not only does he continue to disappoint a generation of swimmers, he's now turned his hand to taking shots at Britain's best diver.

After Tom Daley launched his new diving reality TV show Splash!, which outside of the Olympics, is diving's highest profile showcase ever in this country, Sparkes had the following to say about one of Britain's most popular athletes:

"Tom is an incredibly talented young man but he's yet to achieve his full potential and it's only going to get harder to achieve that Olympic gold medal as he gets older... You can rest assured the next Chinese diving superstar will not have such distractions from training."

Well Mr Sparkes... you didn't just upset the hundreds of thousands of Tom Daley fans, you upset his mum. This was Mrs. Daley's response to Sparkes' comments (published in the Daily Mail). One word, Zing!

Dear Mr Sparkes,

We last spoke at Loughborough in June 2011 after you asked for Tom to do a favour for you and open a sports park at Loughborough. I don't believe that you spoke much to Tom directly in 2012, other than to briefly congratulate him on his medal. Since the media is your preferred method of communication, I thought that I should do the same. 

As Tom's mum, I take a lot of pride in the way he handles himself. I am sure that he will make  mistakes along the way, but to date he is doing a lot right. I find it incredible that you want to criticise him so publicly, when he does so much for your organisation and for sport in the UK - and worse, you do it by giving your opinion without any thought. You did not speak to Tom - or his agent - first. Is this a good way for a CEO to operate?

As far as I'm aware, Tom was one of the few major success stories for British Swimming this summer... and possibly one of the athletes that helped you retain your job. Others say that your performance was the worst of any CEO in British sport. Surely you should be thanking Tom and showing your support and gratitude? 

His target was to achieve a medal and he delivered, becoming the first British individual diver in 52 years to get an Olympic medal. Not only this, but immediately after the Games, when most athletes were enjoying themselves, Tom went back to intense training for five weeks to prepare for the Junior World Championships. Since you didn't speak with Tom during this period, let me shed some light on how he coped. 

For an individual who is normally so motivated, going back to intense training after the climax of the Games was a real struggle: I'm sure he won't mind me saying he lacked drive and motivation. Andy Banks, his coach, expressed concern that this was being reflected in his training.  

Everyone else was taking long holidays, partying, celebrating exams, while Tom had to get straight back to diving. You must remember what you did the summer you were 18 years old?  We even discussed with Andy the option of him backing out of the competition. I was concerned Tom would crumble as the impact of the previous 24 months finally came on top of him. 

Perhaps you need to be reminded that not only was Tom taking on the pressures of the biggest sporting event in his life, not to mention a home Games, but during this period he also lost his biggest supporter, his dad. 
My bond with my son has always been strong but Rob was Tom's rock, friend and role model; he would be spitting mad if he had read your media attacks on him over the past 12 months and would have given you a franker view than mine. 
However, Tom didn't want to back out. While the competition had no real incentive for him, Tom had made the commitment to his performance director Alexei Evangulov and to British Diving and - despite me trying to convince him otherwise - he got his head down and ploughed on. He said he'd take a break after, so what was five more weeks of training? 

Any mum will know that for an 18-year-old to make this decision requires a lot of self-discipline. Tom was being offered opportunities left, right and centre to appear at exciting award ceremonies, red-carpet events, five-star holidays, not to mention the fact he hadn't 'hung out' with his friends for the past four months.   

So off to Australia he went alone (none of his direct coaching team went, which highlights the  importance of this competition) and he came away with not just one, but two gold medals  - one in an event he doesn't normally compete in. I was so proud of him. A great way to end the year. Now it was about time for my son to have some fun and let his hair down.  He had done his job. He had also played a key role in funding your organisation. So can you not see why I'm so angry with your lack of support? 

Your comments in February 2012 were a big enough blow: Tom was five months away from the biggest competition in his life where he should have as much support as possible and you spoke out to him via the media after Alexei had let emotion take over at a press conference and after Tom's team had met your team to discuss the real issues.

As it turned out, one of the issues then was that there was a lack of funding for a masseur for Tom, which Alexei wanted... so Tom - not British Swimming - funded this. From memory it cost Tom £3,000. We said nothing at the time. 
The other issue was a trip to Sydney Zoo organised by British Swimming where he was swamped by fans. Alexei hated this. However, British Swimming - not Tom - organised the visit. So to now see your remarks three-and-a-half years before the next Olympics makes me so angry.

Tom has always worked his hardest when it comes to his training. Diving has always taken priority.  We have all worked closely with Tom's coaching team (Andy and Alexei) plus Tom's agents to create a plan that ensures he has the best path for success. 

Do you communicate with anyone, David? Perhaps you should try to talk to Tom? Of course the headlines make you look important and help protect you should Tom not deliver any medals. Wouldn't it be better to work with one of your most important athletes rather than against him? 

Had you been kept up to date you would know that we all agreed to keep Tom's commercial days to a minimum and ensured no training was missed in the two years prior to the Games unless approved by everybody. 
The irony is that while all Tom's sponsors respected this and used no days in the months leading up to the Games, the only request that was not originally approved came from British Swimming. Funny how things change when it suits British Swimming! 

It's also baffling that you openly criticise Tom when you yourself have called in special favours for Tom to make appearances (such as that eight-hour trip to Loughborough in 2011 when I last saw you).   

Tom trained in December, also attending an intensive training camp the week before Christmas, and continues to train this month. Splash! is now one weekend day of his time. His coach and mentor is also part of the show. If you were worried, why did you not speak to Andy? If you had actually watched Splash! you would have seen him as a judge. 
The Chinese comparisons really annoy me - and I know that they annoy Tom. He was not born in  Beijing. He was born in Plymouth. I saw a documentary a few years  ago which showed the Chinese boot-camp style of training in sport. This is not Tom. He would not  function if his life was just diving. 

He is very bright, works incredibly hard and over the last 10 years has given up so much to focus on his 2012 Olympic goal. I know that he will do the same for 2016. However, Tom is never going to lead a lifestyle similar to a Chinese diver. 
I am sure that he will always be the best he can be in his sport. Splash! is an appropriate show for Tom. Yes, it can improve following the first show. However, a lot of grandparents, mums, teenagers and kids loved it.
As you did not watch the show, I can tell you that it is a diving show and it promotes a key sport that is under your leadership.

You told Tom's agent on Monday that it would do nothing to help the sport in the UK. How ironic to see that your marketing department has today promoted watching Splash! on Twitter to British Swimming's followers. So you are worried about Tom's performances? Well, I am worried about yours.
A leader should  motivate his team, not make them think: 'Why do I bother?' Did you speak out to protect your UK Sport funding and be seen to do the right thing for them? Well, if UK Sport want to demotivate the key person in a sport, carry on David. Good work. 

While you may want Tom to do more training, I would like you to do leadership, media and motivation courses. Tom may benefit from some UK Sport funding but he has to fund his own life from sponsorship and media work. When the Splash! opportunity came to us, it was a completely appropriate one for him and we also believed that it would help our sport long term - there is not a lot of diving or swimming for that matter on television, David. That is meant to be your job. 

Tom, though, is just giving some advice and encouragement - and having some fun. I am glad that he is doing Splash! even though I don't like to read negative reviews of the show. Those opinions, though, I can handle. Yours I would like you to manage given your role within the sport and the impact that it is having on my son.

Yours sincerely, 

Debbie Daley

Monday, 7 January 2013

Would you invest with a presumed ROI of zero?

“What’s the point of elite swimming?” should be the only relevant question for Danish swimming (and I argue in the following article for Scandinavian swimming as a whole) these years. The question should be put forward because elite swimming in Scandinavia gives a zero return on investment (ROI) any which way you look at it.

We invest a lot of money (in my country Denmark we spend around 1.200.000 euro centrally every year on the national training center and the national teams and the clubs spend much more combined on their elite programs) and we get nothing in return apart from the “joy of seeing the swims”. There are no resulting sponsorship deals, no increase in spectators for any meets, no rise in the number of members in the clubs, no rise in the quality of any other incentive in swimming and no other reward of any kind except for helping 16-20 individuals (the swimmers and their coaches) achieve their own personal goals. If they perform to a certain extent the national funding body (Team Denmark) will continue to contribute vast resources to (yes… you guessed it): to those 8-10 swimmers...

The argument that international elite swimmers' presence in a club environment is beneficial for other swimmers, coaches, managers and potential sponsors was lost many years ago when the bulk of the best swimmers in Denmark joined the national training center. The ones that didn’t fit in there have fled to the USA and the college system (primarily male swimmers) leaving no top international senior swimmers in the clubs right now except for Mie Ø. Nielsen.

So why are we investing massive central amounts in elite swimming? To make the nation proud? (Insert picture of donkey here). Or is it merely to have occasions to toast and talk about the splendid results at different parties nationally and internationally for the board in our national federations in the Scandinavian countries? (Insert picture of … well …)

Let’s look outside Scandinavia for a taste of what could be: In Britain they have managed to get a deal with British Gas which – in turn for results and media attention – gives British Swimming millions of pounds every year. In other words there is a “return on investment” for both British Gas and British Swimming. I can understand that. The swimmers can live decently from their sport so they have an understandable return also. And they contribute to the system – look for instance at the initiative to get “everybody swimming” before, during and after the Olympics which had participation of many of the best British Swimmers. The media attention of the elite results and of the initiatives like the above mentioned benefits the clubs and British swimming as a whole. The system works and swimming as a whole benefits also because of the elite program. It makes sense!

In Australia we see the same picture even though the sponsorship deal that can benefit the swimmers to live off their sport has just recently been finalized. Furthermore the Australian swimming culture probes for sold out stands at national championships and the swimmers play a big part in this with both good results and a presence and awareness of the media that we could learn a lot from. Just look at the TV-trailers leading up to the Australian Olympic trials this year if you doubt me. It makes sense!

In America many of the swimmers are helping charities and doing all kinds of both unpaid and paid work to contribute to the “system” (the swimming community). Ryan Lochte participates in several events during the year – both non-profit charities as well as sponsorship deals. Many of the best American swimmers (f. inst. on the Olympic team) are attending college which gives them a very good return on investment for their skills: Free attendance to college. And the college in turn gets their both academic and athletic skills and the press and spectators that go with them. When people turn up to watch a dual meet on a Wednesday night and the stands at NCAA are filled (even though the NCAA is televised nationally) it all makes sense!

In Scandinavia we are supporting the swimmer's (and admittedly also their coaches) personal goals and their wish to succeed in a tough global sport. It is a very noble quest and I admire the efforts from especially the swimmers but also the coaches. Going for the gold in global swimming is an incredible task. But we get nothing in return apart from 8 x finals sessions in front of a TV screen during the Olympics where we can shout and root for our heroes.

So why are we investing massive amounts in elite swimming in Scandinavia when the money would be MUCH better spent in producing better learn-to-swim programs and building more pools for kids? Let me add some perspective: In Denmark most “learn-to-swim” programs are based on 17-18 year old instructors with (needless to say) very limited experience and no education apart from maybe a weekend course and a background as a mediocre competitive swimmer. The same programs are part of a club that can easily have fulltime positions for both the head A and B team coaches. Some clubs in Denmark have several fulltime coaches in their elite program and none in the learn-to-swim program. Go figure…

Furthermore we have a massive need of more pool space to make the clubs function better (=earn money to expand and invest in new initiatives, better coaches, better administration, etc.) and still we use the best slots in the pool and the most space for elite programs that – in the very best case – contribute in a minor way to the whole club system both financially and otherwise. The only place where elite programs contribute is in the way of parental work (“volunteer work”) and let’s be honest: A lot of that work is only necessary because the elite programs demand it (officials at meets, arranging own meets, etc.). So the volunteer work would not be necessary if it wasn’t for the elite programs – and they solve no other tasks than those created by the elite programs. So the argument that the elite programs contribute with volunteer work from parents simply doesn’t fly – since the work they contribute is only needed because of the elite programs.

Don’t get me wrong: I for one can understand the fascination of the work towards an elite performance. I have worked as a fulltime coach for 15 years (and still do) and have had swimmers participate at Europeans, Worlds and Olympics. I understand fully the feeling you have in your body as a coach when one of your swimmers competes in an international final or breaks a national record. Nothing in the world can replicate that feeling. But I cannot for the life of me figure out why anybody else than the swimmers and coaches can see any benefit in putting a lot of cash and hours into Scandinavian elite swimming?

My best guess is this: We do it because the leaders of the clubs and federations almost always have their background in elite swimming. Thus no questions are asked when a federation puts goals forward to “Exceed in international swimming”. Everybody has a background in elite swimming and hence it is natural to them to continue down that path.

A large majority of the decision makers in Scandinavian swimming the last decade are either former coaches or former swimmers – both on the managerial staff and on the boards… in other words we are replicating ourselves from within, thereby taking any questions from outsiders out of the equation. Where are the businessmen and people with other backgrounds than swimming or coaching at the elite level?

If a business man had his way, the first thing he would do in any club would be to close the elite department; It spends all the money, it hinders the maximizing of income and it often has no strategic focus (always focusing on “the next meet/season”) thus making it impossible to make any strategic decisions in other parts of the organization without getting in the way of the elite program.

Don’t get me wrong: My suggestion is not to close down all elite programs. But somewhere between what we are doing now (100 % focus on elite swimming) and the businessman approach (100 % maximization of revenue/income) is the way forward.

So my point is not to close down all elite programs. My point is this: We at least have to ask ourselves (coaches, manager, parents) if we are making the right choices for the “sport” of swimming. Not only for the “elite sport” of swimming. And the elite swimmers (both on national teams and in clubs) have to ask themselves: “Am I contributing resources into the system or am I only pulling resources out of the system”? Otherwise they themselves will be redundant in a short time if we continue the current system.

Right now in Danish swimming we are taught that “The swimmers have to focus solely on themselves and their training – otherwise they cannot compete with the other countries in the world”. We are told that we cannot put demands on the swimmers to show up for too many press conferences and too many appearances in the media. If that is true I wonder how Ryan Lochte wins all those medals all the time while he is constantly embarking on one media adventure after the other? And for those of you thinking “Well Danish swimmers have to go to school” I can tell you that most of the best swimmers (the ones swimming individual finals at Worlds and Europeans) on our national center did not attend school during the last years – most of them have been full time swimmers for a while now.

In short: This is an attitude problem. We (coaches, managers, parents) guard the time of the swimmers making it impossible for them to create some return on the investment we make in them. Unless more and more funds are put into the system from a national perspective this is a system doomed to lose in the long run. And we know that funding for sports in general is being sliced by as much as 10-15% a year in the countries of the western world. So let’s not kid ourselves…

We should applaud a swimmer's participation in “Dancing with the stars” and in every possible media exposure! And we have to lift the decisions to make maximum exposure and return on investment of the swimmers away from the coaches, clubs and federations neither of which are competent to tackle that task. We are all coaches and former swimmers most of us. So let us manage the programs and the training and let professionals manage the swimmers and get us some return on our joint investment.

Unless we make a return on the investment we put in elite swimming in Scandinavia we are doomed to fail… not only in the elite departments of clubs and federations (which is not that important – the sun will rise tomorrow also without Olympic medals which we experienced the hard way this year) but also in the much more important department of getting more children to swim and to expand the organizations of the swimming community to offer more people the ability to swim in more ways.

Yours sincerely - Ricki Clausen

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Ricki Clausen is the newest blogger on Speed Endurance. Ricki is 37 years old and works as director of sports and elite coach in a major Danish swimming club (KSK). He has been a full-time elite coach since 1999 and has had swimmers participate in the finals of the Olympics, World Championships, European Championships and European Junior Championships. He is a partner on the Danish section of the swimming site "Simma.nu" as well as a partner in “DISH” – a Danish company that builds and renovates swimming pools. Ricki is also a swimming commentator on Eurosport.