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.

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