Troubled waters for Australian world champ trials
Australia’s world championship selection trials begin in Adelaide on Friday as fallout from last year’s mediocre performance in the pool at the London Olympics continues to haunt the team.
In the eight months since the nation’s worst Olympics swimming medal tally in 20 years a massive shake-up has taken place.
A new administration and support team have been installed, the search for another national head coach goes on, government funding has been slashed and swimmers have been fined and threatened with suspension for poor behaviour.
Swimming is Australia’s highest profile Olympic sport but that did not stop the government-backed Australian Sports Commission (ASC) this week from cutting its annual funding allocation by 5.8 per cent to US$8,389,000.
The ASC cited a need for Swimming Australia to “demonstrate effective leadership and governance of the sport” in a rare cost-cutting ultimatum.
Six swimmers, including reigning world 100m freestyle champion James Magnussen, were earlier this month fined and slapped with deferred suspensions after admitting taking banned sleeping pills and playing pranks at a pre-Olympics training camp last year.
This came after the six-man 4x100m freestyle relay squad had been formally investigated by an integrity panel.
As a result of the panel’s findings coach Brant Best said he does not expect Magnussen, 22, to be at his best at the national trials.
Best said Magnussen would not be fully rested as he prepares his world championship defence in Barcelona in July, where he is likely to meet American Nathan Adrian who defeated him by 0.01sec for the Olympic gold medal.
“Considering the level of investigation and the public scrutiny, James has done a very good job at training. It’s played on his mind but he’s still done a good job in the pool,” Best said.
Alicia Coutts, Australia’s most successful swimmer with five medals in London, said the harsh post-Olympic let-down had almost ended her swim career.
“I honestly came back from London and I did go through a bit of a patch where I was like ‘I don’t know if I want to swim any more’,” she said ahead of this week’s national trials.
Coutts said she spent a month questioning her future in the pool before deciding to continue swimming.
The national trials will be the first opportunity to put to work a newly-installed team of experts focusing on developing cultural and leadership changes within the troubled Australian team.
The once-dominant swimmers came away from London with one gold, six silver and three bronze medals, their lowest tally in the pool since Barcelona 1992 and the first Games without an individual gold medal since Montreal in 1976.
One swimmer who will not be competing in Adelaide is five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe.
Thorpe, 30, who came out of retirement in 2011 in a bid to make the team for London but failed to qualify, has opted not to nominate for any events despite earlier indicating that he would swim on and target this year’s world championships.