Sun, Sep 19, 2004 - Page 18 News List

TAS teacher finds silver

In what proved to be an unusual but highly successful coaching relationship, Taipei American School's Peter Clark trained, by e-mail, a member of the winning Australian kayaking team at the Olympics

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei American School's head of the Life Skills department, Peter Clark has been inundated with congratulatory messages since his return from Athens in early September. As coach to Aussie kayaker, Nathan Baggaley, Clark saw his hard work pay off after Baggaley took silver in two events on the closing day of the Olympic Games.

PHOTO: GAVIN PHIPPS, TAIPEI TIMES

Were it not for the involvement of Taipei American School's (TAS) head of the Life Skills department, Peter Clark, then the achievement's of Nathan Baggaley, a member of the Australian Olympic kayaking team, probably wouldn't have raised much of an eyebrow in the expat enclave of Tianmu. But then, it's not Baggaley who has become the center of attention. And while nearly everyone involved with TAS now knows the 28 year-old kayaker's name. It is instead Clark who has found himself in the spotlight in the northern Taipei suburb.

Baggaley's silver medals in the Flatwater Men's 500m and the Flatwater Two Man 500m meant that the teaching staff, parents and students of the TAS have been able to enjoy their own slice of Olympic glory in recent weeks. Peter, to his friends and associates, or Mr. Clark as he's more formally known by his students has become TAS' very own Olympic hero.

Close friends and colleagues were aware of Clark's coaching of Baggaley when he took on the task last year, but it wasn't until he was already in Athens that his involvement was announced openly in a TAS newsletter. Since his return to Taiwan in early September, Clark's achievement has been the focal point of many a conversation in the school grounds and, when walking through the school today, talk of Clark's glory is a hot topic.

A huge blue and white banner honoring the teacher's triumph currently hangs in the school's reception area and an endless stream of parents and students offer congratulations whenever they see the head of Life Skills department wandering the school's corridors. Still many more go out of their way to visit him in his office and offer more personal forms of felicitation.

"Response at the school has been incredible. I've been overwhelmed by the number of people who have shown an interest," said Clark. "I think because of what I did, people here feel as if they've had a connection with the Olympics."

While personal coaches the world over are a firm fixture what sets Clark apart from a multitude of his peers is that in the year leading up to Athens he coached via email and telephone -- a method of coaching that even Clark himself considers "a bit of a strange one."

A physical education teacher at TAS for the past five years, Clark hails from the New South Wales water sports Mecca of Byron Bay. A keen kayaker and a coach in his native Australia, Clark worked closely with Baggaley for six years prior to relocating to Taiwan with his family to take up a position with TAS. Following Clark's departure, Baggaley secured himself a scholarship to the prestigious Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. It wasn't long, however, before Baggaley felt that he'd outgrown his coaches at the institute and turned to Clark for advice.

"[We] kept a close relationship and caught up whenever we could. About two years ago he contacted me and said he wasn't happy with the coaching he was receiving at the institute and did I think I could do something with him?" said Clark. "He'd got to the stage where he felt he got as much out of the program as he could. He was a fully evolved athlete and I think he wanted someone he could communicate with better and who understood him and who could take him to the next level."

And so began a long-distance training odyssey, that within two years would bring both Clark and his student Olympic success. While Clark was more than happy to work with Baggaley the powers that be at AIS didn't initially take too kindly to the request. After all, Clark was working in Taiwan while Baggaley was located some 7,000km away in the Australian Capital Territory.

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