There were recriminations and soul-searching in Australia yesterday about the much-vaunted swimming team’s single gold in the Olympic pool, with former coaches and stars blasting a lack of drive and unity.
With the London Games swimming events almost complete, there was exhaustive press coverage of Australia’s failure to impress — bagging just one gold from a shock win in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay, five silvers and two bronzes.
Former Olympian Susie O’Neill, twice a gold medalist in the pool, blamed a lack of discipline compared with rivals from countries like China.
“What I’ve been hearing ... is the work ethic from Australian swimmers is maybe not the same as it used to be 10 years ago,” O’Neill said. “Talent gets you this far in an Olympics; work ethic gets you across the line ... it’s one part talent, it’s four parts work ethic.”
Former head swim coach Don Talbot said it would take four to eight years for Australia to reverse its plunge to what he described as a “mediocre swimming nation,” blaming a lack of individual drive and unity in the team.
“They seem to be too happy to accept the fact that they’re not doing well. In years gone by, an athlete would come back and throw things around [if they missed out],” he said.
Talbot took aim at current chief coach Leigh Nugent as needing to “get tougher” with swimmers and their trainers, also blaming the exodus of Australian coaches to other countries and calling for a stronger team spirit.
Australia’s media said it could be the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics that the once-mighty swim team left the Games without an individual gold, and a far cry from the heights of Sydney, Athens and Beijing.
Australia won five swimming golds at its home Games in 2000, seven in 2004 and six in 2008, with swimming traditionally accounting for just under half of the country’s Olympic medal haul.
Australian Minister of Sports Kate Lundy said there would not be a “panicked response” if Australia finished well down the medal tally and warned the nation’s Olympic Committee not to automatically expect extra funding as a result.
“What I am interested in is a system that actually achieves results,” Lundy told the Weekend Australian newspaper. “We have led the way and punched above our weight with [government] investment in the Australian Institute of Sport. We have now seen other countries catch up and the task I have before me is where do we next innovate?”