Australian Coach, Author, Drug-Fighter Forbes Carlile Honored at ASCA Convention

Editor's note: The following introduction was offered by John Leonard, Executive Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, when that organization honored Australia's Forbes Carlile with its "Lifetime Achievement Award" last week in San Diego at the annual ASCA convention. At my request, Coach Leonard has generously agreed to share his wonderful tribute to Forbes with the worldwide swimming community. .

A Lifetime of Leadership, A Lifetime of Achievement
By John Leonard

“Forbes.”

In [the coaching] profession, a very few become so famous, that their first name will suffice….. In the past, George, Doc, Sherm, Don, and now, Mark, Eddie, Richard, Skip….and “Coach Daland”…ah well, the exception proves the rule!

There are, among us, a very few people who are the walking definition of …. “Swimming Coach.” The man we honor tonight is one of those very few.

We offer him tonight, and hope he will accept, our thanks for a lifetime of achievement and a lifetime of leadership in our profession of swimming coach.

As we look back at his career, we find in him a coach with a spectacular career in the international arena, the first of the “scientist-coaches,” an author, with his wife, of scientific papers that have led many other investigations around the world, a ground-breaking businessman, and perhaps the strongest advocate in the history of our sport, for athletes and coaches.

Originally Melbourne’s gift to Australian Swimming, he has become Australian Swimming’s gift to the world. I speak of course of Forbes Carlile, MBE.

For those of you leaning to your neighbor to ask “what does MBE stand for?,” I will tell you that it stands for Member of The British Empire. Beyond that, I am not sure myself, but it has a magnificent sound behind one’s name. My assumption is that a “Member” of the British Empire is another way of saying a “Treasure of the British Empire”. Forbes certainly deserves that appellation.

For the younger members of our audience, it is perhaps important to begin our understanding of his career with a list of the amazing accomplishments of his athletes….
* 52 members of Australian Olympic, World Championship and Commonwealth Games Teams.
* 12 Olympic Medalists, including 5 individual gold medals among 3 individuals, John Davies, Gail Neall, and the incomparable Shane Gould.
* ….31 individual WORLD RECORDS!
For those younger members of our audience, let me remind you of the greatness of one of Forbes’ and Ursula’s most famous swimmers. Young Shane Gould, just 16 at the time, in 1972, held EVERY WORLD RECORD from the 100 to the 1500 at the same time — the only woman in history to do so. She retired at an early age, and has recently returned to Masters competition at the age of 45, [ranking among the world’s best and swimming a 1:08 100 meters fly,] remarkable in itself. For those who saw her, many remarked that young Shane was the “perfect swimming machine,” an appellation she apparently despised, but which was accurate in its description.

Imagine that! World records from 100 to 1500 meters! Today we find the
versatility of a Michael Phelps or an Ian Thorpe remarkable. Imagine the training necessary to set world standards from 100 to 1500!

It is hard to imagine a coaching career more glorious, especially from a small nation thousands of miles from Europe and the Americas, and for many years isolated by geography, and lacking the ease of competitive stimulus enjoyed in the USA and Europe.

Forbes’ obsession with the water began in the 1930s when his mother dragged him to Balmoral Beach as a highly reluctant pupil. He learned to swim in one of Australia’s famous “rock pools” by the seaside, then on to the oddly named “Spit Baths” in the middle harbor where he became a junior club champion, then school champion at Scots college, and later won the New South Wales backstroke championship.

He graduated from the University of Sydney with an honors Science degree, later gained his masters and became a lecturer in physiology.

By chance, he met Dr. and Professor Frank Cotton, who was a New South Wales freestyle champion in addition to being one of the finest research professors in Australia. Cotton saw great promise in young Carlile, and with him, set up Australia’s first sports science Lab in Room 22 of the old Medical School, followed thereafter with a room at the Drummoyne Pool. In particular, Carlile and Cotton worked on issues of athletes’ blood pressures, brachial pulse waves, electrocardiograms, blood hemoglobin levels, and heart rates. Their seminal work set the stage for huge investigations of these same topics by scientists and coaches on every continent.

Forbes was perhaps the first of the famous combinations of scientist and coach, a genre later represented by our own Doc Counsilman and today, perhaps by Ernie Maglischo. In some respects, perhaps Forbes is most proud of his contribution in the area of scientific testing and the application of science to swimming.

In the USA, we perhaps thought of Forbes as the “Australian Counsilman”.
If we did, then certainly in Australia they considered Counsilman, “The American Carlile”. Curiously, though these two fabulous coaches were relative contemporaries, they never did represent their nations as coaches in the same Olympic Games. Swimming history is the poorer for that odd displacement in time and space.

Now it is impossible, practically speaking, to even speak the name of Forbes Carlile, without thinking or saying “and Ursula Carlile.” Please stand and take a bow, Ursula.

Certainly one of the centerpieces of Forbes’ life has been his personal and professional partnership with Ursula. A world class coach in her own right, Ursula has been largely the structural force behind Forbes’ enthusiasms for five decades. Many of Forbes’ early scientific articles were co-authored by Ursula and throughout their life together it has been clear what items Ursula chooses to invest herself in in support of Forbes, and on which crusades she allows Forbes to take his head like a wayward racehorse, until she finally “settles him in.”

Thank you, Ursula, for sharing your husband with all the rest of us. For those of us who regularly receive Forbes’ prolific emails and formerly his endless faxes, we DO know that you are a saint.

Books, films, seminars and conversation — Forbes Carlile has freely and generously shared himself and his thoughts with the world. His book , “Forbes Carlile on Swimming.” done in 1963 and published by Pelham Books of London, is one of the most influential works of its sort, in the history of world swimming. A young man working in Syracuse NY in 1971 picked up that book and devoured it page by page, marveling at the simple genius of this man from down under. Thirty-two years later, that same man, no longer young, marvels all the more at the wisdom in those pages.

As a businessman, it is important to recognize the contributions that Forbes and Ursula as co-principles in a business first known as the Forbes and Ursula Carlile School of Swimming and now known simply as Carlile Swimming. In 1962, they built the first indoor, heated teaching pool in Sydney, behind their home at 16 Ryde Street. Forty-some years later, it is still there, still busy at all hours of the day and night with learn to swim students being put through their lessons. The multi-location school system they built is a model for Australia and now, the world, in teaching swim school owners how to earn a profitable living with their expertise. Now with their operating partner John Coutts, Forbes and Ursula are still leading the way for the swim schools of the future. Their business employs over 200 staff and delivers quality swim lessons to over 7000 pupils each week.

I am sure that the walls of that house at 16 Ryde Street, if they were animated, would have some marvelous stories to tell. In 2000, Peter Daland and myself, and later Phil Whitten of Swimming World and his lovely wife, Donna, pretty much invited ourselves to stay with Forbes during the wonderful Sydney Olympic Games. I am not sure how we maneuvered Ursula into such a ridiculous situation, but we did, and once we all arrived, we discovered that Forbes, perhaps motivated by the fact that three thorns and one rose would soon be rattling around 16 Ryde St., disturbing his endless stacks of paper and information, simply PURCHASED the home next door and converted it to a video and film studio, library and not coincidentally a dorm room for Peter and me and a room for the married Whittens.

Those days in Sydney were glorious days of conversation and swimming plans, interrupted by the occasional swim meet at the Olympic Pool. I know that 16 Ryde Street had seen many such visits over the decades and that all the guests graciously accommodated by Forbes and Ursula over the years went home renewed in their enthusiasm for our sport and the world of swimming. Conversations with Forbes and Ursula are always full of great ideas and the issues of the day. Constantly I run into coaches from all over the world who have visited with the Carliles and gained from all of the freely offered ideas, information and plans. The swimming world has been enriched by their sharing in areas from the business of learn to swim, to elite swimming and the proper structures and functions of international governing bodies for swimming. So many have benefited so very much by their generosity of spirit.

Finally, let us come to that part of Forbes career that we can best describe with the words, “a watchdog for justice.”

While doing a bit of reading in preparation for this, I found an old article by a famous wag of Australian swimming, the late Joe King. Joe, in addition to being a world class coach himself, and a contemporary of Forbes, described Forbes as the “Don Quixote of Administrative Windmills.”

While Joe likely meant that as a compliment, given the history of the good Don, and his ending, it is a questionable description.

Joe also described Forbes as “the bane of many people in high places” and that observation is, as they say in Australia, “spot on.”

Naturally argumentative and pugnacious, Forbes has never failed to take on any situation, institution or individual who has not withstood the tests of fairness, accuracy and competence.

Forbes fought hard and long against what we would consider the “old suits” of the Australian Swimming Union, in support of the concept of the acceptability of professional coaches on Australian teams. He won that battle, then carried on until the old Union eventually capitulated and accepted coaches into all its meetings, plans and activities.

Australia made a quantum leap to “athlete centered, coach driven and administratively supported” as a philosophy, largely because of the rightness of Forbes’ cause and the intensity, consistency and courage with which he fought it.

The USA today is still trying to catch up to Australian administration and governance in this regard. Our Aussie coaching cousins, once standing forlornly at the back door of the House of Australian Swimming, hat in hand, begging for admittance to the parlors where the great decisions of the day were made, today greet you at the front door and invite the rest of the coaching community in.

The tide has turned so much that during the 2000 Olympic Games, the late Coach Terry Gathercole, also a former Carlile pupil and a man of similar integrity and fighting spirit as Forbes, served Australian Swimming as its President. Our own nation has yet to have a coach ascend to such a lofty view in USA Swimming.

The causes for which Forbes has fought are many. They share a common thread: logic, the needs of the swimmers and coaches, and integrity and respect for our sport, its past, present and future, all ran through those causes. Some were won, some were lost, some were delayed, but Forbes fought them all, fought them hard and fought them in a style that rallied many of us to his cause.

In the 90’s, Forbes and I came into frequent contact as he played a lead role (and continues to do so) in the endless battle against doping and now its very sick cousin, genetic manipulation. No one is a better man to have at your back in a fight. No one is more relentless, no one less compromising, no one more ready to do whatever it takes to serve the athletes by bringing clean swimming back to our sport.

First Forbes took on FINA at a time when FINA stubbornly resisted the idea that there really was any reason for concern. For years, Forbes was the driving force behind our efforts to get FINA to take anti-doping work seriously.

In Perth in 1998, at the World Championships, news of Chinese doping dominated the Championships. Forbes was present on TV more than John Madden in football season. He was everywhere. Every news channel. Every sports commentary. At one point, in total exasperation, a FINA official said “Doping, Doping, Doping, don’t any of you news media people want to talk about swimming?”

And the fact was, they didn’t. They wanted to call FINA to task for failing to protect the sport from the scourge of doping and to sweep the dirt under the rug.

Proudly, 1998, was, in my view, the turning point in the battle against doping. Forbes was the candle burning brightly in the dark, and his efforts in Perth turned FINA 180 degrees. From that point on, FINA has worked extremely hard to clean its own house, with a superb testing program, superb new re-writes of the doping laws, (much of that work done by Rich Young of the USA) and led the fight to create an effective World Anti-Doping Agency, which appears to be well on its way to success. Today, FINA is the poster child for effective international federation programs in anti-doping. Forbes’ constant attention and focus is largely responsible for that success.

As in all his battles, Forbes has “stayed the course” and led the way for the rest of us. He has helped put backbone in us, his coaching colleagues, for many decades, and we are grateful.

In 1996, in a tribute dinner to Forbes and Ursula in Broadbeach, Australia, put on by the Australian Swimming Coaches Association, I made the comment that in Forbes’ life, he had seen the rise of doping and I offered the hope that in his life, he would live to see the end of doping.

Thanks to Forbes, much progress has been made in that battle. Without him, we would never have made the progress that we have. He has led us in science, he has led us in coaching, he has led the world in endless battles to improve our sport and the whole world of sport. Truly, we honor a Lifetime of Achievement tonight,

(Close) May I Ask You to Rise, and Join Me in Bringing to the Stage, a definition of Greatness, Coach Forbes Carlile of Australia!

(Note: The crowd stood as one, as a two-minute ovation resounded from the walls of the ballroom and an embarrassed Forbes Carlile acknowledged the tribute of his colleagues and all those present.)

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