By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Oct. 16. THERE has been unprecedented movement among leading Aussie swimmers to seek out new coaches in the hiatus that followed the three months of intense competition that started here with the Qantas Skins in June, two national Grand Prix meets, the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Pan Pacific Games in Yokohama and ended in September with the Australian Short Course championships.
The much publicised switch by freestyle ace Ian Thorpe from Doug Frost, his coach for the last decade, to 2001 Australian rookie of the year, Tracey Menzies has been well documented. However, the former ’98 Commonwealth Games and ’99 Pan Pac breaststroke gold medallist, Simon Cowley, has been drawn out of a short retirement after failing to make the Aussie team this year to join Menzies. Cowley had previously trained under Frost, then after failing to make the Olympic team in 2000, moved to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to work with English-born breaststroke coach, Barry Prime. It would appear that the 30-year-old Menzies is now considered ‘head coach’ at the Sutherland pool with Frost, who will turn sixty next November, responsible for the age group squad.
It will be interesting to see how the dynamics develop on the pool deck in the coming months. Menzies was quoted in the Sydney weekend press as saying that an earlier report that the ‘Thorpedo’ would make his base in Monte Carlo was untrue. Menzies said in the Sunday Telegraph: “there will be periods where we’ll do altitude training. All of the swimmers will be traveling. Athletes go and do training overseas. He (Thorpe) has no plans to pack up and move overseas.”
The squad to gain most from the rash of changes is the Sydney University club, which is funded by the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS). Head coach Brian Sutton has attracted an extraordinary influx of elite swimmers. Heading the line-up is Olympic double-gold medallist and 100-fly world-record-holder Michael Klim, who after moving from the AIS in Canberra to the Gold Coast to train with Denis Cotterell in 2001, has decided he needed to commit to a sprint-focused program.
Klim told Swiminfo that he had first approached his former long-time coach, Gennadi Touretski, about working with him on the Gold Coast, but Touretski has been in no rush to make any firm decisions regarding his future following his forced departure from the AIS mid-year.
Following Klim to Sydney is regular comebacker Scott Miller, the 100-fly Olympic silver medalist from Atlanta, who appeared to be well settled with Cotterell at the Miami Club this year but has also made the move south.
2000 Olympian and Australian 200 backstroke champion Clementine Stoney has decided to leave the AIS in Canberra to move to Sydney University after losing coach Gennadi Touretski due to his suspension just prior to her main competitive phase. Stoney was another swimmer who was keen to see Touretski re-establish himself quickly at a new training venue.
Adding to the list to leave the AIS and head coach Mark Regan to join ‘Uni’ is Australian 100 and 200IM short course record-holder, Lori Munz. On the men’s side, freestyle sprinter David Jenkins has moved from the AIS to continue his medical studies in Sydney and train with Australian 50-meter free record-holder Brett Hawke. Coach Sutton also had notable success with now retired Sydney Olympic double-gold medalist Chris Fydler.
In what was a surprise to some, Elka Graham, the Pan Pac 200 freestyle silver medalist, has left Narelle Simpson her coach at Manly for eight years, to explore greener pastures across the Harbour Bridge at ‘Uni’. However, Graham will be disappointed if she is looking for more attention, as alongside her will be Olympic 800 relay teammates Jacinta Van Lint and Kirsten Thomson. All three women were in the heat team at Sydney with Thomson doing best to swim the final and receive the silver medal on the dais.
But that’s not all. Giaan Rooney, the 200 free World Champion, has left long-time coach Denis Cotterell to team up with Ian Pope at Melbourne Viccentre. Rooney will be looking to reinvigorate her freestyle and get a boost to her dorsal form stroke alongside Matt Welsh. She might also pick up some Italian, as another to join the squad later this month will be Olympic 200IM gold medalist, Massi Rosolino. The departure of Rooney means Cotterell has been left with his two distance charges, 1500 free world record-holder, Grant Hackett, and Stephen Penfold.
Dyana Calub, the Australian record-holder over the 50 and 100 backstroke, will move from Greg Salter at Kingscliff on the New South Wales North Coast to the Redcliffe club in Brisbane and coach Ken Wood due to her husband’s job relocation.
Swiminfo asked coaching maestro, Gennadi Touretski, his thoughts on the possible reasons for the large number of coaching switches taking place in this country at the top level. Touretski has yet to make a commitment as to his future as an elite coach despite having been approached by a handful of leading swimmers since his dismissal from the AIS, choosing instead to conduct a few Masters camps with his long-time champion protégé Alexander Popov.
Touretski considered that as swimming has become more professional in this country in recent years, the importance of attracting and maintaining sponsorship dollars for individual athletes and for the sport in general has created more pressure on athletes to maintain performance over an extended competitive cycle, particularly back-to-back ompetitions.
"Before you blame the coach for the performance, you need to consider the program. The competitive program here has become more and more demanding, so much travel, and changing conditions all inside a closed team environment for long periods," Touretski said.
"Logically, preparation should be different from the past; the coach and swimmer need to set clear and realistic goals in order to succeed in this new competitive environment," he proposed.
Touretski felt that setting unrealistic goals over this extended competitive cycle can only lead to negative outcomes; top class swimmers cannot swim PBs every time they race. For someone like Ian Thorpe, this means he is expected by the media and others to set a world record every time he races.
"Competition generates high stress. The more swimmers compete, the more they need to experience a recovery phase; when you compete for long periods at high intensity, you need more rest. If not, you end up with swimmers physically and mentally exhausted and looking for someone to blame," he concluded.
It will be interesting to see how much longer Touretski remains out of the main event, as his coaching talents are certainly under-utilized at present. However, he told Swiminfo that he and Popov would shortly begin their next phase of training in the new year in preparation for the World Championships in July.