Top US Coach Goes Down Under: The Rest of the Story

By Phillip Whitten

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 25. THREE days ago, our chief Australian correspondent, Steve Thomas, reported the surprising news that Rick Curl, head of the famed Curl-Burke Swim Club in suburban Washington, D.C., had been spirited away to Australia, where he had agreed to labor for three long years in behalf of the USA’s Aussie friends and rivals.

The story was also reported Down Under by Ian Hanson, Australian Swimming’s Main Man for PR and the head of Hanson Media. The swim-crazy Aussie media picked up the story, headlining the news of Curl’s “defection” to Australia.

Turns out, Rick Curl didn’t “defect” at all, nor was he “poached,’ as one creative headline-writer had it. As it happens, there’s much more to this story than Coach Curl’s impending sojourn to Australia, and the much more is much more interesting than it would have been if the story were simply about a top American coach deciding to coach athletes from America’s chief aquatic rival.

Essentially Curl-Burke and Australia’s Carlile Swim Club, founded by famed Aussie coaches and teachers Forbes and Ursula Carlile are forming an exciting, trans-Pacific partnership unprecedented in the aquatic world that will allow each of these highly successful organizations to contribute its strengths to the joint venture.

The partnership traces its origins back to last April and May, when Curl was invited to address the annual meeting of the Australian Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA). In conversations with John Coutts and Richard Cahalan, general managers of the Carlile organization, the three men realized that each outfit had strengths the other one lacked.

“They have a need for my talents – developing a world-class competitive swim team,” said Curl, “and we have a need for their talents – developing first-class, profitable swim schools.”

The Carlile organization has established a highly successful template for swim schools, in which every aspect of swim school construction and operations has been systematized. The result is a profitable business that produces consistently outstanding results – that is, it teaches thousands upon thousands of youngsters to swim each year, and it teaches them to swim well.

“Carlile Swimming employs 250 staff which will increase to 300 when we open our next facility at Cherrybrook mid 2005,” said Coutts. “We currently operate from six facilities, four of which we own and two are leased. In addition to this we have an interest in a swim school in Adelaide, South Australia.”

For its part, Curl-Burke has been developing world-class competitive swimmers since it open its doors in 1978. Four Olympic gold medal winners have come through his program including Mike Barrowman, 1992 Olympic champion in the 200m breaststroke; two-time Olympic 400m individual medley champion, Tom Dolan (1996 and 2000); and medley relay gold medalists Mark Henderson (1996) and Ed Moses (2000). Many other world-class swimmers have swum for Coach Curl and his staff, including the 14 CUBU swimmers who will compete in next month’s US Olympic trials in long Beach.

The deal the two organizations struck involves Curl accepting a three-year contract to become head coach at Sydney's Carlile Swim Club beginning in October.

At the same time,” says Curl, “they will come to our facilities to learn how to build a swim team. Then we’ll create the first joint swim school/swim team in the US that incorporates the best principles and practices of each organization.”

Curl added that he expects this joint swim school/swim team to be the prototype for a string of such facilities throughout the US.

Leading Australian coaches Alan Thompson, Tony Shaw, Doug Frost and the C.E.O of the Australian Coaches Association, Michael Ursu, have joined in hailing the move as likely to benefit Australian swimming

“The alliance between Curl-Burke and Carlile Organization will include several initiatives,” Curl said.

“ In October, I will begin a three year project which will include developing the competitive swim team of Carlile Swimming Club. My responsibilities will be on-deck coaching, coach education and supervision, and program development.

“A team from Carlile Organization will arrive in Washington this fall to begin the process at American University of evaluation and implementation of the Carlile Organization Swim School Systems. They will then visit and evaluate all of our facilities that have swim school programming potential.

“The most exciting facet of our partnership will be a joint initiative of facility design and construction. The Carlile Organization currently purchases land, and constructs swim school/swim team focused facilities in and around Australia. Their strategic plans include penetration into the US markets – and I believe that our area (Washington DC metro, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland) would provide an exceptional launching platform for facility development.

“Although I will relinquish my on-deck coaching responsibilities to 17-year Curl-Burke coach Kit Mathews, I will be very active in the daily management of Curl-Burke Swim Club via e-mail. Fran Ward will continue to fulfill the administrative responsibilities, while Pete Morgan will take on a greater leadership role overseeing the entire club.

“Because the coaching staff has been so enthusiastically supportive of this global partnership, I am confident that the quality of programming will only be enhanced on the short term and, with the tremendous opportunities in the future – the sky is the limit!!

“The potential advantages for Curl-Burke Swim Club are limitless. At the very least, with our own facilities, we will be able to provide a stable environment that will insure quality programming for future generations of swimmers. While I will miss the day-to-day excitement at home for the next few years, I am absolutely confident that the current staff and reassignment plan will continue to provide the finest programming in the Washington, DC area!”

Forbes Carlile shares that enthusiasm: “We are really excited that Rick has accepted our invitation for a three year contract to coach in Carlile Swimming,” he said.

Although in our five centers we give elementary lessons to some 10,000 pupils a week on the north side of Sydney Harbour, after some 40 years at the forefront of Australian competitive swimming, since World War 11 Carlile Olympians have recently been thin on the ground.

“We have no competitors in the Australian team for Athens and have dropped considerably in the Championship point scores in both the National Senior and Age Group. Consequently we have been thinking that the time is ripe to bite the bullet and recognize we should infuse some new ideas and introduce perhaps radical changes.

“With his success in the Washington DC area and high profile in American swimming Rick Curl seemed to us to be the ideal candidate. We have been having discussions with Rick for some years, since 2000; meeting with him each time he has visited Australia with U.S teams.

“Rick, when he starts in October, has been given the mandate to introduce many of the initiatives which has helped make his team so successful. He has the full support of everyone in our organization.”

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