Ariarne Titmus & St Peters Slap Down Aussie Reports Of ‘Bullying and Fat-Shaming’ On Boxall’s Beat

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Dean Boxall - Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia/Delly Carr

Ariarne Titmus and the St Peters Western club are among those denying Australian newspapers allegations of ‘Bullying and Fat-Shaming’ on coach Dean Boxall‘s beat, while Swimming Australia is among organisations unable to find any record of complaints, allegedly made by parents, reported in the press (Craig Lord writes).

Important to highlight and expose any wrongdoing and bad practice out there. Just as important to back up allegations with hard evidence, if there is any. Just as important to report on the other side of the story, the culture in question, the views of leading swimmers in the program, the policies and open statements from the programs and people being accused.

It was February when we read “How Dean Boxall rose to be one of swimming’s new rockstar coaches” by Phil Lutton in the SMH.

It was a couple of days ago that we read in the Australian Sunday Mail (some reports are behind paywalls but  the Australian Sunday Times version can be read at press-reader) of parents complaining of Boxall’s allegedly “military style program”, in which swimmers “have been fat-shamed, bullied and left seeking professional help”.

The Other Side of The Story

Ian Hanson, media officer for Swimming Australia for many years and has worked with numerous big names. Of late, he was tabbed by Shayna Jack to help her navigate the media process during a time of great intensity after a positive test. Jack intends to fight her case, one that looks set to end up at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Hanson penned an account of a day spent working with Shayna as the young Queensland swimmer and her legal team met the media this past week.

Now, as someone with deep insight into Australian swim club programs down the years, Hanson reports on the reality on the ground, grants, with Swimming World, the club and swimmers a right of reply and explains why he feels accounts of the St Peters Western swim program – which boasts the likes of Ariarne Titmus, Mitch Larkin, Clyde Lewis and Jack Cartwright – are well off the mark. Hanson, who also works for the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association, reports on the inquiry inside the St Peters Western club that concluded, in wake of the latest news reports: “A review of our records and investigations with staff have been unable to find any complaints received by St Peters Western”. He also brings us the words of Titmus and others in support of coach Boxall’s program.

By Ian Hanson

Australian swimming’s latest prodigy, world champion Ariarne Titmus has led a flood of support for her coach Dean Boxall after damning anonymous front page claims, targeting him and the St Peters Western Swim Club.

Cowardice claims fired from a disgruntled parent at Australia’s No 1 swimming club, the most successful high performance program in the country and Australia’s Coach of the Year – 41-year-old Boxall.

The page one headline in Queensland’s only Sunday paper, the Sunday Mail has already won its only award for the worst beat-up in Australian sport in 2019.

Shayna Jack

Shayna Jack makes a statement and answers questions from the media – Photo Courtesy: Ian Hanson

Taking advantage of the fact that it just so happens to be Shayna Jack’s swim club – where she has been for the past 12 months.

“SWIM AT ALL COSTS” was the heading splashed across the front page following an anonymous letter sent by the disgruntled parent to the paper and Swimming Australia.

And the laughable line of: “Inside the extreme toxic culture at Shayna Jack’s elite Brisbane swim club.”

“Shock allegations of bullying and fat-shaming…claims young stars put through hell.”

Allegations against a man and his expert coaching staff, who preside over 120 swimmers from its junior squads through State and National Age to its Elite High Performance Team.

Australia’s National Open and Age Champions

St Peters is led by a head coach and a squad that will play a major front line role in Australia’s assault on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

DeanBoxall and Ariarne Titmus

Dean Boxall and Ariarne Titmus – Photo Courtesy: Ian Hanson

A coaching staff that includes, assistant coach, Athens Olympic triathlete Maxine Seear, who spent yesterday with her squad at the Brisbane Short Course Championships at Sleeman Aquatic Centre, with Boxall still on leave.

It’s a squad that includes world champions Titmus, Mitch Larkin and Clyde Lewis, Commonwealth Games gold medallist and aspiring Olympian Jack Cartwright, amongst a plethora of emerging talent – four of whom will take part in the Fina World Junior Champion ships in Hungary this month – the most of any club in the country.

The club was quick to set the record straight.

“A review of our records and investigations with staff have been unable to find any complaints received by St Peters Western,” it said on its Facebook page.

“Discussions with Swimming Australia have confirmed it has not received any formal complaints of any matter with respect to the St Peters swimming program and have only recently received a copy of the anonymous letter sent to the media.

“As no names or contact details were provided Swimming Australia (and subsequently) were unable to conduct any follow up with the author. As we are dealing with children and mostly minors we will not be discussing any specific matter with media and need to respect the privacy of our swimmers.

“As families know, we always ask and encourage any athlete or their parents to raise any concern or complaints directly to the College where they believe these standards have not been met.”

DeanBoxall

Dean Boxall – Photo Courtesy: Ian Hanson

Titmus took to her Instagram last night to thank her team, her family and her coach, after returning to Brisbane from the Fina World Championships with two gold, one silver and a bronze and a world record in the 4x200m freestyle relay – a successful campaign –she owes to one man.

“Thank you to my super coach Dean Boxall, my rock!” wrote Titmus.

“You not only create the best swimming program that enables me to race the world’s best athletes with confidence, but you guide and coach me in a way that mentally prepared me for the pressures of representing our country.

“I walk into training every day with a smile due to the unity and environment you have created within our swimming club. Let’s keep working hard as we prepare for the ultimate next year.”

The St Peters Western Club, run out of the SPW Lutheran College on the outskirts of Brisbane’s leafy Indooroopilly, clarified its position with this statement:

The welfare of our athletes is the #1 priority of the club.

“If parents or members have any concerns regarding anything to do with the College or swimming program then it is important that they be raised so we can investigate and action where necessary.

“At SPW we do not tolerate the bullying of anyone by. Speaking with other committee members there has not been a single reported incident of bullying within the swimming program;

“At SPLC and SPW we do not tolerate fat shaming of anyone by anyone.

“Being a high performance club our Coaches will at times discuss fitness and body mass to our high-performance swimmers during training as part of their overall preparation for major meets throughout the year, but this is always undertaken with sensitivity to ensure athletes understand this is part of the necessary development to achieve the best result for the swimmer.

“Our club does not conduct “public weighings”…..ever!

“Only those swimmers who have been selected for the National team are weighed and have skin fold tests performed by the Queensland Academy of Sports on behalf of Swimming Australia as part of the National program, or athletes that are on camp are weighed.

“All weigh-ins are conducted 1:1 in a private space by a professional physiologist.

DeanBoxall with Group

Dean Boxall with his squad – Photo Courtesy: Ian Hanson

“The only occasion where athletes were weighed poolside and weights were shared was at a session approximately four years ago when the Club engaged a hydration expert who was demonstrating the importance of hydration during training and athletes were weighed before and after the session with the results shared poolside amongst all on the day.

“This was to highlight the importance of keeping hydrated during intensive training and swimmers that the level of dehydration can vary significantly depending on the athlete.

“The College separately does have an outstanding fitness and conditioning program at the College’s gym facility which is used by all sports within the College.

“As part of the strength and conditioning program a series of measures recorded for athlete personal profile.

“This is conducted individually by conditioning experts every two months and no information is discussed or shared between athletes.

“As a high performance club we provide significant resources to the support of our athletes including access to physio, psychologists and have extensive access to third party specialists.

“Furthermore all students at the College also have access to additional support resources including counsellors etc.”

Comment:

You have to feel for Titmus – who joins Jenny Turrall, Tracey Wickham, Hayley Lewis, Giaan Rooney, Jodie Henry, Libby Trickett and Cate and Bronte Campbell as our only female freestyle world champions since 1973.

She has returned with mixed emotions swirling through her 18-year-old head after the meet of her life; but having to deal with a positive drug test, returned by her room mate and club mate and allegations against her coach and her swim club.

She should have had a ticker-tape parade through the streets of Brisbane, but now with just another few days off, Titmus will return to the pool to prepare for her foray into the world of the ISL (The International Swimming League).

And with a club with an Olympic honour roll that started under legendary coach Michael Bohl back in 2004 and has produced a who’s who of Olympic and world champions through 2008, 2012 and 2016 – 2020, 2024 and 2028 awaits.

Jacco Verhaeren

Jacco Verhaeren – Photo Courtesy: SwimmingWorld.TV

Support rolled in for Boxall led by ASCTA – the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association – the governing body of coaches in this swimming crazy country that has been torn asunder in recent weeks – standing by their man.

Among the coaches lining up to support Boxall today include ALL of Australia’s current and recent National coaches – led by current Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren, Alan Thompson, Leigh Nugent, Bill Sweetenham, Laurie Lawrence, Olympian and coach Janelle Elford and Boxall’s mentor Bohl himself and– the man who put the SPW club on the international map.

They all know the road that Boxall has trodden and the squad that he has built up – a modern day Lawrence – an eccentric character – a trait that goes with so many swim coaches.

Respected Sydney Morning Herald and The Age swimming and Olympics writer Phil Lutton wrote before the Fina World Championships:

“Australian swimming should well appreciate Boxall, because his special bond with the brilliant Titmus may end up being one of its great stories. With the Tokyo Olympics bearing down at a rate of knots, the duo are about to embark on a ride both have dreamed of since they began in the sport. At just 18, Titmus will go head-to-head with US icon Katie Ledecky at this year’s World Championships in Korea and then in Tokyo in 2020. She’s already demolished the Australian 400m freestyle record and stalked Ledecky at the Pan Pacs last year, getting closer than anyone in history as the pair swam one-two.

“Not all coaches can get the best out of all of their swimmers. Olympic silver medal back-stroker Mitch Larkin is one that has sought the help of Boxall to reignite his career. But when it comes to Titmus, Boxall has always been able to channel the right wavelength as she tore down record after record on her rise up the world rankings.”

“When I was first coaching her, I never thought she could be as good as she is now. But she had this character of being able to sustain work and be so consistent with her approach. She loves training. She loves all of it. A lot of swimmers just love racing. She loves all of it,” said Boxall.

“She’s one of the only athletes I have that I push to another level, because she thrives on that. If I went easy with her, I don’t think she would be where she is today.

“We have a fantastic relationship because she fully trusts what I do and I trust that whatever I give her, she gives it 100 per cent. I know she is doing everything right.”

With success comes pressure. Ledecky comes to the table not only with brilliance and dedication but the entire weight of the US coaching and performance machine in her corner. Titmus has yet to set foot in an Olympic pool and Boxall has yet to train one of its champions.

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Ariarne Titmus: Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia

“It’s daunting. Here is an athlete that fully trusts what you are doing. If I decide that I go on another path? She would do that, because she trusts me. What if I get it wrong? She executes the plans I create faithfully.

“But what an honour. What a privilege. As a little kid, she always dreamed of going to an Olympics. She has to be that little kid. What an honour that I’m not only going to an Olympics but I’m racing a true champion in a hyped-up race.

“I have to think the same. As an athlete, I always wanted to go to an Olympics. I never made it. Hopefully I can go now. You just have to honour that and enjoy the privilege.”

What happened in Gwangju is another chapter in the storied success of swimming in Australia…..

I witnessed the eccentric coaching antics of Laurie Lawrence – and the 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medal success stories of Jonno Sieben and Duncan Armstrong just as I have witnessed the equally eccentric methods of Dean Boxall.

But you get the feeling history just might repeat itself in 2020 swimmers that keep turning up every day with a smile on their face…and arriving home with medals around their necks.

23 Comments
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3 years ago

Damian Bawden

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Gary
3 years ago

If you want to be a high performance athlete join a high performance program but it has to be athlete driven and decided Not parent expectation decided
Parents do not put unrealist expectations on your children
Find a program that works for your children not your expectations Be a parent not a coach

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Brisbane swimmer
3 years ago

Expect more from Swimming World than to publish spin control from an admitted hired public relations flak for Shayna Jack and St. Peters Western.

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3 years ago

Brisbane swimmer, please have the courage to use your own name. To write as you do about what would be very serious allegations but fails to do so in your own name makes you a much greater risk to injustice being done than anything SW or other media might write. It is absolutely fair and reasonable of Swimming World and other media to present both sides of allegation and denial (as has been the case). Your complaint of PR etc is invalid and rather silly given that we make very clear who the author of this piece is and what angle and knowledge and position and status he is coming at the story from.

If you know better than what is suggested, file your complaint to Swimming Australia, let the media know – and do it in your own name: stand up and be counted. That is the only way to truth.

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Jack
3 years ago

The allegations against Boxall and SPW go way beyond just fat-shaming and bullying and being “eccentric”. Have not heard any response from SPW regarding supplement use by its top swimmers, bulimia instruction given by older swimmers to younger swimmers, use of militaristic imagery by Boxall in existing videos that he created (!!!) (and telling swimmers to pick up their “weapons” and “swing their axes”), the “Hell Month” of training led by Boxall, his calling a swimmer a “cow”, and direct quotes from Titmus herself to the effect that Boxall is always “on her back” and she “never has any time to relax.”

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3 years ago
Reply to  Jack

Jack, as elsewhere: if you can back up claims of genuine abuse (legitimate supplementation is not one of them, unless you’re going to include 90% of world swimming in your accusation), then do so, in your own name and with hard evidence: the only way to truth and ridding systems of bad practices if that is what is demanded here. It is absolutely legitimate – and to be encouraged – for those who feel they understand performance sport and for those who feel they have witnessed bad practice and harm to athletes to bring their evidence of that forward. So far, the evidence of that being the case appears flimsy. Those who feel they know better need to press for inquiry based on real evidence and witness. I’m afraid allegations by ‘Fred’ ‘Milly’ and ‘Bruce’ don’t cut it as far as genuine attempts at getting to the truth go.

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Collins
3 years ago
Reply to  Craig Lord

Mr. Lord,
would like to know the data source for your statement that 90% of world swimmers are using legitimate supplementation. I have not been able to corroborate that through research, or anecdotally. Was that a number you just pulled out of your hat? Thank you.

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3 years ago
Reply to  Collins

Collins, my 90% is not scientific (i.e., no survey of 2000 athletes on national teams etc… however, I have asked, in the past 2-2.5 years and as part of interviews with athletes and coaches, just over 50 athletes if they include some form of supplementation in their diet. From my notes: only 7 or 8, as I recall, said no. Those interviews have included at least 20 Olympic and World Champs podium placers, as well as several athletes from 3 specific national teams. Again, not scientific… perhaps we should start that process, when time allows.

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Ryan Shannon (USA)
3 years ago
Reply to  Craig Lord

I actually think 90% worldwide is actually low. It’s 2019, literally everyone in or out of sporting, including my parents, use some form of daily supplements. It would be absurd not to. Maybe Collins is confused in what supplements actually are? They are not all steroids and amphetamines, not even 1% of them are. Pill form of multivitamin, protein drinks for weight gain, electrolytes, skin cream for wrinkles or dry skin, ext ext…are all supplements. Supplements are a proactive and reactive way to keep your body AND mind healthy and durable.
We also know for a fact, due to IOC’s published yearly review on general athletes’ sheet of declarations of substances for in competition and OOC testing that 99.87% of the athletes take a daily dose of anti-inflammatory and or tri-monthly cortisone shots. In other words, supplements. So one would either be undereducated in the definition of supplements and their proven medical effects of quality of life or be living under a rock for the past 30 or so years.

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Caroline
3 years ago

Ariarne Titmus says her coach Boxall is her “rock”? Ewwww. Doesn’t that in itself raise some red flags?

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Denver
3 years ago

Do not use the term “eccentric” to cover up potentially deviant or miscreant behavior. That’s partially what happened with USA Gymnastics. Seems like there is enough smoke around this SPW program that maybe FINA, WADA or IOC should have a close look before handing out 2020 deck credentials.

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Ethan
3 years ago
Reply to  Denver

Jacco Verhaeren has already announced that he is leaving his position as leader of Australian coaching team following 2020, so there may be an already existing void of accountability for Australian coaches that might have to be filled by outside oversight.

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Oliver
3 years ago

Can only “feel for Titmus” just so much when she supports SPW. She has no knowledge of what has happened to certain children under the program. Rampant supplement use, hence the Shayna Jack debacle. Arnie Titmus herself was on radio talking about her own supplement usage and that she is a caffeine “addict” who has to drink several cups of espresso before her races. Feel for her only from the standpoint if she has been brainwashed in this sadistic, cult-like, military-style swim program that may eventually harm her health too.

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3 years ago
Reply to  Oliver

Oliver, all off which, if true, demands that those affected come forward and give proper evidence and witness. If St PW and Swimming AUS say ‘no complaints received’ then they are either telling the truth or not… and if not, it is for those who know otherwise to bring the evidence. As things stand, there are no elite swimmers raising red flags and no official body suggestions that anything they have seen demands inquiry. If you know why that ought to be different, then, in your own name, submit your complaint and do the right thing. If you and others affected cannot or will not or have no genuine reason to do so, then it is absolutely fair of Swimming World and other media to present both sides of allegation and denial (as has been the case).

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Theodore
3 years ago

I am not a directly impacted parent, but have great sympathy given other observations and abuse problems in kids’ sports. I give credence to the sourcing of parents anonymously by the Sunday Telegraph. I respect that parents would not wish to name themselves and further humiliate their children. And they are dealing with a coach (Boxall) who reportedly talks about “weaponry” and “swinging axes,” which would give some pause about coming forward by name. For credibility justifying an investigation, it seems to me there is (i) the existing psych video of Boxall reading the militaristic speech of the deranged Jack Nicholson marine commander character in “A Few Good Men”; (ii) a failed doping test by one star SPW swimmer who promoted the use of supplements on her social media; (iii) public statements by another star SPW swimmer about supplements and a caffeine “addiction” that underlies her swimming for her “rock” Dean Boxall; (iv) numerous departures of swimmers from the SPW program; (v) allegations published by a seemingly reputable news publication which would seem to have no reason to present false or unsubstantiated statements about a swim program.

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3 years ago
Reply to  Theodore

Theo, I agree that what you suggest is absolutely worth inquiry and investigation — if there is evidence (right now, there is a lot of support from swimmers and parents and a club and a fed saying ‘we have received no complaints’) but robust process is essential, as are the witness statements of ‘real’ people with ‘real’ experiences to tell. Without that, no inquiry would be able to make a valid judgement. Anonymous allegations are simply not enough, regardless of how hard (speaking generally) it is or may be for people to come forward and speak to official bodies and/or media. As the sex abuse cases surfacing in the U.S. show, it is hard enough to get action even when victims are named, do come forward with real stories and truths that shame sport and its governance, call into question what are, in certain places, unquestionably poor systems of check and balance in the realm of ‘autonomous’ Olympic sports governance. It is because of that, not in spite of it, that it does take the courage of parents, athletes and others to come forward with hard evidence capable of triggering inquiry. Until that point, anything being said about anyone involved in the story above and in certain Aussie media reports is pure speculation of a kind that could destroy reputations and a swim program without any real evidence being brought forward. In the midst of many trustworthy and cross-checkable stories of abuse that demand response in the U.S., there are allegations that are far less trustworthy, allegations that come with dubious accounts that leave one wondering if the accuser ought not to be accused themselves. That may well be a tiny minority but we should be vigilant to all possibilities – and so far, the allegations at St PW don’t tell us that abuse is at play in a realm of performance sport that does indeed demand a very high level of dedication and, yes, toughness and resolve and resilience. None of that is a watchword nor a green flag for abuse (authorities need to be pressed on where and whether they have proper processes of inquiry in place and whether those processes are independent and robust enough to stand reasonable and incisive scrutiny) – nor is it a licence for anyone who does not understand what performance sport requires (ask Adam Peaty if times and challenges have been tough, challenging, even to the point of emotional test like most of us never have to face, then ask him if he thinks he’s a victim of abuse…) to make allegations of abuse where that is not only incorrect but wholly unfair in the way that the average bloke in the pub may have his view but ought not to have sway over the professional lives and roles of others they simply do not understand. I urge anyone with real information and experience to make themselves known to authorities – and I urge those authorities to make such processes possible. Regards, Craig

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3 years ago

Swimming world wake up, it’s the low road to attack those who are achieving great things. Ditch the tall poppy syndrome and replace it with some ANZAC spirit, support your mates, have their back. Be encouragers, we have enough critics already. Be a sport of integrity. Be a sport that young swimmers and retired swimmers are proud to be a part of!

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3 years ago

Donna-Maree Willett well said Donna!!!

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Verram
3 years ago

is it possible that the comments above demonising and ruining SPW and Boxall are all coming from the same person just under different aliases.. could also be the original perpetrator who went to the media… im not saying Boxall is an angel but he may have “annoyed” certain individuals in his past, hence the lynch mob mentality amidst the Shayna Jack hysteria.

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Swim Dad
3 years ago

I am a parent of a child at St Peters and can tell you this attack on an amazing club is disgusting. At no stage has anyone sought to talk to me or any parent that I am aware of.
The St Peters programme is more than just swimming. My child has flourished, has a support network, friendships, gained self confidence, resilience, understands the link between effort and results, and importantly is HAPPY. The coaching staff are world class, the committee are dedicated volunteers and the parents and more importantly the swimmers will be the first to defend the club. The comments from people who don’t know and newspapers who’s purpose is to sell papers I find insulting. Do any of you think about your abuse online ? Do any of you think about the impact your comments have on the club members and more importantly the swimmers at the club ? Words in the comments such as “deviant”, “miscreant” calling them “brainwashed”. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Our children will get over it and move on. Do you know why ? Because they are tough, they are resilient, they are confident and they are St Peters swimmers.

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Ian
3 years ago
Reply to  Swim Dad

I would be more than happy to send my child to SPW swim club and school. If Laurie Lawrence reckons it’s a great program, that’s good enough for me. My son has been coached by Laurie and yes, he can be hard, but the kids who want to swim revel in it. The rumours doing the rounds are more than likely through jealousy and envy than anything else.

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Oceanian
3 years ago

I’m not sure I’d count the Sunday Times as ‘reputable’ source. Most Australian newspapers hardly publish stories about Olympic sports like swimming unless there is a whiff of scandal (eg drugs, relationship break-ups, Mack Horton protests).

I bet the author of the article, David Riccio from Sydney, hasn’t ever attended many swim meets and would probably be hard-pressed to name another two active Australian swim coaches off the top of his head.

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Pat King
3 years ago

The Sunday Telegraph article was written by its chief sports reporter, an award-winning writer who has had a 20-year career in sports journalism. Certainly he can identify a reputable source from a non-reputable, fabricated source. Would appear that his bona fides in this instance would be greater than that of the individual who writes here who admittedly was hired to do public relations work for Shayna Jack, SPW and Dean Boxall, and who works for the Australian swim coaches association.