Australia and Japan Join Forces For Big Medal Haul At 2020 Olympics

Commentary by Jeff Commings

TUCSON – Swimming Australia and the Japan Swimming Federation made a landmark announcement last weekend, declaring that the two swimming superpowers will work together to make each nation better in the pool in the years leading up to the 2020 Olympics.

This goes well beyond allowing swimmers to train for extended periods of time in each country. Japan and Australia want to have the best Olympic results possible in 2020, and will open the channels of communication between each other in a quest to do so. In the coming years, we could see Australia and Japan at joint training camps before major international competitions. The two countries will not keep any secrets from each other when it comes to sport science research, training philosophies and developing future athletes.

From the Swimming Australia press release:

The agreement will assist both countries in their mutual goal of achieving best ever results at the 2020 Games.

“We enjoy a very positive and collaborative relationship with Japan Swimming both in and out of the pool and we look forward to deepening this further as this new partnership develops,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Anderson said.

“We believe this partnership will provide mutual benefit to both nations and will provide our Australian Swim Team exciting opportunities to further evolve and achieve our long-term performance goals.”

JASF President Daichi Suzuki thanked Swimming Australia for inviting his team to Perth and shared in the excitement of the partnership.

“I believe both SAL and JASF are striving to mutually recognise and respect each other’s programs, and the agreement will help to further strengthen our relationships.

“I hope that this partnership will help develop both our country’s programs. I sincerely hope that through this partnership, we can help nurture and develop many medallists for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

We live in a time when many of the world’s best coaches freely share their training strategies with their peers. But this is the first time two federations are publicly announcing such an exchange, and it could spell danger for the rest of the world. Think of the future possibilities for Japan’s distance freestyle program as it learns how Australia was able to foster such great talent as Grant Hackett, Mack Horton, Melissa Gorman and Kylie Palmer. And how will Australia’s already-strong backstroke squad improve once they see how Japan’s superstar backstrokers train?

“Japan is a leading swimming nation,” Anderson said. “There is no doubt that they will reinforce this reputation when they host both the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.”

Japan is on the verge of something great much earlier than that. In 18 months in Rio de Janeiro, Japan could have its highest gold medal tally in decades. Not since the 1932 Olympics, where the men won all but one swimming event, has Japan had the potential to earn more than just a couple of swimming gold medals. Australia knows it, and appears to have taken the following mindset: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

But Japan wins here as well. Every Olympic host nation wants to win lots of medals, and Japan is right to reach out to the Aussies for help. Australia was the last host nation to earn more than one gold medal in swimming, taking five golds in Sydney in 2000.

On the surface, the United States needs not worry about this partnership. Team USA has led the medal table at every Olympics since 1984, and that will not change in 2020. Japan made a major breakthrough at the 2012 Olympics, winning 11 medals for the second-highest total. That was one of Australia’s worst Olympic performances, though the nation appears to be on an upswing. If both of these countries are successful in teaming up to boost their medal numbers, we could see them second and third in the medal table. Will their total medals combined beat what the United States wins? That’s never happened in the past eight Olympics. Will swimming at the Tokyo Olympics essentially turn into a dual meet, with Australia/Japan taking on the might Americans? How will it affect the Pan Pacific championships?

Though the partnership has the makings of a major game changer in swimming, it strikes me as an odd one. The announcement would not be as shocking if Australia had decided to team up with another Commonwealth nation, or if Japan partnered with an Asian nation. (Imagine if China and Japan put history aside and teamed up in the pool.) Japan has been sending athletes to Australia for many years, though Australia hadn’t reciprocated by sending its top swimmers to Japan for extended training sessions. If the partnership is to succeed, the athletes have to buy into it as much as executives in the two federations.

Twenty years ago, you would never find two rivals training together. But the times are changing, and we’ll see if Australian and Japanese athletes will thrive as they spend time together in the weeks and months before a big meet. What happens when an Australian or a Japanese swimmer wins gold at the world championships, Olympics or Pan Pacs? Will the other country take the credit as well?

If we see even a small kernel of success with this collaboration, I wonder how the other swimming nations will respond. I doubt USA Swimming will team up with any other country, and that’s not a knock against USA Swimming. Perhaps several European nations will form an alliance, as long as it doesn’t produce an Iron Curtain-like presence that shielded a doping regime in East Germany for 20 years.

Could we see results as early as this summer’s world championships? Maybe not in the pool, but don’t be shocked to see Australian and Japanese coaches huddled together on the deck.

Click here to read the full press release from Swimming Australia

3 Comments

3 comments

  1. avatar
    dellisse

    PLEASE STOP KILLING DOLPHINS AND WHALES !! WE LL BOYCOTT J.O AND ALL JAPANESE PRODUCTS UNTIL YOU STOP THE SLAUGHTER OF DOLPHINS IN TAIJI ! THE WORLD IS WATCHING YOU !!

  2. avatar
    Simon H.

    This is very disappointing. Why support Japan with the Olympics if there’s so many different things wrong with the country? Japan needs to stop getting with the Olympics in such a bad status, seriously!

  3. avatar
    Sam

    Well other than those two comments, id like to say that I am pretty excited to see this collaboration with the two nations. It may be only a small thing, but as a person who has followed the anime Free, which is about swimming teams in Japan. One of the main characters Rin when he was young spent time in Australia to swim competitively, but unfortunately found that the swimmers there were way above his level. And then soon later he hits a wall and decides to quit swimming, but a lot later in the show does he cme back and follow his dream to be on his way to swim in front of the “world”. So As a fan of this anime, I believe that if others who enjoy this show as much as I do, would be very excited for this, no matter what nation they hail from. I am as I said before very excited to see the improvement from previous years and am excited to see what this collaboration will bring for the rest of the world.

Author: Jeff Commings

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Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for SwimmingWorld.com and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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