Minna Atherton’s Coach David Lush On The Lioness, The League & Unwavering 2020 Vision

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Minna Atherton streamlines to success - courtesy Swimming Australia

Minna Atherton, the record rattler, is at it again. The Australian teenager, a world record – the first in the League’s seven-week history – over 100m backstroke in the bag in Budapest last month, fell just 0.02sec shy of an encore here at the London Aquatics Centre this evening.

In 1:59.25, the 19-year-old coached in Brisbane by David Lush, set a Commonwealth and Australian 200m backstroke standard. That made out three times in the past two months that Atherton has missed a global mark by 0.02sec.

Atherton had held the Commonwealth 200m record since the Budapest match, when she missed Katinka Hosszu’s 1:59.23 standard from 2014 but took 0.01sec off the Australian regional and national mark held at 1:59.49 by Emily Seebohm since 2015.

Hosszu paid plaudits to Atherton, said it hurt a little to have lost the 100m record in her home city last month and, after finishing well back in the 200m race this evening, confessed to being uncertain whether her standard had failed on or.

“I looked up at the board and knew my time was around that but I wasn’t sure if Minna had broken it or not.”

The splits compared:

  • 28.17; 58.36 (30.19) 1:28.77 (30.41) 1:59.23 (30.46) Hosszu 2014
  • 27.62; 57.75 (30.13) 1:28.65 (30.90) 1:59.25 (30.60) Atherton 2019

The two records and a near miss:

After Atherton added victory over 50m, she rushed off to rest in readiness for the 100m and relays tomorrow, leaving Lush to pick up the lines of a career building beauty and strength on the cusp of Olympic year and Tokyo 2020.

2020 Vision

Reminded in the question put to him that he had been coaching Atherton since she was very young, Lush finds a snap of the pupil as a young primary schoolgirl, big smile, cap on a bit crooked.

The snap was taken on her first day in proper training with a professional coach around a decade ago. Lush, Australia and London Roar coach, was her first mentor and has guided her ever since.

He has also kept the written record of “every session she’s ever turned up to”. A gem of a resource now, a jewel in a crown one fine day, perhaps? Lush tells Swimming World:

“Its been a great journey. Look, its a new format this ISL and its not only been great to experience it myself but great to experience it with her.”

The Power In The Public Schools of Queensland

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Minna Atherton gets set to maul another world record – ISL

A first for the League and a first for her in terms of the multi-racing, the tight turnover, the travel and towering times? “Lushy” looks like a man about to say ‘nothing under the sun’.

“To me, the thing we underestimate is the power of team. And what this takes me to is the meaning of GPS (Greater Public Schools of Queensland; there are none of them) and QG (Queensland school girls competition) for her. When we’ve got 50% of the team coming from Queensland, the thing the majority have in common is that they probably went to a QG or GHP school.

“The majority of those 50% would have gone to a GPS, whether it was by scholarship or by choice. They were with an entity that supports education in the pursuit of excellence ‘extra-curriculally’.

“When you go back to quotes from Kieren Perkins or Brenton Rickard, they’ll say they’ve been to an Olympics and the Commonwealth Games but one of their favourite things was to compete at GPS and you ask them why and they say ‘because it was about something bigger than myself.”

Lush saw the same thing at play in the League. He explained:

“That’s the thing they’ve leveraged into here; that we are competing for London Roar. You’re competing for your mates, you’re competing for points score and you’ve shifted the focus to whether you are relevant being dependent on the gold medals you win. She’s only been gone from her school for 2 years or so. It’s not forgotten.”

The Plateau That Was Part Of The Plan

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Madison Wilson; Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia

The passage of rites in the pool can be a tough time for swimmers making the transition from world-class junior to senior waters. Atherton was a shooting star of World Junior Championships. In Singapore back sun 2015, she claimed three gold and three silver medals, the 100 and 200m backstroke among the titles. There were World junior records in the mix, too.

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Emily Seebohm was an inspiration for Minna Atherton – now the pupil has broke the teacher’s records – Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia

And then, she missed the cut for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. At trials, she placed third in the 100m behind Emily Seebohm and Madison Wilson, the gold and silver medallists at the 2015 World Championships. A fine height to aspire to. And then in 2017, she plateaued.

Or so it seemed. Said Lush: “From the outside it looked like she had drifted into the sunset a bit. But there was some strategy in that in that her parents had put significant capital investment into a quality education. Brisbane Girls Grammar School is probably then mum her one academic institution you could go to as a female.”

“I guess that’s an important thing for life so I had to take a back seat. We were doing 10 hours of contact a week through that entire year (2017) and as a consequence of that we had to have a rebuild in the first year of university, a time and place where you’re finding your place, finding your identity in a big place.”

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Minna Atherton – Photo Courtesy: Singapore Swimming Federation

That journey of finding herself led Atherton, who sponsors a child through World Vision, to read Biomedical Science at Bond University. That new chapter started in May last year. Lush says that the investment and choices of her parents shook hands with good fortune:

“We were lucky that, Number 1, she respected, understood and engaged in the process. Number two, we had great support from Gina Rinehart in terms of the scholarship at Bond. So again, you’re now with an entity that will support her whether she’s putting runs on the board or not. That took the pressure off. But it took us through that one year off to give her a good opportunity through [top high-school exams] to get into the degree she wanted. Then there’s another 12 months to rebuild. When you’re planting all those seeds through 2017-18 we’re now starting to see those all bloom, from World Championships and obviously with ISL.”

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A world record of 54.89 in the 100 backstroke brought a huge smile to Minna Atherton’s face

At World titles in Gwangju last July, Atherton celebrated a gold (4×100m mixed medley) and two silvers (100m backstroke, women’s 4x100m medley). “Its great timing as we lead into that final quarter before Olympic year,” says Lush, adding:

“We had 2020 vision because in 2016 she was just 16. Chronologically as well as physiologically, we have hit the right point. It’s been some journey.”

How would the man who has worked so long with Atherton described her? What’s she like? No hesitation:

“Super introverted. Was. Now, coming out of her shell. If you look at some interviews from just 12 months ago, she is just super confident in comparison. I see that as a byproduct of coming to these meets. Going to the World Cups, going to these meets. This is all about establishing the confidence that allows her to believe she deserves to be in this space. For her to know that she is respected among her peers, that she can carry herself. That’s really important because you’ve got to go out in lane 4 on your own.”

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Sammy

    Plenty of great Qld swimmers have never swum at GPS or gone to a Grammar school . Gold Coast schools have a really good inter school contest , that being one example. The State teams champs in Canberra in October is also a great team competition for ages 13-17 with a brilliant atmosphere .

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