Remembering Dr. Bob Treffene – A man At The Heartbeat Of Swimming For Five Decades

Dr Bob Treffene Photo Courtesy Swimming Australia
AT THE HEARTBEAT OF SWIMMING: Dr Bob Treffene, pictured here at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, was at the cutting edge of sports science in swimming. Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia Twitter.

Remembering Dr. Bob Treffene – A man At The Heartbeat Of  Swimming  For Five Decades

Dr. Bob Treffene, a pioneer in the often complex world of sports science, was “a one of a kind” who helped transform the world of swimming.

Swimming in Australia, Great Britain and around the world is saddened this past week with the passing of Dr Bob in Brisbane – aged 85.

A man who was at the very heartbeat of swimming, literally, for over five decades – the right hand man for so many elite coaches and world record holders.

Plotting and planning their programs alongside their coaches, as they plied their trade to give Australia’s swimmers the competitive edge through eras tarnished by illegal systematic doping that threatened to destroy the sport.

Bob tracked the careers of world record holders like Tracey Wickham, Jon Sieben and Duncan Armstrong, standing alongside Kieren Perkins and his coach the late John Carew and breaststroke whiz kids Rebecca Brown and Samantha Riley – giving them the edge.

“Heart rate Bob” as he became affectionately known around pool deck developed the famous heart-rate monitor that became his signature in the ever-changing world of sports science.

Coaches and sports scientists alike from around the world all wanted a heart rate monitor.

Bob and his trusty monitor were at the cutting edge of significant improvements as Australian swimmers moved to tackle the world’s best at World Championships and Olympic Games.

Dr Bob had developed a technique for measuring heart rates within two beats after a swimmer touched the wall – “establishing an internationally accepted protocol for training and competition control and developing and commercialising his swimming heart rate monitor.”

His right hand man when Don Talbot returned to spearhead Australian Swimming in the late 1980s, helping develop measures for training and recovery during a renaissance period of the sport as it moved towards Sydney 2000.

It was in effect a game changer in the world of swimming – and any coach who was anyone on pool deck added the heart rate monitor to his stop watch in a coaches kit bag.

He first worked with the super-talented Tracey Wickham as the 14 and 15 year-old world beater set the international swimming world alight through 1977 and 1982 – re-writing the record books in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle – records that last a decade.

There was Bob Treffene right by her side as her coaches Bill Sweetenham and Laurie Lawrence took her from strength to strength – and when Lawrence developed Olympic champions and world record holders Sieben and Armstrong – Dr Bob was at the end of the fast lane, monitoring their progress.

So thought of by Talbot, the man responsible for leading Australia back to the top of world swimming in the 1990s and 2000s, he appointed Treffene to the Olympic teams of 1996 in Atlanta as Perkins and Susie O’Neill claimed rare Olympic gold and for the Sydney 2000 Games as Doug Frost with Ian Thorpe and Denis Cotterell with Grant Hackett led the Dolphins to a memorable home Games in the pool.

Treffene and his trusty heart rate monitor was a constant reminder in the swim down pool that it wasn’t quite time to get out as the recovery between events –  crucial laps that would prove critical to the team’s success.

A respected Academic, Treffene graduated in 1957 B.Sc.(Physics, Mathematics) at the University of Queensland and in 1975 M.Sc. (Medical Electronics) and 1982 Ph.D. (Biophysics) from the University of London.

A man who like Professor Frank Cotton and Forbes Carlile before him made a significant contribution to the improvement in training programs, measures and swim down recovery.

Swimming Australia paid tribute to Treffene saying: “We extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Dr Bob Treffene following his sad passing. His ground-breaking work in sport science, particularly heart rate monitoring, has made an invaluable contribution to the sport. A pioneer in every sense.”

From 1976 to 2000 Bob was actively involved with co-operative applied research efforts with Australian Sports Medicine, Australian Institute of Sport, Australian Swimming Inc, Australian coaches and British Swimming since 2000.

A man who will be sadly missed and long remembered by so many for making a difference in the world of swimming.

Ian Hanson was also a member of the Australian Swimming Teams alongside side Dr. Bob Treffene through the 1990s and 2000s – and in particular in 1996 in Atlanta and Sydney 2000.

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