Swimming Australia Life Membership Awarded to Legendary Coach Bill Sweetenham


Swimming Australia Life Membership Awarded to Legendary Coach Bill Sweetenham

Bill Sweetenham AM – a visionary man revered, celebrated and unbroken in the high-powered world of coaching and performance sport has been awarded Swimming Australia Life Membership.

A fitting reward for a man who has moulded the careers and the lives of so many successful young Australians and international swimmers around the world – in a life of survival, sacrifice and swimming excellence.


LIFE DEDICATION: Bil;l Sweetenham has dedicated his life to swimming. Photo Courtesy: (Bill Sweetenham Collection)

Born in 1950 in the small Queensland country mining town of Mt Isa, Bill swam competitively for a short period before turning to coaching at an early age.

He progressed from country to city, to elite level coaching and was the first Queensland State Director of Coaching.

Sweetenham would help steer the careers of the likes of Stephen Holland, Michelle Ford and Tracey Wickham to name just three superstars of the pool and went on to serve as Head Swimming Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and Head Coach of Australia’s Olympic and Commonwealth Games teams.

As well as Head Swimming Coach at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and Hong Kong’s Head Olympic Swim Coach, National Youth Coach for Australian Swimming (1995-2000) and National Performance Director of British Swimming from November 2000 to October 2007.

One the biggest moments in his career came at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 when he set the strategic trap that won Ford Olympic gold in the 800m freestyle, beating the power of the drug-induced Eastern Bloc girls.

Ford had started training with Bill Sweetenham in the Sydney pre-Games camp and the pair actually clicked and it was the first time Ford had swum under Sweetenham.

MOS Michelle Ford in pool

MAGICAL MOSCOW: A gold medal to savour for Michelle Ford, thanks to Bill Sweetenham. Photo Courtesy: Hanson Media Group (Russ McPhedran)

“We just clicked …I think he understood me and I understood him….and the combination just worked….” said Ford, who remains strong friends with Sweetenham some 40 years on.

“The plan in the 800 itself was to go out easy, but not as easy as I did and at the 150m mark, we had decided to start moving, because they wouldn’t have expected that. So I started moving and at the 200, I was second. By the 250m mark, I’d gone through them. It was massive,” recalled Ford.

“I just wanted to put the throttle down. I had to tell myself ‘no Michelle, hold back, hold back’ and I was on top of the world, thanks to Bill.”

Bill was made a Member of the Order of Australia  in January 1989 and was also awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1980 to study swim coaching in the USA and in 2018 was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

In an extraordinary career Bill Sweetenham is a five-times Olympic Head Coach; eight-times Commonwealth Games Swim Coach; nine-times World Championships Coach; has placed 63 swimmers on major National Open Teams (long course); coached 27 long course medallists at major international meets (Olympic Games and World Championships); coached nine world record holders (long and short course) and has been Head National Olympic Coach for three different countries


FULL DECK: Bill Sweetnenham on deck at the AIS in the 1980s. with his Photo Courtesy: (Bill Sweetenham Collection)

A long and storied career coaching in Australian swimming that has transcended the world swimming stage like no other.

Bill has also managed to overcome extreme adversity, following a near-death automobile accident in Germany in 1983, due to a faulty door and seat mechanism in the vehicle in which Bill was travelling, he was flung out of the car on a German Autobahn and hit a sign post.

This accident resulted in major surgery and a 17-week stay in hospital. Bill had to walk on crutches for two years afterwards.

A man who is internationally recognised for his visionary strategic planning capabilities, in particular the priorities that he places on relay performances and the success he has achieved in converting this to the area of team performance.

Swimming Australia President, duel Olympic champion, Kieren Perkins, said Sweetenham’s Life Membership is a just reward for his contribution.


COACH AND HIS SQUAD: Bill Sweetenham and his swimmerds (L-R) Tim Ford, Michael Bohl, Susie Baumer (Ford) and Robin Lamsam Photo Courtesy: (Bill Sweetenham Collection)

“Bill’s success in the pool and influence in the coaching ranks of international swimming is undeniable and he is a deserving recipient of Life Membership.

“His desire to improve the way we coach our swimmers has been critical to our sports long term success, as has his coaching performance at the highest level of our sport.”

Swimming Australia Dolphins Head Coach, Rohan Taylor, credits Sweetenham with building his career.

“Bill has had an immense influence on my career,” said Taylor.

“I first met Bill when I was a swimmer in 1985 and we have built a relationship from there. He has seen my transition from athlete to coach and I have learned so much from him over the years.

“He has shaped my philosophy and leadership style and continues to mentor me in my role now. I value his feedback and all he has to offer. He has done so much for me and I can’t thank him enough.”

Today Bill continues to lecture, publish and conduct clinics on a variety of subjects worldwide, and has produced a series of educational and instructional videos on skills and technique. He is a published author of “Championship Swim Training”.


MENTOR AND HIS MEN: Bill Sweetenham with Australia’s 2009 coaching and management team who all swam under one if Australian swimming’s greats. Photo Courtesy: (Bill Sweetenham Collection).

With the final tribute from Australia’s gold medal Olympic coach Michael Bohl.

“Bill, your international experience is extensive and I believe it has created your vision for success that characterises you,” says Bohl.

“Your contribution to swimming in Australia has been greatly appreciated over the years. Personally, I have benefited from your influence and by association my swimmers over the years have also been the beneficiaries of this wisdom and your input into our programme.

“Bill, you are always seeking a better way of doing things and this is why I think you continue to develop into a leader in the sport of swimming….and this life membership is certainly well deserved..congratulations coach.”

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Dr Bruce Lawrie

    A great coach, who has made a significant difference to the lives of many!

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