The SportingJournal

No surprises in Aussie swim team findings

James Magnussen, Disappointment for the Australian Swim Team. Credit: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

James Magnussen at the centre of the Bluestone report. Credit: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

It’s a lonely sport, swimming. Probably the loneliest one there is. You spend majority of your time with your head under water, oblivious to the outside world.

It seems that’s what swimming officials do with their time, too. Except instead of sticking their heads under the water, they buried themselves in proverbial sand.

The findings of the Bluestone Review and the Australian Sports Commission’s Independent Swimming Review won’t surprise anyone. It was plain to see there was a spark something missing from the squad throughout the 2012 Games.

There’s a wide spread culture problem within the sport that should have been stamped out long before the London Games.

It’s not something that happened overnight.

“Standards, discipline and accountabilities for the swim team at the London Olympics were too loose,” the Bluestone Review read.

“Situations were left to bleed with not enough follow through for fear of disrupting preparation for competition.”

The swimmers have been put through the ringer over their performance, but it was the coaches and officials who let it get out of control.

The reports will hopefully serve as a sharp wakeup call to all involved. But what can they actually tell us about what went wrong within the swim team inner sanctum in July 2012?

The findings are numerous and unfortunately vague: prescription drug abuse, egotism, selfishness, bullying, lofty expectations. Choose your poison.

“Culturally toxic” is the expression of choice, and while toxic is a brutal word to be throwing around, it’s apt.

Toxic suggests a level of contagion, and the attitude of a few no doubt rubbed off on many.

Normally, swimmers thrive under the chance to be part of a team. So what happened in London?

There’s no doubt the squad suffered from a lack of strong leadership.

There was no Hackett, Klim, O’Neill, Rooney or Thorpe to lead by example. No strong figurehead to set the standard, to suture the usually solo swimmers together.

Australia’s biggest name and greatest hope heading into London was James Magnussen, and he folded faster than an origami champion.

Morale was at an all time low, so naturally, poor performance followed.

Lofty expectations are nothing new to Australian athletes – it comes along with the territory, especially for swimmers, who carry the burden of being our brightest gold medal hopes on their sizeable shoulders.

Pressure from the public, and even internal pressure, is something athletes are used to dealing with. If they aren’t the type that thrives under it, they’re equipped with the mental tools to shut it out. But when there’s so much going on behind the scenes that doesn’t relate to the pool – as outlined in the reports – that’s when the strain of competition gets too heavy.

The Bluestone Reviews reads: “the team dynamic became like a schoolyard clamour for attention and influence” while the ASC notes that “mistrust, poor behaviour, disappointing results and increased financial dependence on government funding” played the biggest roles.

Funding is a huge component, and something that needs to be rectified by the time Rio rolls around.

Too many swimmers are struggling to make a living from their sport, and are desperate for endorsements. With the sport only in the spotlight every four years, they feel as though they’re swimming to be noticed by sponsors as much as they’re swimming to win, which adds an unnecessary layer of stress.

Much will be written about the investigations in the coming weeks, but put simply, there’s two paths this could take – either nothing comes of the Bluestone report (bar a mountain of wasted time and paper), or it will spark major change within the governing bodies and the swimming community in general.

There’s just over three years until the 2016 Games.

Speaking on Channel Nine on Monday night, Libby Trickett said London was the “Olympics we needed to have”.

Let’s hope it’s the only one of its kind we ever have.

Read the Bluestone Review into Swimming Australia

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