Australia's Performance at the 2012 London Olympic

At the recent London Olympic Games, swimmers from Australia won mainly silver medals, with no gold for individual events. Australia's Performance at the 2012 London Olympic occurred against a backdrop of a large number of swimmers and large amount of funding when compared to other nations. The large number of State Institutes of Sport and resources available should have caused swimmers to perform well at London. However, that did not occur. Some of the reasons for their poor achievements relative to the previous 10 years is the same as what happen in the 80's and early 90's.

The last three decades of swimming planning and development in Australia has seen a 360 degree revolution. Australian swimming has gone through three stages of organization. From the early 1980s until the latter 1980s and over the last five years, swimming was and now is very centralized. Back in the early 80's swimmers lived and trained at central sites such as the AIS under assigned coaches. Achievers were relocated from the environment that nurtured their development and placed them in a high tech dedicated situation, surrounded by specialists. The control of the swimming program was looked after by the head coach and scientists. The impact and involvement of science was substantial. The type of scientists in the support services were; physiologists, biomechanicians, psychologists, doctors, and nutritionists. This whole set up seems good, but it's based on the premise the Coaches and Specialists at the Institute are better than the staff who produced the talented champions.

Over the last five years at the State Sport Institutes the centralized system of training has provided modern training, competitive circumstances. Centralization of training might initially be successful or catalyst for improvements, however that does not mean that it will be beneficial long term. In time, centralized control has to produce some decentralization to accommodate individual needs. This failure to decentralize to some extent will and has had suppressive effects on swimming development over the last five years resulting in Australia's Performance at the 2012 London Olympic.

While the Australian Coaches over the last five years have undergone the revolution back to the past of centralized training, you would expect that fewer and fewer club coaches would want to give their best effort to coaching swimmers, to only have them whisked off to be coached by the State Institute of Sport. This has been a common complaint of Coaches whose talented swimmers have been strongly encouraged to leave them and to go to the Institute. Over the last few years there has been an increasing resistance of Coaches to support the State Sport Institute programs for fear of their talented swimmers leaving.

The other issue is that sometimes it appears that leaders in swimming view "organization" as being more important than individual athletes. As a result swimmers are mainly used as a means of promoting the "Australian Swim Team". This can be seen with the comeback of Ian Thorpe. This can also be seen with some of the responses from officials that because the swimmers did not perform well enough, it must be the swimmers fault and not necessarily the organization, which should focus on valuing the individual swimmer and how to best train him or her using the latest science and technology.


Where From Here

1. Australia needs a NEW program that emphasizes decentralized; coaching, swimmer development, scientific services, with periodic centralized camps.
2. The role of the State Sporting Institutes needs to change to being a service provider as opposed to being the forced centre of swimming.
3. Compulsory attendance at centralized training sessions to become voluntary.
4. No swimmers should be encouraged to go from one coach to another. If the coach produces a champion swimmer, you should be able to work with them till l they become an Olympic champion.
5. State Sport Institutes should be sent out to help the best clubs to create conditions for training elite swimmers.

By Andrew Sortwell has a Masters in Exercise Science, Graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition and a Bachelor Human Movement Studies and Education. Currently  completing PhD in the area of rate of force development and motor skills. He specializes in biomechanics and strength and conditioning. He  has a research and applied interest in; swimming biomechanics, swimming  coaching, physical education, strength and conditioning of Australian National Swimming Champions and World Championship Karate contenders. As an author, many articles have published, along with Original Research into swimming and biomechanics. 
  • Member of; International Society of Exercise and Immunology, International Association of Sports Kinetics, Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, International Golden Key Honor Society.
  • College Educator of Physical Education, Health, Exercise Science Key Learning Areas
  • Over 20 Years experience in Swimming Coaching
  • ASCTA Level 2 Skills Coach and ASCTA Bronze Coach
  • Has assisted in the development of Youth Olympic swimmers and Australian National Swimming Champions