Why didn’t the Dolphins kick?

Tom Bridge Roar Pro

By Tom Bridge, Tom Bridge is a Roar Pro

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    Ever since glamour couple and reigning world champions Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm missed out on medals in their pet events, the Australian media and public has been debating just why our Australian swimming team, the Dolphins, have not lived up to expectations at the Rio Olympics.

    Debate has centred around whether it was the taper – how a swimmer’s preparation changes as big events near – or whether it was the general preparation of the team, the timing and schedule of events, nerves and emotions, perhaps even illness.

    In an Olympic year, our swimmers taper twice. The first one this year was in the weeks leading up to the Olympic trials in Adelaide back in April. The second taper began weeks ago, just before our swimmers gathered and began preparing to go into camp as a team.

    Debate has swirled over whether or not we got the timing, and number of tapers wrong. We did not. If our lack of success was about the taper and timing of the trials, then our relative successes back in 2008 and previously, would not have taken place.

    The general preparation of the team was thorough and professional. Australia’s head coach, Jacco Verhaeren, took our charges into camp in Auburn in the weeks leading up to the Olympics.

    At that swimming camp in Auburn, the team both acclimatised to what would be similar weather and climate conditions in Brazil, and swam their training sessions at the times they would be expected to compete at when the swimming at the Olympic Games began.

    It could be argued that perhaps another week of training in this environment might have made a difference, but that improvement would have likely been too small to notice.

    There was a little whisper that illness and injury may have played a part in preventing an athlete or two performing at their best later in the week. This includes Bronte Campbell’s shoulder niggle and an undisclosed lurgy which is said to have struck Mack Horton after his gold medal performance in the 400m freestyle.

    Illness however, is a very limited explanation, as other Dolphins performed above expectations, seemingly unaffected by poor health.

    One of the greatest reasons for our below par performance was nerves and individual preparation. Cate Campbell and Cameron McEvoy both candidly acknowledged as much in the last few days.

    It has been argued that the timing of the Olympic trials, months ago, allowed for the build-up of nerves and emotions. This is possible, but it also allowed for months of preparation and time to seek assistance in dealing with those nerves.

    We must also be prepared to acknowledge that other swimmers in the events we had high hopes in simply had better preparations, and dealt better with the pressure than our athletes did.

    An Australian exceptionalism which says we must always perform at the same level, chiefly because we are surrounded by water, may also have been something our Australian swimming team were up against.

    But not to worry, Swimming Australia will undoubtedly embark upon their own review of the swimming performances in Rio de Janeiro.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • August 16th 2016 @ 3:21am
      Celtic334 said | August 16th 2016 @ 3:21am | ! Report

      I don’t think it is just a concern for our swim team. If you look over most of our sports Olympic or not there is a growing trend of mental fragility. We as Australians are or should I say was known for our rough and tough mentality, the kind of people that you’d want in your trenches. We seem to be struggling in the big moments and lack the killer/ruthless/relentless attitudes that we used to be famous for. The Aussie battler is a thing of the past, replaced with the Aussie whinger or the righteous Aussie. Australian society is rightfully changing with the times but there should still be a place for hard knocks, tough love and some toughness. The worlds greatest athletes have largely been ruthless. It’s time we adopt some of this mentality. Plus it’s possible to be ruthless and gracious at the same time.

      • Roar Pro

        August 16th 2016 @ 8:49am
        Tom Bridge said | August 16th 2016 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        Hi Celtic. the growing incidence of mental illness and anxiety and a feeling like it cannot be talked about among our elite athletes (and society more broadly) is an issue. I know that as a Para-athlete in the late 90s-2000 I suffered through depression. We have to continue to be able to welcome people talking about what is going on in their minds. We are all in this together.

    • August 16th 2016 @ 6:20am
      Brendon said | August 16th 2016 @ 6:20am | ! Report

      “Debate has swirled over whether or not we got the timing, and number of tapers wrong. We did not. If our lack of success was about the taper and timing of the trials, then our relative successes back in 2008 and previously, would not have taken place. ”

      Relative success? 0 golds for men. Sullivan setting individual world records in100m free in the 4×100 free relay and semis of 100m free and then swimming slower in the final? Liesel Jones forgetting to breathe when Rebecca Soni took it to her in the 200m breastroke? Libby Trickett failing in both the 50m and 100m free?

      The main advantage of doing what the Americans do in having trials closer is that times are slower and therefore expectations not as high. If pressure is such a problem for Australia swimmers then having trials closer to the Olympics might be a better way of reducing the pressure.

      • Roar Pro

        August 16th 2016 @ 9:04am
        Tom Bridge said | August 16th 2016 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        Hi Brendon: My point was that overall 2008 was a bigger success, with double the gold medals (6) in the pool compared with Rio. But I do take your point that the result could have been even better, given the examples you pointed to. .

        The culture was also an added issue back then and appears to have improved, with no reported loutish behaviour despite the ubiquity of social media and the rise of the citizen journalist.

        Having the trials closer could also work to increase pressure too – in that some athletes might see their slower times and panic. Having the ability to hone a personal race plan for longer in that event would be beneficial.

    • August 16th 2016 @ 6:44am
      smell the fear said | August 16th 2016 @ 6:44am | ! Report

      ask Beardan, his masterpiece yesterday says it is all because of Horton’s comments

    • August 16th 2016 @ 10:47pm
      Cleveland said | August 16th 2016 @ 10:47pm | ! Report

      I think it is the old Suisse curse. Every time an Australian sports person does a Suisse vitamins advert they flop soon afterwards

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