World swimming championships are just as important as the Olympic Games

Chris Lewis Roar Guru

By Chris Lewis, Chris Lewis is a Roar Guru

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    John Bertrand, the President of Swimming Australia, suggested on the ABC radio show The Ticket that any critical assessment of Australia’s performance at the 2017 World Swimming Championships should be downplayed on the basis that the 2020 Olympic Games is the ultimate aim. I disagree.

    In my opinion, too much is made of the importance of the Olympic Games in an era where increasing importance is given to world championships for a number of reasons.

    With the introduction of prizemoney at the 2007 World Swimming Championships, Australian swimmers have a reason to maintain good form for all global championships.

    After all, Australian swimmers receive a maximum $35,000 of public assistance in one year, less through means testing if they receive commercial sponsorship or live at home.

    While prize money was first limited to medalists in 2007 – at $US24,000 per event – and then extended to the top six by 2013 – at $US39,000 per event – World Swimming Championships, since 2015, now offer $US60,000 prize money per event.

    As of 2017, prize money for the top eight placings from first to eighth was, in US dollars, $20,000, $15,000, $10,000, $5,000, $4,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.

    Further, with Australian taxpayers contributing just under $40 million to fund the Australian swimming program for the four years prior to 2016, the World Swimming Championships are a crucial indicator of swimming’s status as Australia’s most successful sport. Swimming has contributed 192 of our 497 total Summer Olympic Games medals and 64 of the 147 golds.

    So how did Australian swimmers perform at the 2017 World Championships, and how did the performance compare to more recent global championship results?

    According to former swimming star Libby Trickett, the championships were “really hard” to watch given our “expectation that we’ll always be successful because we have been in the past”.

    With Australia finishing eighth on the medal table, based on colour of medals, Trickett called on Swimming Australia to look at new ways to keep our swimmers competitive against improving rivals. This may include how to retain coaches as well as give the athletes more race experience.

    With Australia’s World Championship medal tally of ten the lowest since 1991, the following table confirms the 2017 performance was the worst of recent performances in terms of medals won since 2011.

    While the 2017 medal performance was identical to the 2012 Olympic Games, the 2012 performance was achieved with just 32 events compared to 42 in 2017. The latter event included four mixed gender relays and an extra two events each for individual freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke events.

    2017 2016 2015 2013 2012 2011
    Total events 42 32 42 40 32 40
    Australia 10 (1) 10 (3) 16 (7) 13 (3) 10 (1) 13 (2)
    USA 38 (18) 33 (16) 23 (8) 29 (13) 31 (16) 29 (16)
    China 10 (3) 6 (1) 13 (5) 9 (5) 10 (5) 14 (5)
    Great Britain 7 (4) 6 (1) 9 (5) 1 3 5 (2)
    Russia 10 (3) 4 4 (1) 8 (2) 4 4 (1)
    Japan 7 7 (2) 4 (3) 6 (1) 11 6
    Sweden 4 (3) 3 (1) 6 (3) 2 (1) 0 2 (1)
    Italy 6 (3) 4 5 (1) 2 1 5 (2)
    Brazil 5 (1) 1 4 5 (2) 2 3 (3)
    South Africa 2 (1) 3 4 (1) 5 (3) 3 (2) 3
    France 2 (1) 3 6 (4) 9 (4) 7 (4) 10
    Spain 3 (1) 2 (1) 1 4 2 0
    Germany 1 0 3 (1) 1 1 5
    Canada 4 (1) 6 4 3 3 4
    Hungary 8 (2) 7 9 (3) 5 (3) 3 (2) 4 (1)
    Netherlands 4 2 4 4 (1) 4 (2) 6 (2)
    Denmark 1 2 (1) 4 4 (1) 0 3 (2)
    New Zealand 0 0 2 0 0 0

    Gold medals are listed in brackets.

    But, given the above table shows other mighty sporting nations, like China and France, also have fluctuating global swimming performances in terms of medals won, further information is needed to evaluate Australia’s performance.

    The following table breaks down Australia’s recent global swimming championship performance by examining individual performances for each stroke and the number of Australians making finals.

    Male 2017 2016 2015 2013 2012 2011
    Freestyle medals 2 2 (2) 2 1 (1) 1 1 (1)
    Freestyle finals 5 6 4 7 4 1
    Butterfly Medals 0 0 0 0 0 2
    Butterfly Finals 1 0 0 0 0 3
    Backstroke Medals 0 1 3 (2) 0 0 0
    Backstroke Finals 1 1 4 1 2 0
    Breaststroke Medals 0 0 0 2 (1) 1 0
    Breaststroke Finals 1 0 1 2 3 1
    Medley Medals 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Medley Finals 0 2 0 2 1 1
    Total individual medals male 2 3 (2) 5 (2) 3 (2) 2 3 (1)
    Total individual finals male 8 9 9 12 10 6
    Female 2017 2016 2015 2013 2012 2011
    Freestyle Medals 1 1 4 (2) 2 (1) 1 1
    Freestyle Finals 5 9 8 5 3 6
    Butterfly Medals 1 1 0 1 1 1
    Butterfly Finals 1 0 2 1 1 5
    Backstroke Medals 2 0 3 (2) 2 1 1
    Backstroke finals 5 3 5 3 3 5
    Breaststroke Medals 0 0 0 0 0 1
    Breaststroke Finals 1 1 0 1 2 2
    Medleys Medals 0 0 0 1 1 2
    Medleys Finals 0 1 0 1 3 3
    Total individual medals female 4 2 7 (4) 6 (1) 4 6
    Total individual finals female 12 14 15 11 12 21
    Total individual events 34 26 34 34 26 34
    Total individual medals 6 (1) 5 (2) 12 (6) 9 (3) 6 9 (1)
    Total individual finals 20 23 24 21 22 27
    Total freestyle medals 3 3 (2) 6 (2) 3 (2) 2 2 (1)
    Total freestyle finals 10 15 12 12 7 7
    Total relay medals 4 5 (1) 4 (1) 4 4 (1) 4 (1)

    While medal numbers vary greatly, there is no similar correlation with regard to the number of Australians making the finals.

    Although Australian swimmers won just two gold medals in 2011, including one relay, that year was the most successful in terms of the number – 27 – of Australians making individual event finals.

    Of course, even making a final one year does not guarantee future success. While our individual performances in the freestyle events certainly improved after 2011 and 2012, including more medals, five female butterfly finalists in 2011 did not lead to medals in later global championships.

    What does the table indicate? Well, it is indeed hard for any swimmer to make a global championship final, never mind win a medal.

    Is there a magical solution for Australia to remain a major swimming power? I doubt it.

    While swimming will long remain an important part of Australia’s sporting culture, even greater public assistance to assist swimmers and keep the best coaches may not be enough to prevent many more countries producing a greater number of talented swimmers.

    This is even more likely if prize money continues to rise for global swimming.

    Does it matter? Maybe for some, but not for me. I just enjoy watching the best swimmers in the world compete, although I will always prefer Australians to win.

    Whether Australia maintains its swimming prowess over time remains to be seen, but world swimming championships are indeed very important.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • August 4th 2017 @ 7:14am
      Republican said | August 4th 2017 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      Swimming is free falling but not exclusively in this nation, why this is, I am not exactly sure but I do believe it has alot to do with life style, so our couch potato epidemic and especially an over emphasis on the commercial aspects of sport to the detriment of our GR.
      Bertrand is unlikely to impact on this in respect of Swimming which has devolved less integral to our cultural sporting DNA and less accessible. Perhaps Swimming should be made mandatory in schools which I believe they have implemented in NZ?
      I agree, the Worlds are a pre cursor of what is ahead, so the Olympics for starters and it isnt looking all that positive.
      Related to this is our Youth Teams performance at the recent C/W games. Compare their efforts with NZ and you surely glean some perspective on just how dire our decline in this sport is, since their team scored 7 gold medals while ours didn’t even collect a solitary first placing.
      England, South Africa, NZ and Singapore all finished ahead of Australia in the pool while NZ continue to better us across numerous sports, a nation of around 5mill and one that we continue to shower altruistic benevolence on in this respect.
      They DO NOT require our support in any way or form and its time we ceased treating them like a pseudo state of our Federation, if indeed nationalism through competition remains relevant today, which I assume it does as a tax payer who helps fund institutions i.e the AIS to this end.

    • August 4th 2017 @ 8:38am
      matt jones said | August 4th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Viewing public says NO

    • Roar Pro

      August 4th 2017 @ 1:10pm
      KTinHK said | August 4th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

      You say there is no magical solution, yet GB have managed to find one. Have a look at their performances recently. What did they do differently to us? For one, they currently have the best sport scientists in the world, having pumped government money into this area leading up to the London Olympics. As a result many British sports are outperforming (see for example rugby, cycling). Australian swimming is currently managed and coached by unprogressive, uneducated ockers with little knowledge of the latest changes occurring in sports physiology, training, and nutrition. Bertrand himself has no background in swimming. The world has left us behind. You also say it doesn’t matter. Sorry… can’t agree with that. Of course it matters. Australia pumped $40 million into swimming over 4 years and the results don’t matter?

      • August 5th 2017 @ 4:29am
        Brendon said | August 5th 2017 @ 4:29am | ! Report

        Yes, best sports “scientists” in the world. Just like the East Germans and Soviets. Bradley Wiggins and the British cycling team and their use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUE). Funny how they needed TUEs more coming into Olympic years. Funny how the British team would win more golds in cycling at the Olympics than the world champions which have more cycling events (like swimming has more events at its world champions than the Olympics). All a coincidence. The jolly good British are above cheating and only those terrible Yanks and Chinese/Eastern Europeans and East Germans would ever cheat at the Olympics …

        But I don’t think there is much desire in Australia to do down the doping path.

      • August 5th 2017 @ 12:02pm
        republican said | August 5th 2017 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        GB appropriated our AIS resources and respective sporting braintrust to this end.
        Of course we seem perfectly willing to sell our intellectual and all manner of sporting property to the highest bidder, which as a tax payer, I resent……….

    • August 4th 2017 @ 5:57pm
      Chris Lewis said | August 4th 2017 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

      Fair points. I agree that good coaching and resources to train are factors. that is why a certain Chinese world and Olympic champ trains with Australian coach.
      Also, GB has good coaches, but they had a disastrous 2012 OG swimming campaign.

    • August 4th 2017 @ 6:02pm
      Chris Lewis said | August 4th 2017 @ 6:02pm | ! Report

      My main point is that we are less likely to excel as/if more countries are attracted to swimming.

      we used to dominate tennis too, but now success is a rarity.

      only logical that sport is harder to win as more players enter fray

    • August 4th 2017 @ 9:21pm
      Brian said | August 4th 2017 @ 9:21pm | ! Report

      I heard that interview and couldn’t believe his arrogance and stupidity in trying to belittle the world championships.It went way beyond trying to put a positive spin on the poor results, and clearly showed that he is not fit to hold his position.

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