Was it mentality, rather than physicality, that failed our swimmers?

sheek Roar Guru

By sheek, sheek is a Roar Guru


22 Have your say

    Are our Aussie swimmers, the Dolphins, mentally soft?

    Of course, this observation needs to be put in context. They are certainly much tougher mentally than this couch potato. And they are certainly much tougher mentally than most of the other couch potatoes out there.

    But compared to some of their fellow athletes, they appear to be mentally soft.

    Kim Brennan was favourite to win the women’s single sculls, but she didn’t collapse under the weight of expectation. She handled the pressure and delivered.

    When asked why he had swum ten seconds outside his best time in finishing fifth in the 1500m freestyle final, Mack Horton complained about an exceptionally tough 200m freestyle relay schedule.

    Giaan Rooney gently told TV viewers, as only she can, that Horton had actually a much tougher program at the national titles, and he wasn’t complaining back then.

    Michael Phelps has carried the massive weight of expectation at four successive Olympics and 28 finals – that’s an average of seven finals per Olympics.

    He’s had no trouble dealing with favouritism and expectation, managing his preparation and, delivering. All 28 times for 23 gold, three silver and two bronze.

    What about the new wonder middle-distance swimmer Katie Ledecky? She won the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events as well as anchoring both the 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m freestyle relays.

    Four gold and one silver. She had no trouble dealing with favouritism and expectations.

    I, and I’m sure most other fans, don’t mind if a swimmer comes 20th, if that’s the best they can do. But when you’re world champion or world record holder, then there’s an expectation that you should only lose when someone else swims out of their skin to beat you.

    Too many of our favourites quit too easily. Quit is probably not the right word, but whatever the reasons, they gave up their crowns with barely a whimper.

    Cate and Bronte Campbell, Emily Seebohm, Mitch Larkin, Cameron McEvoy and Mack Horton all arrived with huge reputations.

    All going well, it was expected they would pull six to eight gold medals between them, plus maybe help win a couple of relays. Only Horton delivered individually in the 400m freestyle and the Campbell sisters as part of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay.

    They are all outstanding people, no doubt about it, but each failed for a variety of reasons. Maybe it was overconfidence, or complacency, or deep self-doubt, or a combination of various reasons.

    Cate Campbell made this comment, “I think the world got to witness possibly the greatest choke in Olympic history a couple of nights ago.”

    I’m sure there have been worse chokes. At least she was in the final, and she was fastest qualifier. So until then she had done everything right.

    But Cate has nowhere to hide for her fumble. She was at her third Olympics, she was 24 years old, she was at the absolute peak of her game. This was her moment, her time.

    She had seen what had happened with James Magnussen four years and Eamon Sullivan eight years ago, and Cameron McEvoy just the previous night.

    She had also seen how a young gun with nothing to lose could swim over the top of all the favourites as did her countryman Kyle Chalmers the night before.

    And it was repeated in the women’s final with rookies Simone Manuel and Penny Oleksiak tying for first.

    Cate should have left no stone unturned in her preparation, ensuring that she was ready for any and every eventually that might occur.

    So what did she do? She swam the biggest dog of a race you could ever imagine.

    Cate wants to have another go in 2020. Forget it!

    This was her time, and she bombed it. In another four years Penny Oleksiak will probably be the next unbeatable 100m-freestyle favourite. It will be hers to lose in 2020.

    Of the four things you never get back, time elapsed and opportunity missed are two of them. For Cate Campbell, her time and her opportunity are both gone.

    The Campbell sisters, Seebohm, Larkin and Horton all come across as outstanding human beings. Perhaps it’s not entirely their fault. Perhaps the system is also failing them.

    Swimming Australia boss John Bertrand has promised a full review. It obviously must happen. This is two successive Olympics when key athletes have gone “missing” in action.

    Giaan Rooney interestedly made mention that the idea of holding national trials four to six weeks out from the Olympics, like the Americans, was tried once before without success.

    It’s crazy to try something just once and shelve it because it didn’t quite work the first time. The Americans have been holding their national trials four to six weeks out from the Olympics since God knows when.

    Their results speak for themselves. There’s nothing more brain dead than refusing to borrow ideas from the best.

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • August 15th 2016 @ 5:58am
      Mike from tari said | August 15th 2016 @ 5:58am | ! Report

      World title holders to Olympic finalists, mental or physical, who knows, maybe Laurie Lawrence needed to be geeing them up or someone like Dawn Fraser.

    • August 15th 2016 @ 7:30am
      jamesb said | August 15th 2016 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      The theory I have is that traditionally the Australian swim team has to do the heavy lifting with winning medals and gold medals. There’s the popular view that once swimming is over, there’s not much else from other sports in regards to medals and gold medals. And I think the swimmers realise this, hence the burden of pressure of expectation.

      I do think Australia should hold the trials around the same time as the Americans. At least then, the swimmers don’t have to be nervous for four or five months leading into the Olympics. A four to six week build up sounds more manageable. Plus, our swimmers would most likely still hold their form from the trials, instead of losing their form in the four to five month period.

      But anyway, we are in the second week. As Australian fans, what do we look forward to? Not much. We do put the eggs in the one basket with swimming.

      • August 15th 2016 @ 9:16am
        punter said | August 15th 2016 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        Singapore put all their eggs on Joseph Schooling to win their first & only medal (GOLD) & he delivered. So why did so many Aussies fail? It certainly can’t be pressure
        Mack Horton, Chalmers, Emma McKeon (once she go got head right), Groves & a few others swam PBs, so not sure why this timing of trials is an issue.

        My opinion is the Americans are racers, they race each others all the time, they have the depth. Other countries has regional champions like European & Asian. We have commonwealth games, yet the media & people in this country complain about the Commonwealth games. The Commonwealth game is much needed competition for us.
        We have this small sport mentality, unless we are best in the world we are no good, because we have the best AFL, RL, RU & Cricket players in the world.

    • August 15th 2016 @ 11:03am
      charles said | August 15th 2016 @ 11:03am | ! Report

      I think it’s due to the distraction Mack horton and media created, and the complacency of the young first-timers in Olympics. Trials definitely should be scheduled closer to the olympic game.

      It’s all right to speak out about the dopers. But Sun Yang seems not to be the right person to attack. All the aussie media deliberately failed to mentioned his heart condition and treatment, the chemical was added to the ban list a few months before his testing positive and later downgraded from ‘stimulant’ and removed from the ban list.

      Mack horton at least had the decency to admit it was a ‘strategy move’. It does not make him a anti-doping hero, he chose his competitor as a target and benefit it from with this distraction.

    • Roar Guru

      August 15th 2016 @ 11:14am
      sheek said | August 15th 2016 @ 11:14am | ! Report

      I do have some sympathy for Sun Yang. He doesn’t enjoy the same freedoms as Australians do. We don’t know the pressure he is under as to how to behave, what to say, or even what goes into his body. He toes the party line, or else.

      • Roar Guru

        August 15th 2016 @ 11:20am
        delbeato said | August 15th 2016 @ 11:20am | ! Report

        There’s some evidence that they are fed performance-enhancing drugs by a system that teaches them it’s all part of the sport. You can imagine he may be a bit confused about being confronted by Mack Horton on the issue. Partly as confrontation itself is a social faux pas in Asian culture. Something that was obviously not missed by Mack.

        • August 15th 2016 @ 12:03pm
          charles said | August 15th 2016 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

          care to share the link of those ‘evidence’?

          • Roar Guru

            August 15th 2016 @ 12:17pm
            delbeato said | August 15th 2016 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

            Are you serious?

            I did a quick Google search but the results are 100s of pages long. Where do I start?

            It’s a long standing tactic of totalitarian regimes to dope their athletes for political purposes. China has done it for decades. It’s possible they’ve stopped without telling anyone, but you’d have to be very trusting to assume that.

            • August 15th 2016 @ 12:23pm
              charles said | August 15th 2016 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

              any prestigious news outlet with credible source, in that google 100-page result? Not a big fan of non-democracy countries, but the presumptive marriage of doping and these countries is a bit ignorant. You do know there’s a systematical doping associated with a lot of US legend in track&field got exposed just like any other country sitting on the top Olympic medal count, right?

              • Roar Guru

                August 15th 2016 @ 12:52pm
                delbeato said | August 15th 2016 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

                Yes, I’m aware of doping in US track and field. It’s not just the Chinese. Doping is endemic in elite sports. But what’s different about the Chinese and Russians is their regime’s tendencies to use sports for propaganda purposes. They put a lot of effort into their elite sporting programs and unlike countries such as Australia, it’s not about supporting talent and trying to bring the best out of our athletes. It’s about demonstrating their national prowess and for them – the ends justify the means. They aren’t sports fans.

                There is zero evidence of state-sponsored doping in Australia. There is most certainly doping, but not of the kind we have seen in totalitarian states.

              • August 15th 2016 @ 2:27pm
                charles said | August 15th 2016 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

                A lot of Russian athletes got banned in Rio because IOC has strong evidence of systematical doping. It’s publically reported and documented. But I’ve never read from any credible news agency revealing Chinese, or even North Korean (most totalitarian country of all) systematical doping and thus banned by IOC or other international sports associations. Your strong opinion of totalitarian countries using sports for propaganda purposes, is what I disagree with.

                If a Chinese swimmer or North Korean athletes won two gold medals, there will be innuendos immediately cast upon them, but nobody question the great Michael Phelps’s 23 gold medals (on the very contrary, the world idolizes him, which he deserves). But this is exactly the prejudice I want to point out throughout the discussion.

    • August 15th 2016 @ 11:30am
      craig swanson said | August 15th 2016 @ 11:30am | ! Report

      Horton has intimated that perhaps the reaction over his drug cheat comments of China’s Sun Yang had a detrimental affect on his 1500 swim. He could be right. But I believe the reason our best swimming stars “choked” was the enormous weight of expectation. Our swimmers are expected to bring home the majority of our gold medals, big pressure.. Further pressure is when you enter the Olympics as the #1 ranked swimmer, We had 8 such swimmers in that situation. So with all that plus inane reporting and beating up by our media, winning becomes too hard. Not all athletes are blessed with the same mental capacity.

      • August 15th 2016 @ 12:10pm
        charles said | August 15th 2016 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

        Every top swimmer in every country is facing the same pressure and sensationalism in its own country media. That’s not an excuse for particularly aussie swimmers or Mack Horton

      • Roar Guru

        August 15th 2016 @ 12:22pm
        sheek said | August 15th 2016 @ 12:22pm | ! Report


        I simply don’t accept this. Swimming has been Australia’s strong suite since almost the beginning.

        Prior to WW1 we had outstanding swimmers such as Cecil Healy, Harold Hardwicke, Frank Beaurepaire, Leslie Boardman, Fanny Durack & Mina Wylie. At the turn of the previous century was Freddie Lane.

        This expectation didn’t creep up on our swimmers in the past 10 year or so. It’s existed for over 100 years of the modern Olympics’ existence.

        The swimmers all know the deal when they get selected for the Olympics. The swimmers are always the ‘top gun’ team within the overall Olympic team.

    • August 15th 2016 @ 12:36pm
      Harvey Wilson said | August 15th 2016 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

      With Giann Rooney telling them every five seconds how wonderful they are, they were bound to slip up. It was a sickening coverage with Rooney on board. Less said about the winners and more about how the aussies finished. Should’ve, would’ve…didn’t. Get over it and move on.