The results, behaviour, representation and professionalism of the Australian Swim Team have been outstanding this week in Glasgow, but wind the clock back two years to the London Olympic Games, and it was a totally different story.
The team that was our national pride took a serious tumble. Some of our most elite and inspiring Australians came across as fragmented, individualistic, and unprepared for what they were about to embark on. I’m not pointing the finger at every member of the team, however, the environment wasn’t conducive to allowing our stars to thrive or be at their very best.
The alarm bells were ringing before the 2012 Games had even started. Over my 12 year international career we’d always held a team camp 3 weeks out from a major competition. The purpose of this was to acclimatise, focus on the final aspects of your preparation without distraction, and most importantly build camaraderie within the group and then elevate this group to a team. That’s right! There is a big difference between a “group” and what I would call a “team”.
When it comes to swimming we all train in different geographies, including overseas for 90% of the time, and these camps were the only opportunity to foster and build relationships before going to war with, and for each other. Instead, the head coach gave the coaching staff and swimmers the option to prepare in multiple locations such as the US, Italy or Manchester. Once these camps concluded they only got together as a team 5 days out from the start of the Games upon entering the Olympic village.
On pool deck it was obvious that it wasn’t a cohesive team in London, there was barely a team chant – something we’d previously done every night on pool deck to stamp our authority and presence.
During the final sessions, there were barely any team members sitting in the crowd to cheer on their teammates. Don Talbot created specific rules around this such as, even if you were competing the next morning, you still had to be in the stands for the first two finals. There were consequences if these minimal behavioral standards weren’t met.
The most important element of any genuine team culture is that there are no double standards. Rumours were rife that some athletes were being favoured over others and the same rules didn’t always apply. Throughout the era I competed, it didn’t matter if you were Ian Thorpe, Michael Klim or Susie O’Neill – if the bus was leaving at 6am and you were there at 6.01am – you’d better have brought your walking shoes!
These fundamental characteristics are critical to any successful team. We must not view the London Olympics in isolation. In my view, it was a slow deterioration over four years – it doesn’t just happen overnight.
The same rules apply for the rebuilding process, it takes time and patience but we have to see change! And that’s exactly what has happened. A new head coach, new CEO, new president, new high performance director, a cultural audit with many recommendations that have been implemented, and the list goes on.
Glasgow has started to become the by-product of this. You can see through not only the athlete’s performances, but hear in their voices, the renewed enthusiasm for their team and their will to do the Australian public, and themselves proud once again. Join Sportsbet.com.au Here.
Make sure you keep an eye out for more of my thoughts in my Sportsbet.com.au blogs throughout the remainder of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.