Aussie swim icon slams ‘wanker’ national coach
Legendary Aussie coach Laurie Lawrence has labelled Swimming Australia's departing head coach Jacco Verhaeren "a wanker" for implementing a ruthless selection policy for next year's Olympic Games that threatens to rob the Dolphins of the chance to win more gold medals in Tokyo.
Under the strict rules approved by Verhaeren and the coaching leadership group, Australian swimmers who finish first or second at the national trials and achieve the official Olympic qualifying standard still face the heartbreak of being left off the team for Tokyo.
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That's because Swimming Australia has added a tough extra clause, that no other country - including the United States - demands from the competitors.
The policy states that Australian swimmers also have to post times that would have got them into the final at last year's world championships, but does not take into account how much they might improve between the trials and the Olympics.
"Jacco's a wanker, and you can quote me on that," Lawrence said.
"This policy is absolutely ridiculous, it makes me want to spew. It should be first and second and away you go.
"It's cutthroat enough to finish first or second at the trials but plenty of swimmers are pure racers that will improve when they get to the Olympics."
Lawrence is living proof of how Australian swimmers can rise to the occasion after he masterminded two of the greatest upsets in Olympic history with Jon Sieben and Duncan Armstrong.
Sieben was ranked 25th in the world when he won the gold medal in the 200 metres butterfly at the 1984 Los Angeles while Armstrong was ranked 46th when he won the 200 metre freestyle gold at Seoul in 1988.
"If we have the same policy then, neither Sieben or Armstrong would have even gone to the Olympics so neither would have won gold medals for Australia," Lawrence said.
"The Olympics is about racing, it's not about what time they swim because times change depending on the situation.
"You want racers so the trials should be about finding out who are the best two racers, then let them race again at the Olympics."
The same policy was used to pick the team for last world's championships in South Korea, based on the top eight times from two years earlier, and resulted in Australia being absent from several events, including both women's medley races.
The absurdity of the policy almost ruined one of the most historic moments in swimming history when Mack Horton protested against Sun Yang after the 400m freestyle medal ceremony.
Despite meeting the qualifying standard and being the reigning Olympic champion, Horton did not qualify for the 400m under Australia's elevated criteria and was only allowed to swim the event after he made a relay team and was given permission to fill the vacancy.
The policy looks even more unforgiving in light of the COVID-19 lockdown, but Swimming Australia insists it is standing by its harsh selection rules.
"Our philosophy is to win when it matters to inspire a nation. That's our vision and whether we like it or not, it is about medals," Swimming Australia high performance boss Alex Baumann said.
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"That's what high performance is all about, you've got to perform when it matters and you have to perform to make the team.
"Obviously that puts pressure on athletes during the trials but when you get to the Olympics, it's a pressure cooker and you have to be able to deal with a lot of distractions and perform under those conditions."
Baumann said he discussed the possibility of changing the policy with Verhaeren and incoming head coach Rohan Taylor but they all agreed it would remain in place for next year's trials, which will take place in Adelaide from June 12-17, unless there was another coronavirus outbreak.
"We're going to have to be adaptable if, for example, they are forced out of the water again because we have a second wave," he said.
"We're going to consider all these things and we have to be fairly flexible but right now we're fairly comfortable that these are the right appropriate times."
DEADLINE MISSED: RUSSIA FACES ATHLETICS EXPULSION
Russia could be expelled from World Athletics after missing the deadline to pay more than pounds 5 million in fines.
The Russian Federation (Rusaf) had claimed this week that the financial impact of COVID-19 meant that it could not afford to pay fines imposed after it admitted to assisting an athlete in trying to avoid a doping sanction.
A statement from World Athletics confirmed yesterday (Thursday) that Rusaf had missed the July 1 deadline for the dollars 5 million (about pounds 4 million) fine and a further dollars 1.31 million (about pounds 1.05 million) in costs for its reinstatement.
World Athletics has responded to that by suspending the program for enabling some Russian athletes, subject to the Doping Review Board, to compete as authorised neutral athletes. But senior sources have told The Times that the World Athletics Council may now revisit its decision this month and could recommend to its congress that the Russians be expelled.
Congress usually coincides with the World Athletics Championships, which were due to take place in Eugene next summer but have now been postponed until the summer of 2022. An emergency congress is likely next year, although it could fall after the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games.
An apparent refusal by Russia to comply with the demands of World Athletics lessens the likelihood of its suspension being lifted and the participation of its neutral athletes in Japan. The Russians are already threatening to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but the World Athletics president, Lord Coe, made it clear yesterday (Thursday) that he has an appetite for a fight.
A statement from the organisation said: "World Athletics can confirm that it has not received the payments due from the Russian Athletics Federation on July 1, nor any information on when the monies may be paid, despite reminders and correspondence with the federation.
"As a result, World Athletics will stand down both the Doping Review Board and the Russian Taskforce until World Athletics' Council has reviewed and discussed the situation at their meeting on July 29-30, as set out in the decision made by the council on 12 March."
Coe said: "We recognise these are difficult times, but we are very disappointed by the lack of progress made by Rusaf in terms of the requirements set in March.
"The serious allegations of breaching the anti-doping rules resulted in a new Rusaf administration and we had assurances that change was on its way.
"However, the experience of the Russian Taskforce, chaired by Rune Andersen, is that this has fallen well short of expectations. Rusaf is letting its athletes down badly. We have done as much as we can to expedite our process and support Rusaf with its reinstatement plan, but seemingly to no avail."
-The Times, London
Originally published as Aussie swim icon slams 'wanker' national coach