I've never seen a pair of lycra goggles and sunglasses win a World Championship!
When I have a bit of time over the festive season, I like to cozy up warm in the couch as the snow tumbles down to read and re-read some of my favourite sports literature. To go over my own training manual and to prepare for the next year like it was my first. So this may seem like a coaches blog - but I assure you it is not. It is also the most pertinent message athletes can have as they go forward into 2019.
Three things that came together at this time had me reminiscing that in real sport the individual competition was an obsessive hobby. There is a fantastic article that we will reprint soon, reflecting on this. However in the now, I watch The Champ Nicola Spirig who is six months pregnant, plowing up and down the pool; as I receive notes along the lines of 'Coach it's Christmas' or now 'It's New Years eve, and the family...' I know most of my readers can fill in the rest...
The first part is a pat on the back, for Miles Stewart CEO of Triathlon Australia who has introduced the recruitment of real coaches, not just coaches with pieces of paper, but ones with performance (results) on their resume. Ben Gathercole as a high performance manager, then Jamie Turner, the recruitment of Dr Darren Smith to coach the coaches, and the newly announced return of Craig Walton back into the fold. Miles and I are not friends, his dad and I were coaching rivals, but mutual respect was always felt and made known. So with one person to go, Cam Watt who I believe is the best rookie coach in the world, Miles will have set up the best coaching network in the world, to get results.
I was also asked a couple of questions that sparked my thoughts and answers?
Will Australia become a world power again with this team?
My answer was clear, in its blandness. It depends...
You might ask 'it depends? On what? You just said the coach recruitment is good!'. It is, but can they fight against the cancer that has eaten a hole right through Australian sport?
They are both intrinsically linked. Sports administration and the taking over by sports science, has been the main goal of every Olympic sport discipline. If they can't put that back where it should be - as support - the recruitment has been a waste. Australian sport lost its culture of hard work long ago by naively thinking sports science is going to make us great again. The opposite has happened - not just in triathlon but all sports. The Aussies are now a third world country in sports that have over 100 nations competing. The Aussie psyche has now been engulfed by the games we play. The cricket team is humiliated by 'that massive sports nation' of Bangladesh, or by Pakistan who also produce a line of squash players that give us trouble. The Indians play a mean game of hockey also as we chase to become World Champions. Of course beating the English who don't have a summer (don't argue I now live in Europe) is somehow now our greatest achievement! Rugby League is played in how many countries? Rugby Union similar. With New Zealand the dominant opposition and then Aussie Rules, the game we beat ourselves to.
Argh yes, while all look for excuses for our Triathlon team, declining swim team, and our totally joke of an athletics team, let it not be lost what used to be the chant of 'Gold Gold Gold' at the Olympics is now saved for the Commonwealth Games. That's what we now aim at and as such why these sports targets. It's like the Neville Nobody World Championships.
And we are terrific at that!
We have administration and sports science to thank for that. In my youth Australia always punched above our weight. Why? We had a breed of tough resolute hard arse athletes. Today we have pampered softies. Please don't think I'm knocking the youth. Not at all, they are trained to be that way. As a nation we have been wildly successful at this.
Which brings me to the next question. Who in Australia has the best chance for a medal in 2020?
For the men I answered 'No one'. For females I answered Loretta Harrop would be your very best hope. So it's too late for this group, however, with 18 months she would be out with the first swimmer, no matter her age and then hammer the bike. But at her age? Yes, she would not let herself do anything but, as she is the last of the generation that doesn't get frightened in a fight. She would be competitive, the rest are not. They hope. She made it happen. Loretta is a big time racer.
The third part comes with thought of this. As I sit here on the pool deck, Nicola swimming in the lane (or rather a penguin looking character at the moment), as I fielded answers about how hard my swim set was for New Years. I set 5000m, ooh the squeals of he is such a tough coach! I'd say Loretta still does that every day in her retirement, not even thinking about racing.
But here I was listening to the penguin bitch about how out of shape she is. How she hates not being able to train properly. How her bike is curtailed here as it's snowing and minus 15C, but it was still 1 hour 30 mins on the turbo. And her run - 'I can't run flat at present as it is too much discomfort', but she runs hill reps, and bitches she can only do 24...
So I sit here looking at the new year thinking what do I write to the wannabe athletes?
When I watch a 37 year old married full time worker, mother of two, who is 6 months pregnant, who already has an Olympic gold and silver to her name. Who is grinding up and down the pool, and in the 10 second rest breaks, is spitting out how slow she is, how fat she is, how restricted her training is - then I thought I'll do this blog. As it was the total example of why she gets what those Aussie want - but won't. Her workout would not be on any sports science board, or agreed on by any sports science or administration overlords. So I'll do what I do with my athletes. I didn't answer with words. I just sent a photo, and 'this is what the mum is doing, so make your own mind up. I know Loretta Harrop would have said to her old coach, you are going soft, I'll do that as a New Year's Day present from you'.
And there in lies the tell, the secret to the success of these not champions, but great champions. Science didn't make them superior. Breeding didn't make them superior. The will to be better than everybody, and their ability to do what ever it takes, with no physical stress too much for them, is what made them superior. They didn't endure it, they loved it, every minute of it. They were both lucky, that with me, I kept the science in the cupboard and kept administrators who have no concept of this type of commitment out of their way, and just let them get on with it.
To be great is not easy. Only the few have what it takes, and it's not physical. The great Percy Cerutty used to bark in his lectures. I'm with Percy.
Best wishes with your dreams in 2019. Just the way I see it.