Aussie swimmers caught off-guard by pressure
Veteran Olympian Eamon Sullivan said Australia’s swimmers were “under-prepared” for the pressure they experienced at the London Olympics, contributing to the nation’s worst medal haul in 20 years.
Australia won only one gold medal in the pool, in the women’s 4x100m freestyle medley. It was the first time since 1976 that Australia failed to win a swimming gold in an individual event.
Sullivan, who is a former world champion, an Olympic silver medalist and for whom London was his third games, said many of Australia’s swimmers were taken aback by the intensity of the experience in London.
Returning to Australia on Thursday, he said “as much as you think you’re ready for it, the difference between World Championships and the Olympics is a hundred times more pressure.”
“We under-prepared for the expectations of the pressure and the experience of the Olympics and, unfortunately, it’s a bad time to learn lessons,” Sullivan said.
The United States topped the medal table in swimming with 30 medals, including 16 golds, while Australia finished sixth, falling well below the standard in set at the 2008 Beijing Games at which it won six golds among 20 swimming medals.
Announcing his body’s investigation into the performance dip, Swimming Australia president David Urquhart said “it is clear the world has lifted the bar when it comes to swimming and so must we.”
The investigation will be carried out by leading coach Bill Sweetenham and two-time Olympics swimming gold medalist Susie O’Neill.
O’Neill, who was a commentator for Australian television at London, was critical of the Australian swimmers, saying they lacked the work ethic of their more successful predecessors.
But Cate Campbell, who was a member of the gold medal-winning women’s relay team in London, said Australia’s expectations for medal success at the games may have been too high.
“We’ve been obsessed with gold and other medals have lost their value,” Campbell said.
“The world has taken a gigantic leap in swimming. We’re seeing world records from the supersuits being broken which lots of us thought wouldn’t happen in our liftimes and it’s happened in a few short years.”
Sullivan said other countries had lifted their performance and had “caught us napping.” China, which sent several of its swimmers to train in Australia, finished second on the swimming medals table with five golds and 10 medals overall.
Sullivan said criticism from back home had affected some of the younger Australian team members.
“The younger guys do read the media and take it to heart,” he said. “It can really affect their emotional state and makes it hard to get back up when it feels like everyone’s against you.”