SWIMNEWS ONLINE: June 1996 Magazine Articles

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Cecil M. Colwin

A conversation with Cecil Colwin

Colwin: I think you will have a tough team in Atlanta after the high pressure Trials in Homebush last week.

Talbot: It was certainly a tense Trials. I think the team does look pretty good. I'm not altogether convinced at this point that times are significant because each of those swimmers who have qualified now has done much better. I feel we can get back to those times. There were a lot of subtleties in this whole meet-people questioning the qualifying times, the first time the meet was run over seven days-that sort of stuff doesn't lend itself to high performance. But the swimmers who made it have been toughened by the whole experience, and as a result they will be able to better handle Atlanta, and they will also get behind each other. It's a good team. There are a few rookies in there. But those rookies are pretty tough kids...

Colwin: You have about six rookies.

Talbot: And they're all pretty good. I feel O.K. about it. Our women's team is a bit weaker than I wanted it to be. That was a bit of a disappointment to me. I can't quite put a finger on why our women didn't swim well because normally they outswim our men.

Colwin: Are you refering particularly to the lack of a distance base?

Talbot: No, I'm looking across the board at the women. They are not nearly as good as they ought to have been, not in any one event. You know we had Sam (Samantha Riley) down a bit, and that probably could have been a catalyst there that rubbed off on the other swimmers, and Susie O'Neill got sick just before the Trials. She still swam a 2:08+ in the 200 fly, which is not bad.

I think her 100 was a little disappointing; a 60+ is nothing to get too excited about. She can go better than that. When you get the key people in your team not firing quite as they ought to do, and then the media presentation making such a big thing of it, that's a bit of a wet blanket over everything. But I still feel pretty good about it. I look at those girls; some of them are pretty darned good, and I feel that they will come through. I'm not feeling too bad. I mean you always wish for better than you get. But, at this stage, I don't feel too bad.

Colwin: It seems to me that there were a lot of stresses acting on those kids, and I don't think that you can pinpoint any one factor because it was probably an accumulation of factors.

Talbot: That's what I was trying to say. It's more of a global thing. The couple of factors that I have mentioned are there, but who knows anyway. If you look back, we've had about six or seven great meets. Going back to the World Championships; Rome was a good meet for us, and the Pan Pacs was an excellent meet. We toppled the Americans in the men's 4 x 200 freestyle, something we haven't done in 45 years.

Colwin: And that's a hard relay to make. A swimmer has to shave down to make that team.

Talbot: We stacked up well against them in the Pan Pacs. And then, on top of that, we went to Rio and won the world short course championships, and these are pretty heady sorts of wins for us.

The depth in every event was better than we've ever had.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

The Americans are better on paper than we were here, but I think our team can swim much better. Somewhere along the line you've got to have a bad swim. It hit us here in spades, in some of our performances. But again, if you take the philosophical view: O.K., get that out of the way, and let's go. If we can convince the coaches and the swimmers that that's what you've got to do-and I think we have done that already-then I would say that we should perform well in Atlanta. At least, I hope we do. You can never guarantee it, you just do the best you can do.

Colwin: Going into a meet of that calibre, it's always an advantage to be somewhat of an underdog, and not as heralded as perhaps you were before. I think that if you are going to have a bad meet, it's better to have it now, not at the Olympics.

Talbot: Yes, I think that this is particulartly important about the psyche of Australian athletes. It's not the Australian way...you know they're cocky people. For people who don't know what 'cocky' means; they're 'up' and they get wrapped up in themselves and they get a little big-headed about it all.

Colwin: That was the feeling at the start of the meet. Quite a few swimmers were thinking that they had arrived already.

Talbot: I try to warn our swimmers about that. I've seen this happen in other sports too, and then they get a big kick in the backside. I think they got the kick in the backside, and they realize now "Hey, gosh we had better be very careful' and, to me, that's why I'm not so perturbed about the results at the Trials. We had enough good swims in there with kids like Scott Miller, Scott Goodman, Susie O'Neill, and a couple of others. Nothing wrong with those at all. So we had that glimmer that, O.K., if we just keep our feet on the ground, we will be O.K. So going in as underdogs, as you say, for Australian swimmers is not a bad position. I've seen it many times. If we go in ranked number one, and looking like we can beat the world, we usually get belted, and I'm hoping the reverse happens.

Colwin: I noticed that the swimmers, waiting to be called to the blocks, were exceptionally tense. Some of them looked as if doomsday had come. You could see that they had a lot at stake.

Talbot: Yes. I think that's right. Everybody in Australia wants to make the Olympics. There's no question which is the most important event that we go to. In our society an Olympic champion is really hero-worshipped. And so the swimmers knew that the standards were tough but they also knew that they had to race hard because the depth in most of our events was much better than it has been for a long time. Funnily enough, some of our individual performances were not that great but the depth in every event was far, far better than we've ever had. While the rest of the world probably might not notice that, for us, that was significant. And so, when they get up there now, it could have been any one of three or four swimmers in the final who could have kept them out of the team.

Colwin: I made up a little phrase for that. I call it the "PAT Triad." First there's Pressure on them to perform. This, in turn, results in Anxiety, and then later, this causes Tension, which shows up in some swimmers as disorganised stroking, false starting, etc.

Talbot: I think that's a good observation because I could see it too from where I was sitting with the other selectors, which was quite a fair way from the start. You could see the tension there, and even on the blocks. We had many more false starts than we've ever had before. And we had one disqualification of one of our boys who had a pretty good 200 freestyle that would have made the team. As a result of being disqualified, he didn't make it.

Colwin: I think you have some young male 100 freestyle swimmers who are going to come through one day.

Talbot: I think that our work on sprinting is coming along nicely, but you know it takes a long while to build a sprinter, and, of course, there's the maturity factor involved. I like the look of our youngsters, and I think they're coming through, and, with a bit of luck too, we may just have more than one.

Colwin: Scott Logan, for example, who came fourth in the 100. He's just like a great, big puppy but, when he hardens up, I think he could be a great sprinter. He has a good temperament.

Talbot: Yes, he's with a coach too who has a mature head (Bernie Wakefield). And he showed up well as a very young boy, and he has continued to improve, is excited now at being on the team. He's got all the characteristics I like in a swimmer.

Colwin: Talking about mature coaches, I think that not many people, if any, gave him credit for it but John Carew helped Kieren Perkins to handle a week-long pressure situation at the Trials very well, and so did Scott Volkers with Samantha Riley, for that matter. I think they really showed coaching ability in the way that they didn't get uptight in the midst of it all.

Talbot: Yes, they didn't wear it on their sleeves. I think that John Carew is not given enough credit for what he's done, his ability to coach. I mean people recognize him as being good, but he's not demonstrative. You compare him with Laurie Lawrence, who is a showman, and people like that, and that's good.

John Carew is a great coach, and I believe he has brought a new concept, a new dimension, to 1500 metres swimming. I think it would be wise for people to listen carefully to what he is talking about, because he is not a man who expresses himself that well, and you've got to listen carefully to what he says, and to ask him more searching questions to properly get at the root of what he's getting at. But John Carew is certainly a talented coach, and he is an older head, and he did handle himself very well and I've got to hand it to him. He was philosophical about the whole thing. He knows that you can have a bad swim, and he was a steadying influence on Kieren.

Scott Volkers, with the difficulties that he has had, got his team involved, not only Samantha Riley, but Susie O'Neil , Angela Kennedy, Ellie Overton. All have had a tough time of it, with Riley being suspended and then being excused, and then two years for Scott Volkers was reduced to one year. What a shambles. You can understand the pressures that have been on that group, and for those kids to swim as well as they did, they never stopped trying. Ellie Overton went on trying to the last event, and got herself selected for the team.

Colwin: You've mentioned the accumulation of stresses that the swimmers experienced. I think some of the swimmers who went to altitude training for the first time, must have been wondering if it would help them. That could have been a question mark for them until the very time they entered the water again at sea level. A lot of that also may have had an effect. All in all though, it looks really good for your team when you consider all the unusual factors. Those kids could probably swim in a meet, say ten days from now, and wipe those times out, once the stresses are removed.

Talbot: Well, I hope you're right. I feel O.K. about it. I mean I'm not euphoric, but I've been around long enough to know too that one bad swim doesn't mean that's the end of the world. In fact, as I said just a little while ago, I feel this was a little dose of the medicine we needed. But now we've got to get down to the business of getting ready.

Colwin: Changing the subject, what do you think of the world picture at the moment? Talbot: There's a general depression in world times, and I don't know why. Colwin: You can't pinpoint the reason?

Talbot: Not really, except that I do think that, with the advent of random drug testing which is being done in a more meaningful way, but not comprehensive yet, it may have slowed down the people who do get into that sort of thing. There is a general pall.

There is determination to clean up this whole drug mess.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

Colwin: Do you think that there were some people who got off "the juice," and now they're not performing?

Talbot: Well, maybe someone may want to jump on me for agreeing with that statement. I think that's true. But I'm just going to say that there is a pall. It seems to be something heavy hanging over swimming in the world at the present time. The only thing that I can see is that there is a determination by us and other people to try to clean up this whole drug mess if we can, and get it to be more controlled, if you like. I think that probably, for the first time, we're getting ahead of the game a little bit, although I don't for one minute think that people still haven't learned how to get around the drug testing.

Colwin: Do you think that the newly developed spectroscope is going to help?

Talbot: It may solve the problem, but technology is made to be beaten, and probably somebody will find a way around it. Certainly, I applaud the fact that now people are beginning to try to do something about drugs in sport. Before, I believe that the leaders of our sport weren't doing that, and I'm hoping that the efforts of the coaches generally around the world, "the good guys" I call them, will succeed.

Colwin: I think that the IOC and FINA don't seem to have the political will to do the job properly. Either that, or they don't have the ability or the understanding of the repercussions to our sport.

Talbot: I'm a little more critical than that, and I think that there has been a distinct reluctance on their part to do anything about it. You've only got to take note of the Chinese situation, where people in very high places still come out and support the Chinese as being 'clean' and not doing anything wrong, and they're going to compete. Well, I think that is pretty much a blind approach, and it bothers me that people leading our sport feel that. You know, I don't even really know the full reasons. It could be financial. It could be just political. It could be just any one of a number of things, but whatever the reason, it doesn't help our sport.

Colwin: One would think that the IOC, with all the funds at its disposal, would make more of it available for researching better testing methods. If they don't do it, who else is going to do it?

Talbot: I think that's exactly it. All they want to do is tell us that it's costly. The Olympic family begets all sorts of luxuries loaded on them. They travel around the world, and they are hosted in countries, and when the Olympics are on, the Olympic family is probably twice as big as the athletes' family. I've been around the sport a long time, and I know that television money's big, and I know that neither the athletes nor the coaches, nor the countries themselves, see a lot of that money.

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