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Who Got Their Claws Into Coutts?

Feb 18, 2012  - Craig Lord

Can you identify the wild cat in this scenario? Alicia Coutts (AUS), the triple Commonwealth champion of 2010 today reveals that she was elbowed in the head and spat at by a European opponent on the way to her blocks for the 100m freestyle at world titles in Shanghai.

Tactics and psyching out have long been a part of the game but what Coutts describes to the Courier Mail Down Under tips over into unacceptable aggression and an affront to fair play.

Coutts, the paper reports in the wake of reporting by group swimming correspondent Todd Balym, was in the marshalling room for the 100m freestyle final in Shanghai when a European finalist that she won't name deliberately elbowed her in the head multiple times. Then, as the swimmers walked up a flight of stairs to the pool deck, the ugly face of swimming turned and spat on the ground at Coutt's feet.

Described as "quiet and unassuming", Coutts found the incident highly offensive and challenging but it also confirmed to the Queenslander that she must have stepped up to a new level in her sport: someone feared her.

"I'd never had anyone try to psych me out before. It must be a sprint freestyle thing,'' Coutts tells the CM. "I was sitting in the marshalling room next to a particular swimmer and she elbowed me in the head . . . then she continuously kept elbowing me. She just spat in front of me while I was walking … it was disgusting. People just playing mind games. It can't be a fair race, I would never do that to someone. She obviously thought I was a threat, she felt she needed to put me off."

The Europeans in the race?

Joint champions Jeanette Ottesen (DEN); Aliaksandra Herasimenia (BLR), bronze medallist Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED), 4th placed Francesca Halsall (GBR), and 5th placed Femke Heemskerk (NED), with Coutts and Americans Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin completing the final. All innocent until proven otherwise, of course. Coutts is not naming names but we can rule Heemskerk out on her own word: "Well .. it wasn't me ;)". Having interviewed the majority of the eight in that final or met them at least for a few short comments in a mixed zone at some stage during the past decade, they didn't seem at all like the type to me.

The issue raises the following question: what were the marshals doing when all this was going on? There is provision in the rule book to remove a competitor before a race if the sport is to be brought into disrepute in any way. Time for the feral in the final to think again in a sport where the one of the most oft-heard phrases is "I can't control what the others do, it's all about focussing on being the best you can be". Elbowing a rival in the head several times before a race is a world away from the fair play expected among elite swimmers before the gun goes off.

Coutts, sponsorless and working part time for the RSPCA to help fund her Olympic campaign, is now more focussed on the next big challenge: London 2012 selection trials Down Under in the 100m free, 'fly and 200m medley, the latter two the swims she feels more likely to end in a podium place if she gets it all right on the day.

As for the thumping, spitting European, she should know that Coutts has overcome much worse: her father died from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma when she was seven, while 2007 was a wipe out as she struggled with intussusception of the bowel.

Asked what she had sacrificed to get to where she is, she replied: "A lot."

Read the rest of the article at the CM.