Don Talbot, the head coach who led the Dolphins out of the doldrums to victory over the USA at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka a year after a fabulous showing at a home Olympic Games in Sydney, has called on his nation's swimmers and coaches to rediscover "unity" in pursuit of regaining the world No2 spot lost to China at London 2012.
The veteran guru tells Michael Cowley at The Sydney Morning Herald today that if reports of team misbehaviour and a breakdown in squad unity are correct then it should come as no surprise to find Australia slipping down the swimming ranks. He added that the head coach sometimes needed to be "a bastard".
Talbot was careful not to criticise current head coach Leigh Nugent or any specific individuals, saying: "It's no good me punching holes in people. It doesn't do any good," he said of taking aim at the team. "I think there will be a lot of people who are feeling the sting, and a lot of the athletes, too, and the coaching staff and everybody else, but I'm hoping that serves as a lesson for them because there are a lot of good meets in swimming these days, and they can get up again and redeem themselves fairly quickly."
But as an independent review gets underway amid talk of misbehaviour, bullying and disharmony on the team, Talbot tells Cowley: "If it's true, it's not good ... but if those things did happen it's no wonder they didn't swim to their best. If they don't go as a team then it's very hard to perform well. I could never understand why somebody who works so hard to get into a swim team, or any team, goes away and screws up behaviour-wise. They are clearly not focusing on what they should be. If you want to win, you've got to act like a winner."
He adds that all is not lost: "Look, it's salvageable. There is no question the talent is there. Some of them are quite young kids and some seem to lose their sense of what they are going away for. I was a bastard, and I had to be. I played hardball because not only were the swimmers being measured but so were the coaches. You're not doing your job as a coach if you don't do that, I believe anyway."
Not all blame should be levelled at coaches, he noted: "You can blame the coaches, if you like, but some of the athletes in there are pretty experienced people."
Aussie TV is about to broadcast an Insight programme with the likes of Libby Trickett and Mel Schlanger giving their version of events in London.