Australia is eyeing the US college system as it tries to find ways of fighting back to the world No2 spot at Olympic and world-championship level. Six universities Down Under have approached Swimming Australia to talk about joint venture projects, Wayne Smith reports in The Australian today.
The federation's new president, Barclay Nettlefold, tells Smith that he hopes the discussions and plans that ensue will grow into a US-style inter-varsity system in which teams race each other regularly. In the US, there is pride and often funding at stake.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Nettlefold, also reveals a desire (at a time when the money is yet to be found) to place Australia's top coaches on contract, a move that is likely to come with pressure for those on the deck to focus on Australians and not overseas swimmers, while SA chief executive Kevin Neil has been deemed in need of assistance when it comes to swimming knowledge: a director of swimming may be appointed to stand by his side to back up commercial knowledge with knowledge of the product - swimming and swimmers and coaches and that sort of thing.
And all of this before the review of London 2012 has reported. Nettlefold is wasting no time. he wants his nation's elite swimmers to have better chances of training for glory in the pool while getting a good university education at the same time, a combination that would support an NCAA-style race regime.
"Six universities have come to us on the back of the London Olympics with proposals for us to make use of their facilities and sports science expertise," Nettlefold tells Smith. "It's real and it's very exciting for us. If we can set up 100 swimmers through university scholarships, getting the best sports science support while also getting an education, we'll keep them in the sport at an age when we have a lot of dropouts."
To date, Australian swimming has been built on state academies and a network of clubs, many with links to universities, others attached to private schools. One aspect of that is the private hire of Australian coaches by China and other nations for sums of money well beyond the standard fees offered to coaches Down Under.
China leap-frogged Australia at London 2012, thanks to the success of swimmers coached part-time in Australia by the likes of former mentor to Grant Hackett, Denis Cotterell.
Nettlefold admitted to Smith that Australian swimming lacked the money to pay its coaches big bucks under contract. He added: "But it's a very important issue and it's on the table."
Meanwhile, Smith also reports that the head coach to the Dolphins, Leigh Nugent, had not realised that a tradition had been sunk on the eve of the London 2012 Games until it was too late. Australia has long swum in gold caps. When the squad got to Europe for the Games, the Speedo caps were all white, with a thin swirl of green and gold. "I didn't realise that was going to happen. When I saw the white caps, I thought the gold ones were somewhere else and we actually went looking for them,"" Nugent tells Smith. The gold cap will soon make a comeback, he notes.