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Aussie Women: Relay Men Needed A Slap

Sep 19, 2012  - Craig Lord

Libby Trickett and Melanie Schlanger have aired their resentment over the lack of action taken against the Australian men's 4x100m freestyle relay said to have disrupted the Olympic squad before arriving at the Olympics in London clear favourites for gold and emerging with tails between legs in fourth.

Head coach Leigh Nugent came under fire from the women swimmers for his lack of leadership, which allowed the relay men to escape punishment and thus tipped team morale in the wrong direction, they told an SBS Insight programme Down Under last night.

It is believed that Swimming Australia still has no plans to take any action against the men responsible for the pre-Games training camp disruptions, a fact which angers other swimmers as Trickett and Schlanger told the TV program.

Asked if she felt the big sprinters should have been punished, Trickett said: "Absolutely I think as soon as it happened it should have been dealt with and obviously the people involved should have had some sort of repercussions for the behaviour, because we can't accept that. (Nugent) Probably being a little bit firmer, I think he needs to take charge and lead. I think he can do it better."

Trickett said the relay men, dubbed the Weapons of Mass Destruction, were behaving like they'd already won the gold medal in the build-up to the Games. With James "The Missile" Magnussen and James "The Rocket" Roberts at the helm, the quartet had a lead on paper over the US of well over a second. Come the hour, American Nathan Adrian swamped Magnussen leading off and, the best man down, Australia then suffered the humiliation of being thumped into fourth as France took revenge on the US for defeat in 2008, the US took silver, Russia bronze.

"I think to some extent they had already assumed that they had won the gold medal, which is a very dangerous thing to expect particularly going into an Olympic Games," Trickett said.

"Two of those boys [Magnussen and Roberts] had not performed at an Olympics, they did not know what it entailed, they didn't know how encompassing and crazy that it can be and unfortunately I believe the pressure got to them and they weren't able to express themselves."

Schlanger, among the success stories of Australia's campaign with gold in the 4x100m and a near miss in fourth in the solo 100m free behind a doping comeback swimmer and a much-improved Chinese sprinter believed the whole team is in trouble on rules right now. 

"I think we're treading that line a little too thin at the moment," Schlanger told the program. "There is a feeling that there isn't a firm set of rules on the team and that could be done better and we all have things to improve and that certainly is one for the team. The biggest issue was when that issue was raised with the staff and the coaches, it was not addressed straight away. I think that is probably the biggest issue out of that."

The program also considered funding: only five of 47 Olympic swimmers earned more than AUS $30,000 in corporate support, while only 11 earned more than Australia's minimum wage. Although funding is a worthy debating point, it is not the reason why nations swim well: many on the US team do no better than Australians and fare worse than many on the British team that under performed - and yet they won the meet by a wide margin with one of the strongest performances by a national team at any Olympic Games in history, 16 golds topping 31 medals.

Swimming Australia has yet to communicate with any of its Olympic team swimmers about the matters raised, while Swimming Australia high performance manager Wayne Lomas told the program that a "feedback form" was being prepared for them to fill out.

In light of a drive towards making the review called by the federation and independent affair, the Australian Sports Commission intervened last Friday, taking the inquiry to a new level with a former federal sports minister in the chair.

With 10 medals, the women's 4x100m free relay producing the only gold, Australia emerged from the London Games as fourth most decorated nation behind the US, Japan and China but the gold count made a significant impact on the surface picture of swimming strength, Australia in 7th on the medals table ann Japan, with no gold among 11 medals, one more than China, 10th. 

The Insight program spoke of a desire for greater transparency. That Australia, still a power house in the pool and long having punched above its weight, is having this debate and holding it in public talks of the passion needed to get the Dolphins back to where they'd like to be come Rio 2016.