Don Talbot, the last man to lead the Australian team to the pinnacle of world swimming, says it is no wonder the current team’s athletes did not perform at their best if reports of misbehaviour and disunity are correct, adding that sometimes the head coach needs to be a ‘‘bastard’’.
Talbot, who led Australia to topple the Americans and claim the No. 1 mantle at the 2001 world championships in Japan, said that if the Olympic swimmers didn’t go as a team ‘‘then it’s very hard to perform well’’.
‘‘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.’’
The sport is undergoing an independent review following the London Olympic campaign and claims of pranks, bullying, a lack of team unity, and disregard for team rules by some senior swimmers.
‘‘If it’s true, it’s not good,’’ said Talbot. ‘‘I obviously wasn’t there, and I’m not going to be a destructive critic because I don’t know enough to know what happened, 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.
Talbot said the situation was salvageable. ‘‘There is no question the talent is there, but if you screw around, you are going to blow it. I have been through it [as head coach] — at lesser meets than the Olympics — and I made up my mind that I was never going to let that happen.
‘‘There is always somebody on the team who will lose sight of what is going on and I wasn’t going to let them do that, and that’s when I became heavy and that’s why sometimes as a coach, you can’t be popular with everybody all the time.
‘‘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 hard ball 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.’’
While Talbot had the likes of superstars Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill, Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett on his teams, he said there was never any favouritism given to athletes, an accusation that has been made about the current team.
Talbot laughed when it was put to him that perhaps he should come out of retirement and take over the team again.
‘‘I think the coaches we have are good, I just think anyone can lose track, and I don’t denigrate them for that. You can blame the coaches if you like but some of the athletes in there are pretty experienced people.
‘‘It’s not the end of the world but it’s not a good feeling knowing you went away as a team that could be in the mix and you come away and you haven’t been close.’’
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