Australia swim head coach out after Olympic flop
SYDNEY (AFP) –
Australian swimming officials said Wednesday that head coach Leigh Nugent will resign after a dismal London Olympic campaign marred by ill-discipline, drug use and drunkenness.
Swimming Australia president Barclay Nettlefold said Nugent would remain with the sport but no longer wanted to continue as head coach, as he rejected press reports he was sacked as “categorically wrong”.
Nettlefold said the 61-year-old had approached officials to discuss his future and made it clear he wanted a different role after the pressures of being in charge of the nation’s high-performance swim squad.
“As far as we’re concerned Leigh still had our confidence,” Nettlefold told reporters, adding that Nugent would take an extended break before returning in a youth development and coach mentor role.
“Leigh’s got more experience in swimming than most people in the world: he’s a great ambassador for the sport, he’s done a lot of great things and we want to continue to have Leigh in the sport.”
Nugent had been under pressure after reports into Australia’s disappointing performance in the Olympic pool found drunkenness, misuse of prescription drugs and bullying were among “toxic” incidents at the Games.
So bad was morale, one swimmer described the 2012 London Games as the “lonely Olympics”, one report revealed.
A broader review into the sport’s high performance programme also found failings in strategic planning and lack of transparency in decision-making, which fuelled disillusionment.
Australia’s swimmers won just one gold medal, six silver and three bronze in London — their lowest tally in the pool since 1992 in Barcelona.
The team also went without an individual gold medal for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
“Leigh accepted responsibility for the team’s performance: he never shied away from that,” Nettlefold said.
“And I think he felt fairly remorseful, but you know, Leigh’s tired and he just feels he needs to move on in his life.”
Nugent became head coach in 2009, and in 2010 was appointed until the end of 2013 with a further three-year option that could have seen him continue through to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
It was not his first stint in the job — he was in charge of the team for the nation’s most successful Olympics outside of Australia, winning seven gold medals, five silver and three bronze in Athens in 2004.
Nugent said it was a tough decision to stand aside, but the right one.
“It’s been an honour and a privilege to coach the Australian swim team at the highest level, and I’m just pleased that I’m able to stay involved in the sport that I love,” he said in a statement.
“I have every confidence that our elite swimmers and coaches will embrace the challenge of returning our sport to the lofty heights that we are capable of, and if I can play a small part in that from a development sense, then I will.”
Nettlefold said an interim head coach would be appointed in time for the Australian Championships in Adelaide which begin on April 26.
Swimming Australia is undergoing a leadership reshuffle with Mark Anderson from Hockey Australia set to become chief executive with the search for a new high performance director ongoing, Nettlefold added.