Diversity in coaches is crucial for Rio medal success

Originally published in The Roar 2 August 2016.

Coaches will play a significant role in the success of Australian athletes and teams at the 2016 Rio Games.

The Olympics and Paralympics are the pinnacle for most athletes, and the same can be said for coaches.

There will be two types of coaches in Rio – those selected as part of the official Australian teams, and those supporting athletes they are currently coaching.

Many past Australian Olympic coaches have become household names, such as Laurie Lawrence (swimming), Forbes Carlile (swimming), Franz Stampfl (athletics), Percy Cerutty (athletics), Ric Charlesworth (hockey) and Charlie Walsh (cycling).

The high-performance coaching landscape changed in Australia after Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Olympics in 1993, due to the Australian Government’s Olympic Athlete Program injection of funding to Olympic sports.

This led to many well-credentialled coaches being attracted to Australian sport, several of whom have contributed to improving Australia’s Olympic chances.

These coaches include:

  • Sailing’s Victor Kovalenko (Ukraine) – seven gold medals since 2000.
  • Swimming’s Gennardi Tourestski (Russia) – coached Michael Klim to gold at Sydney in 2000.
  • Archery’s Ki Sik Lee (South Korea) – coached Simon Fairweather to gold at Sydney in 2000.
  • Athletics’ Alex Parnov (Russia) – coached pole vaulter Steve Hooker to gold at Beijing in 2008.
  • Cycling’s Martin Barras (Canada) – head coach of the track cycling team that won five gold medals at Athens in 2004.
  • Diving’s Hu Tong (China) – coached Chantelle Newberry to gold at Athens in 2004.
  • Diving’s Chava Sobrino (Mexico) – coached Matthew Mitcham to gold at Beijing in 2008.
  • Water polo’s Istvan Gorgenyi (Hungary) – coached the ‘Stingers’, the women’s team, to gold at Sydney in 2000.

Predominantly at the Rio Games, Australian athletes and teams will be led by coaches developed in Australia, including:

  • Athletics – Head coach Craig Hilliard has been a professional athletics coach since appointed to the AIS in 1982 and was appointed by Athletics Australia in 2015. Hilliard has coached at the Olympics since 1984.
    Nick Bideau, while not an official Olympic coach, has nine runners competing at Rio.
  • Canoeing – Head coach Jimmy Owens coached the Australian men to gold in the K4 1000m at London in 2012.
  • Cycling – Australian has many medal chances in cycling, led by coaches such as Gary West, Ian McKenzie, Gary Sutton, Tim Dekker, Brad McGee and Wade Bootes. West coached Anna Meares to gold in London, 2012.
  • Hockey – Graham Reid and Adam Commens, both Olympic medallists, will lead the Kookaburras and Hockeyroos respectively, with the Kookaburras ranked number one. Commens will step down after the Games.
  • Swimming – Michael Bohl, who coached Stephanie Rice to three gold in Beijing, 2008, has seven athletes under his tutelage, while Vince Raleigh has four, and Rohan Taylor three.
  • Rowing – Head coach Chris O’Brien’s previous athletes have won two gold and a silver medal. Lyall McCarthy, who coached Kim Brennan (nee Crow) to silver and bronze at London in 2012, will hopefully guide her to gold in the women’s single sculls.
  • Rugby sevens – Andrew Friend and Tim Walsh lead the Thunderbolts (men) and Pearls (women) when rugby sevens makes its debut in Rio.
  • Water polo – Greg McFadden, a former Olympic water polo player, took charge of the Stingers in 2005 and has coached them to bronze medals in 2008 at Beijing and London 2012.

The is also an international coaching influence, which has increased since the 2012 London Olympics.

Sailing’s Victor Kovalenko, from Ukraine, is known as the ‘Medal Maker’ as his athletes have won five gold medals in the 470 class since Sydney 2000.

Swimming Australia’s head coach, Jacco Verhaeren, coached Dutch Olympic gold medallists Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn. Verhaeren was lured to Australia post-London, seeing international results improve.

Cycling’s Martin Barras, from Canada, was in charge of the Australian track team that won six gold in 2004 at Athens. He will coach the women’s road team.

Diving has three international coaches – Canadian Michel Larouche, Chinese Hui Tong and Mexican Chava Sobrino.

Archery turned to Chinese Taipei’s Ya Ping Shih in 2013 to coach the national team.

Badminton’s head coach is Lasse Bundgaard, from Denmark, who has led the team since the Beijing Olympics.

Boxing appointed Englishman Kevin Smith in 2014, and he will lead a team of three boxers.

Shooting’s Petr Kurka (Czech Republic) will have four shooters.

The men’s water polo team, the Sharks, will be coached by Elvis Fatović, a former Croatian Olympian.

The Australian Paralympics Team has international leadership from athletics coach Iryna Dvoskina (Ukraine), who will be hoping her athletes, including Evan O’Hanlon and Scott Reardon, bring home gold.

In 2013, the Australian Institute of Sport identified the need to improve high-performance coaching in Australia by establishing the Centre for Performance Coaching and Leadership.

A combination of Australian and international coaches are required for success at the Games. Australian coaches understand the Australian sporting environment and ethos, while international coaches often bring experience and knowledge from successful international sports programs that Australia may be weak in.

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