By Greg Blood
The recent passing of former AIS Swimming Coach Gennadi Touretski made me reflect on the contribution of overseas coaches to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Australian high performance sport system since 1981.
In 1981, inaugural AIS Head Coaches included four overseas highly credentialled coaches – Kelvin Giles (athletics from England), Dennis Pursley (swimming from United States), Jimmy Shoulder (football from England) and Lyn Jones (weightlifting from Wales). The employment of overseas coaches started the AIS journey of seeking to employ the best coaches whether they were from Australia or overseas.
It is worthwhile looking back at several AIS overseas coach appointments in terms on their impact on Australian sport.
I will start with the late Russian swim coach Gennadi Touretski who was employed by the AIS after the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he coached Alexander Popov to two gold and two silver medals in sprint freestyle events. The employment of Touretski was quite a coup for the AIS but it came with the proviso that he coached Popov at the AIS in Canberra. A recent tribute from AIS swimmers – Michael Klim, Matthew Dunn, Sarah Ryan and Nicole Livingstone who were coached by Touretski highlighted the importance of his technical understanding and coaching philosophies on their careers. These AIS swimmers benefited immensely by training next to Popov. In my years in working in high performance sport, I have observed that developing athletes greatly benefit from training with world class athletes.
Besides coaching AIS swimmers, Touretski was willing to share his knowledge with Australian coaches on the pool deck, through presentations at conferences, published articles and the DVD – What’s the limit? : Aleksandre Popov. Besides Pursley and Touretski, AIS swimming had a history of attracting overseas coaches that included Jim Fowlie (Canada 1993-2002), Barry Prime (1993-2004) and Pierre Lafontaine (Canada 2002-2005).
Romanian Reinhold Batschi was appointed the inaugural AIS Rowing Head Coach in 1984. Batschi was already in Australia as Rowing Australia’s National Director of Coaching. Batschi had immediate impact on AIS rowing by coaching the men’s eight to world championship gold in 1986 -first and only time Australia won the men’s eight at either the Olympics Games or a World Championship. Batschi retired as Head Coach in 2007 and it was stated noted that his pioneering work included “a national program for technique development, a coach development program that was the forerunner of a national coach accreditation scheme, a program of international competition for up-and-coming rowers, improved selection procedures, and year-round training”.
Archery was added to the AIS scholarship programs in 1997 due to Sydney hosting 2000 Olympics. The appointment of Korean master coach Kisik Lee led to immediate Olympic success – Simon Fairweather winning a gold medal in 2000 and Tim Cuddihy bronze medal in 2004.
The development of gymnastics in Australia has been particularly advanced by the employment of overseas coaches. AIS Gymnastics appointed Chinese coach Ju Ping Tian to head up its women’s program in 1985. Tian’s appointment led to Australia qualifying in the women’s team competition for the first time at 1992 Barcelona Olympics. I should note that Tian was not first overseas coach appointed by AIS Gymnastics – that honour goes to Japanese coach Kaz Honda in 1981. The appointment of Vladimir Vatkin as AIS Men’s Gymnastics Head Coach in 1997 led to him coaching Philippe Rizzo to Australia’s first men’s world championship title 2006. The appointment of overseas gymnastics coaches has not always been without controversy as several gymnasts have complained about their strict and demanding coaching methods.
Australian men’s road cycling has come on in leaps and bounds due to work of German cycling coach Heiko Salzwedel. He established the AIS Men’s Road Cycling Program in 1991 and developed cyclists of the calibre of Robbie McEwen, Henk Vogels, Matthew White and Patrick Jonker. This foundation work has led to Australia being recognised as a leading road cycling nation since 2000.
Paralympic track and field athletes have greatly benefited by the AIS employing Ukrainian Iryna Dvoskina in 2003. Dvoskina is a product of the Ukrainian coaching system that has been highly successful in Paralympic sport. Dvoskina’s AIS athletes that have won Paralympic gold include Heath Francis, Lisa McIntosh, Amy Winters, Evan O’Hanlon and Scott Reardon. Dvoskina still coaches at the AIS in Canberra but is now employed by Athletics Auistralia.
It is interesting to note that the highly regarded and successful AIS Basketball program has only employed Australian coaches. But I do remember well known North American coaches – Jack Donohue, Paul Westhead, Lute Olson, Bobby Knight and Pat Head-Summit presenting at the annual AIS/Basketball Australia coaching seminars at the AIS in Canberra.
Below is a list of notable overseas coaches attracted to the AIS in Canberra or its interstate locations up until 2012 when Winning Edge led to the cessation of AIS sports programs.
Archery – Ki Sik Lee (Korea), Kyo Moon Oh (Korea)
Athletics – Kelvin Giles (Jumps – England), Tony Rice (Jumps – England), Ron Weigel (Walks – Germany), John Fitzgerald (Walks – Canada), Esa Peltola (Sprints – Finland), Tudor Bidder (Wales)
Boxing – Bodo Andreass (Germany)
Cycling – Heiko Salzwedel (Road – Germany)
Gymnastics – Kaz Honda (Women – Japan), Ju Ping Tian (Women – China), Valery Kaladzinski (Women – Belarus), Vladimir Vatkin (Men – Belarus) ***
Football – Jimmy Shoulder (Men – England), Ron Smith (Men – England), Tom Sermani (Scotland), Jan Versleijen (Men – Netherlands)
Rowing – Reinhold Batschi OAM (Romania), Laryssa Biesenthal (Canada)
Swimming – Dennis Pursley (United States), Gennadi Touretski (Russia), Jim Fowlie (Canada), Barry Prime (England), Pierre Lafontaine (Canada)
Volleyball – John Uriarte (Men – Argentina), Brad Saindon (Women – United States), Stellio de Rocco (Men – Canada)
Weightlifting – Lyn Jones (Wales), Harry Wardle (England)
Wrestling – Anatoli Beloglazov (Russia), Blazo Petrov
Notable overseas coaches based outside at the AIS in Canberra –
Canoeing (Slalom) – Richard Fox (England), Miriam Fox (France), Mike Druce (England)
Cycling – Martin Barras (Track – Canada)
Diving – Hui Tong (China), Wang Tong Xiang (China), Salvador (Chava) Sobrino. ***
Sailing – Victor Kovalenko (Ukraine)
Water Polo – Istvan Gorgenyi (Women – Hungary), Denes Pocsik (Men – Hungary) Winter Sports – Todd Ossian (Aerial skiing – United States), Peter Judge (Aerial skiing -Canada) ***
*** there were overseas assistant coaches from China (diving and gymnastics), Russia (gymnastics) and United States / Canada (aerial skiing) but these have not been listed
During my time at the AIS, I have been able to talk to many overseas coaches about why they were attracted to the AIS in Canberra. Their reasons included:
- Attractive remuneration
- Coaching some of the best Australian athletes
- Coaching at the AIS in Canberra which had a very strong international reputation
- Access to world class training facilities in Canberra
- Access to world class sports science and sports medicine expertise / research in Canberra
- AIS programs that were well funded including participation in overseas training camps and competitions
- High performance culture of AIS
- Ability to liaise with high performance coaches from other sports at the AIS in Canberra
I think the last point is significant particularly in light of the new AIS model of high performance. Currently national sports organisations high performance programs operate in sport silos and this means that many do not have regular interaction with other sports. AIS in Canberra before Winning Edge provided an environment where coaches regularly met as a group either professionally or socially. Whilst there are sports currently based at the AIS in Canberra, I have observed that this liaison between coaches has greatly declined.
The employment of overseas coaches has not been without hiccups. Whilst the AIS in Canberra endeavoured to assist coaches and their families settle in Canberra, several coaches returned to their home country for family reasons. There have also been issues related to the coaching methods of several overseas coaches.
I think that the Australian high performance sport system success in the 1990’s and 2000’s can be in part attributed to the employment of overseas coaches by the AIS. These coaches often brought with them expertise and experience missing from the Australian high performance sport system – particularly in highly technical sports such as gymnastics, diving, aerial skiing and archery.
I often read in the press about the coach drain from the Australian high performance sport system. Whilst coaches of the calibre of Paul Thompson (rowing), Bill Sweetenham (swimming), Mark Regan (swimming), Shannon Rollason (swimming), Mark Hager (hockey) and Adam Commens (hockey) have or are coaching overseas, I believe that the ledger is significantly on the side on Australian sport with the employment of overseas coaches.
For Australian athletes and teams to successfully compete in international sport it will be at times necessary to attract highly credentialed overseas coaches. It is important that these coaches have the necessary qualities to work in Australian sport and have the ethos of sharing their expertise with Australian coaches.
Sadly overseas coaches now employed by national sports organisations are unlikely to experience the coaching and training environment provided by the AIS from 1981 to 2012.
Thank you to all the overseas coaches that have left them families and friends behind to coach in Australia.
RIP Gennadi Touretski.