Australia’s performance in the Olympics has been on a steady decline since they hosted the Games back in 2000. It’s been 16 years since, and the tally has dropped from 58 in Sydney to 29 in Rio.
However, their decline in the pools is probably what has hurt the Dolphins the most. In the last four Olympic Games, Australia has managed to win 17 gold medals in swimming. Rivals USA, on the other hand, won 16 in Rio itself.
Michael Klim, who was part of Australia’s gold medal 100m and 200m freestyle relay teams at the Sydney Olympics, had an easy answer for Australia’s recovery. “It will probably take Australia to have another home Olympics,” said Klim, who was in Mumbai to launch his skincare product.
“There was a lot expected from the youngsters. It’s been a mixed performance. I’m sure, many had thought this young lot was going to be a new ‘Class of 16’ and emulate what the teams from 1996, 2000 and 2004 were able to achieve,” he said. “Unfortunately, there were a few like the Campbell sisters (Cate and Bronte), Cameron McEvoy and Mitch Larkin who did not live up to the expectations. Maybe I’ll have to wait till Tokyo. Overall though, I feel the team is in good shape and there’s a good structure to come a long way since the disappointment in London.”
The Australians had a solitary gold in 2012 with the number tripling at Rio. However, that doesn’t add up to the success with the big guns failing to fire. Cameron McEvoy, the Commonwealth 100m freestyle record holder, could only finish 7th while Bronte and Cate finished 4th and 6th respectively in the women’s 100m freestyle event. Cate was the fastest qualifier for the final.
“I feel the funding is an issue and is a lot less in comparison to what was back in 2000. We were very fortunate that we had a great programme with the sports commission and the way things led up to the Sydney Games,” Klim added. “Though, if one looks at the medal tally at Athens, it was a much more successful one. The medals often don’t tell you the story. Sometimes, it does take a while for such periods to come around. I don’t want to sound negative but I feel it definitely is going to take some time.” (Australia had won seven gold medals in 2004).
Swimming has been Australia’s most successful sport, in which they have managed to bag 60 gold medals in their Olympic history. While that number is almost one-third of the nation’s tally in the pool, they sit second behind leaders USA, whose 246 gold medals make up for nearly half of their 553 medals.
“I’m a big fan of selection trials being held 3-4 weeks before the major meet (like in the US) as it helps to eliminate a lot of problems like a slump in form, injuries, etc. I’m a big believer that the US format is a very good one,” Klim added. “There were athletes who performed very well at the world championships in 2015 and so honestly, (for Australia) there’s more than one problem at present.”
At Rio, the Australians finished second with 10 medals, followed by Japan and Hungary who won 7 medals each. “Earlier, because of political issues and otherwise, there would be countries that wouldn’t feature in the Games,” Kilm said. “There has been a lot of change in the global scenario. The Asian countries have been performing brilliantly, making it a much more level playing field now. A lot of (countries) are resourceful… they have funding; great facilities and a lot of talented athletes. At present, it really doesn’t come down to who has the most amount of money.”
Klim added, “At the Olympics, you think you have the best strategy, plans and athletes but then things don’t often fall in place. So once we’re heading in the right direction, I wouldn’t want to change too many things. We have great coaches and swimmers and since I’m not the head coach I wouldn’t want to tell them what to do. This team was super hungry when they went for the world championships and that has to be there when one’s heading to the Olympics as well.”
Klim who has six Olympic medals to his name, had moved to India with his family as a one-year-old. They resided in Mumbai for the next five years before heading back to Australia. His swimming career started under the guidance of Khorshed Bhathena at the city’s Breach Candy Club. “I started my career here which is why this is such a special place for me. If not for the years that I’ve spent in Mumbai, I probably wouldn’t be who I am today,” Klim added.