Swimming Australia head coach Jacco Verhaeren. Photo: Alex EllinghausenAustralia’s head swimming coach, Jacco Verhaeren, says there’s ”no doubt” he would welcome troubled great Ian Thorpe back into the fold as part of his plan to use Australian legends to revive its Olympic fortunes.
Thorpe is being treated for depression but Dutchman Verhaeren, who coached Thorpe’s good friend and Olympic rival Pieter van den Hoogenband, said his door was always open for Thorpe if he wished to help restore Australia as a powerhouse.
Verhaeren visited Canberra this week as he settles into his new role, having taken over from Leigh Nugent after the disastrous 2012 London Olympics.
”He [Thorpe] is somebody you would like to have on board, no doubt about that,” Verhaeren said.
”Ian’s an icon, a legend, and having him on board in whatever role we would appreciate, I would love to have him there.
”Pieter and I always appreciated having him around, they had some great battles which we really enjoyed.”
While Verhaeran’s primary focus is on delivering results at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, he said the welfare of swimmers during and post-career is high on his to-do list.
”We’re working hard to embrace all the past athletes and to make sure the athletes we have now are guided well during, but also after their careers,” he said.
”With athletes and especially the very good ones, you need to be at the top of your game every day and being followed by media for 10-to-15 years.
”Every champion from the past is always welcome. They are an important part of our history and they can be a crucial part of our future as well.”
The Australian team’s culture and management came under heavy fire after swimmers were sanctioned for the misuse of sleeping drug Stilnox at London.
Allegations of bullying within the team also emerged, but Verhaeren insisted he could not have been happier with the team environment he has witnessed.
”My first experience with the national team was a good environment amongst the swimmers, staff members and coaches,” he said.
”We need to stay on top of that, to keep working together.
”Swimming is an individual sport and they compete against each other, but it’s going to be best done in a team environment.
”Australia is, and has always has been, a very strong and respected team throughout the world. What happened happened, but we’re working on the future.”
Verhaeren has spent the first five weeks touring the country meeting coaches and swimmers, and said the facilities were superior to anything he had seen in the world.
While he has declared he wants to restore Australia as the No.1 country by 2020, he refused to nominate a medal target for Rio.
”Medals are an outcome of the process. If we do most of that right, the outcome will be right.”
Verhaeren said he had no plans to restore the AIS as a permanent base for Australia’s elite squad, insisting the country’s diversity and range of coaches was its great strength.
But he said it would remain a valuable sports science weapon as he looked for that winning edge.
”It’s a world-class facility, the technical possibilities for biomechanics, physiological testing, nutrition, you don’t see this in the world at this level.
”What I see is the AIS and Swimming Australia working really closely, which is important.
”We can’t make everybody live in Canberra or anywhere else, the diversity and demands for every athlete and coach are different, so you can’t put them all in one place.
”It’s really a strength of the system.”