MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Few jobs in sport come with as much pressure as the head coach of Australia’s Olympic swimming programme, and Rohan Taylor knows full well that no matter what happens in the Tokyo pool next year the buck stops with him.
A trusted lieutenant of Jacco Verhaeren, Melbourne man Taylor will step into the role from October, replacing the Dutch boss who has been in charge for nearly seven years.
Taylor will inherit a top-quality programme and a slew of world champions such as Mack Horton and Ariarne Titmus. The hard part will be getting them to perform in a year’s time in Tokyo under the heavy weight of expectation for a gold rush.
“It’s the toughest meet in the world,” Taylor told Reuters in an interview.
“I think only 50% of the world’s number one ranked swimmers that go to the Olympics end up winning.
“We’ve definitely got it on our agenda that it’s all about providing coaches and our swimmers the resources they need to prepare for that moment where it’s tough.
“(Swimmers) are all so unique in what they do. It’s just how we enhance that support so they’re confident.”
Australian swimmers have dominated world meetings only to turn to jelly on the Olympic starting block.
A solitary gold was all Australia could muster eight years ago in London and while they took three titles at Rio in 2016 it should have been more.
Cate Campbell, a former world record holder in the 100 metres freestyle, was one of Australia’s most notable flops at Rio, dominating the heats but finishing sixth in the final.
While she claimed her second 100m freestyle relay gold, Campbell was bitterly disappointed with her individual performance, calling it “the greatest choke in Olympic history”.
Campbell will be 29 when the postponed Tokyo Games open in 2021, but Taylor had no doubt the tall Queenslander would still have what it takes to win the blue riband event.
“We’re going to do what we can to give her every opportunity next year to perform there and I’ve no doubt she will,” he said.
“I think it’s really about willingness and desire, which she has, and talent and ability — we know that’s there.”
Taylor should know — he guided Australia’s breaststroke queen Leisel Jones to seven world titles and nine Olympic medals across four Games.
Managing an entire swim team will be a different challenge, particularly with Olympic preparations up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic.
International competition has been put on ice due to COVID-19 and Australia’s swimmers are not allowed to travel interstate let alone head overseas.
Many countries are in the same boat, notes Taylor, but such is the strength of Australian swimming that domestic meets generally feature world class competition, which could give them a head-start in their preparations for Tokyo.
“It’s not clear now that we’re getting the upper hand in the water with 53 weeks to go to the Olympics,” said Taylor.
“But from a domestic point of view, having really good athletes competing against each other — if that’s all we have we’ve got a good advantage, which is great.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford