BARCELONA (Reuters) - Australia are back on track after their woeful showing at last year’s London Olympics and changes made to team culture could yield a slew of medals at the world championships, high performance director Michael Scott said on Friday.
The competition in Barcelona starting on Sunday is a chance for one of swimming’s traditional powerhouses to redeem themselves after a damning external review said previous management had failed to prevent a “toxic culture” taking hold.
Abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, as well as flouting of curfews and bullying, had gone unchecked and contributed to Australia’s worst Olympic results in 20 years, the review by business consultants Bluestone said earlier this year.
“The ship isn’t broken in Australia,” Scott, who took charge at the start of May, told a news conference at Barcelona’s hilltop swimming complex, part of the venue for the 1992 Olympics.
“We need some refinement and we’ve started working on that,” he said, adding the team was at the beginning of a journey that will end at the next summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“The positive steps that I have seen since I started on May 1 have been significant.
“The swimmers, the coaches, the staff want a positive environment, want to see Australia take a step forward.
“So I’m confident with the pathway that we’re taking and I am very blessed with the talent of the athletes we have.”
Flanked by experienced team members Christian Sprenger, Brenton Rickard and Cate Campbell, Scott said he was trying to get athletes to take more responsibility for running the team.
Eight had been appointed to leadership positions to help demonstrate the changes being introduced were driven also by the swimmers and not just management, he added.
“Team unity, knowing that you have the backing of the team and a supportive environment, helps support the performance culture that you need,” he said.
“A fractured team in any sport is going to impact on individual performance.”
He added that he was in the lucky position of having a team with enormous talent supported by strong coaches.
“We are working on the refinement of our performance culture and greater team unity to make sure that when the going is tough then we stick together as a team and we get through that,” he said.
“In a swimming meet every team has its good and bad days but our goal is to be at our peak in 2016.”
Scott’s efforts appear to be bearing fruit and earned praise from U.S. men’s head coach Bob Bowman earlier on Friday.
“I do think the Australians will rebound from what they did last year,” Bowman told a separate news conference.
“They’ve had a very good season from what I can see leading up to this and they’ve made some very positive leadership changes, Michael Scott who I respect very much taking over, so I think they’re going to do quite well.”
As far as Australia’s immediate targets, Scott said the goal was to significantly improve on performances at the world championship trials.
“We’ve come into this meet with some very good rankings on paper,” he said.
“We have a very talented team and if we achieve that significant improvement then the medals will flow.
“Our focus is individually and collectively achieving that improvement and doing that by being professional in and out of the pool in everything we do but at the same time doing that with team unity and enjoyment.”
Editing by Sonia Oxley