David Marsh, Head Coach Auburn University Men and Women. Commitment, pride, passion and winning are the ingredients upon which head coach David Marsh thrives in pursuing success. His men’s teams have garnered four NCAA titles and his women’s teams three. In 2003 he became the first coach in history to win both the men’s and women’s titles in the same season, and then did it again in 2004! Since becoming the head coach of his alma mater in 1990, the women’s and men’s teams at Auburn have been successful in both the pool and the classroom. Marsh took a diminished program and revitalized it with confidence, support, character and success. During his reign at Auburn, Marsh’s swimmers have earned hundreds of All-American honors and scores of individual NCAA and SEC titles. Internationally, his swimmers have won medals in the Pan-American Games, Pan-Pacific Games, World Championships and the Olympic Games. Marsh himself was a world-ranked swimmer and five-time All-American backstroker.
By the way, during the team talk yesterday, and George, you probably don’t know this, but one of the foundations of our team is a four year plan that came out of an ASCA talk you did several years ago on the sequence of what should be expected of athletes. The short of it is, we expect our seniors to number one absolutely be the leaders. The ones doing the right things and setting the standards. The juniors and not necessarily by class, but in terms of their position on the team are the protectors of the leaders. A junior could be a captain. They are the guards of the leaders. The sophomores are the energizers, they are the enthusiasts. The freshmen, since they don’t even know what is going on, are just learning the ropes. Do you remember that talk George? That was one of the best talks ever and we use it as part of the way we set up our overall program and I want to thank you for that talk. I suggest all of you get that tape, and believe me, there is a lot more to it than the quick version I just gave.
First of all, good morning and thanks for being here. I feel that I am still getting over yesterday’s awards banquet; anytime you can go to a presentation and have belly laughs and tears, it is a special occasion and any of you who were there know what I am talking about. Bill Rose and all the coaches honored there yesterday were inspiring to all coaches. I am sure and what you saw and heard is that they still just talk about their relationships. It is about the people. It is about the relationships. I didn’t hear anybody talk about times. I didn’t here any training sets except the one, the 10,000 free holding 100s under a minute.
I also want to thank Mike Simpson who organized in the chapel this morning. That was a great way to start off a Sunday morning.
This presentation focuses on the Olympics and on what we did. I guess the title is; “The Final Preparation of Olympic Medalists” and we are going to get to some of the details there, but I think it is important that we start with the basic philosophy area. Probably where it started for me was through my whole experience of swimming. I kind of accidentally became an international swimmer; all I cared about was the NCAA’S side of things because I didn’t know anything else.
I started swimming in 10th grade, and by the time I was a senior in college I was a 49 backstroker at Auburn and did a little bit of long course swimming, but was never real serious. Then after that year in 1980 I went 57 flat in the 100 back and all of a sudden I was 6th in the World and got to go on USA trips so I experienced the difference between international swimming and college swimming and it was profound and so that kind of set my sights. In fact, in 1990, after getting turned down for about 10 or 12 other jobs or even
interviews, actually they didn’t offer any interviews, Auburn allowed me to come in for an interview and I wanted the job. During the interview, Pat Dye, who at the time was our head football coach and a legendary Auburn guy, is talking about competing against people in the conference, how the conference standings and the conference trophy is so important. Do you think we can get in the top 20 in the NCAA’S in the next four or five years? That kind of thing. And I said, well I’ll be honest with you.
The first thing that I will be setting the bar at in our program is an Olympic standard. That will be the goal of this program. Olympic gold medals first and Olympic team and USA Olympians, those will be the goals that we will be striving for as the ultimate measure of success. For the next ten or fifteen minutes I explained to him how that fit into the NCAA’S and SEC strategy. So I sold him on it and I was fortunately offered the job.
Yesterday you saw a slide of the banners in the pool area, well, what you didn’t see in there, right under our scoreboard is the first banner that was ever put in our pool. That was an Olympic banner, and again, that is the standard we try to set as the ultimate standard in our program.
We had a goal this summer of earning ten medals and having six USA Olympians. We fell short, but we wanted to have a challenging goal. We feel like if some things would have happened differently we had a shot at that, at those two numbers. At Olympic Trials we seemed to be the kings of 3rd place. We had, I think it was, five third places at the Olympic Trials, and a ninth place in the 100 freestyle which is probably worse than a third place in an event. The one thing that we kept going back to is what our goals were. Also, to do best times at the big events and that is probably something that carries over from our collegiate season.
The theme being, just do your best time at the NCAA’S and you are going to score some points. The same thing at the Olympic trials and at the Olympic Games, it is, just get to the biggest events. While all the pressure is on, just forget about all the other stuff, swim between your lane lines and do a best time. Best time, just like when you are an age grouper and usually that results in the kind of things that you want to accomplish.
Also in our program, I have a slide that I actually forgot to dump in yesterday which was probably good since I ran over. It was about the way I think through a season, how I walk myself mentally through a season myself, I will show you this.
Now ideally, what would you want in the different categories is 100% of everything. We want your body composition 100% all the time. Nutrition! Never eat anything bad. There was certainly a time and Wes remembers when he was a swimmer for me when I would go around and yank the butter off the table and make a big deal out of it at a restaurant. The point being the flow of how you think through a season and this next slide will show you some of that.
This would be just going through a season for us and I will put this up on our website when the clinic is over. Generally the categories you see at the top, the light blue categories, are body composition. You always want to be an athlete. I mean, it doesn’t have to be necessarily a swimming perfect athlete, but as you go through a season and this would be a collegiate season here, these are the emphasis areas.
The next is rest and nutrition. Well, early in the year the reality is that they are probably not as critical, but more so as you get into the heaviest training, probably real critical and at the end. I think sometimes you can do too much sleeping and freak out about every little thing you are eating; just keep the body composition up and stay with good, but not necessarily ideal numbers.
The next is anaerobic training, you can see it goes from almost very little and as the season goes it picks up along the way. Then aerobic training; you can see in November we get to work in the water.
We do a lot of dry land stuff before that and then technique, the reality of technique is probably displayed here. Not so much what I would like because what I would like is 100% all the time, but this is probably what happens if you add up all the yards they are doing and how much are they thinking about technique. It probably goes down like this: early in the year we think about it constantly and then as the year progresses it gets more race specific. Early in the year in technique it would be breakdown, and drills, breakdown their technique. Later in the year it is swimming with proper technique and evaluating not so much how well you can do a drill, but how well you swim and how well you have raced through the competitive season in putting together your technique. By the way, these are the same exact lines I found in my files when I was getting ready for this talk, dating back, to when I was coaching in Las Vegas back in the late 80’s. So these are the numbers here and it was interesting to see, although to be honest with you, I would move some lines a little bit now. This however is basically the same thing I believe today after coaching for a while in Auburn.
In terms of the overall program again, we have in our program, an ongoing, I guess attitude towards it. it is a four year plan we start with. The four-year plan is very general. It is not like it has to be down to numbers and that kind of thing. The things I try to think of in the first years are like what Frank talked about yesterday. You evaluate your events like there is time to look at developing other events, if anything, just for the entertainment of the sport. I think it is really important when you are four years away and you have a top level athlete, you need to have them engage in other ways within the sport. They are going to have to learn how to love the sport in different ways.
I think using other events, even doing some other training strategies just for the change every four years out can be one of the ways to go. I know, for example, in terms of changing events you want to broaden their horizons. I know for Bryce Hunt this the past couple of seasons, he was always strictly a 200 backstroker and did fairly well but for his scale in the 200 was a fairly poor sprint backstroker and didn’t make our sprint relay at the NCAA’S this year. Developing in his hundred became really part of the entertainment value of his preparing for his 200. There was an easy speed element we were looking for too, and when he made finals at the trials in the 100 backstroke, that was probably a bigger accomplishment for him than his 3rd place finish in the 200 backstroke. Think of the amazing field we had in the 100 backstroke at the Olympic trials, I mean, it was absolutely incredible to be a part of that for him. It was an extremely good accomplishment.
He also you know, started some butterfly in the last year and again, just to diversify some. One of the things that I am struggling with and I am not sure that we have adjusted to in swimming overall globally, is the World Championship move to the year after the Olympics and then the year before the Olympics. I think we all operated mentally better when there was one World Championship and that meant a lot a whole two years in between. I am not sure Pan-Pacs elicit the emotions that World Championship has, so again I am in a bit of a quandary with my top athletes. So right now it is the World Championships we want to get ready for but at the same time, we don’t want them emotionally using too much of what they are giving to this sport in this year, okay?
I think it is perhaps where we allowed Maggie to make a mistake last quadrennial cycle when she came back after not making it and bam. We were kind of like yeah, yeah; yeah and pretty soon it was like the bucket started emptying a little bit by the time we were at the back side of it. So, I think we have to be careful about that a little bit and it probably, it really depends on the individual knowing the person. In our case, that is what we will do and there are some people that will say look, we want you to make the World Championships this April, but our plan will be longer than that. If you don’t make it that is not the end of the deal.
Now, we do have some who, that is where they are going to evaluate if and when they make it, and then we will evaluate if they continue on.
The new thing in our sport which is our athletes at the top level signing contracts. I found that how a contract is structured can really help or it can really hurt and again, if they are on one these clauses where have to achieve their meet markers every year in order to roll over their contract, that is a lot of pressure. That doesn’t allow them to go back to the base level training that they need to do in a four year process. I think that is something that we are still trying to figure out ourselves.
I have a handout on the two-year plan. I guess the best way to explain our two-year plan is just give it to you. At the end of the talk I will have this in the back of the room and this is basically our sprint, middle distance and distance plan. You and Bill see it up here and the numbers are real small so he had it made into a handout for you, but it is sprint, middle distance and distance and in the general sense the biggest thing I would tell you was that if you added up all the x’s and o’s and looked at the legend for what they represented you would see that there is a much more anaerobic component two years out than the year before so that is what we really try to emphasize. Really solidify the background and the base for each of those athletes. I also noticed there are meets that are emphasized and meets that aren’t emphasized in terms of the timing and this wouldn’t be the ultimate of exactly what we did at the end of the day, but this is the structural setup, okay?
Two years out I also think we want to focus more on getting ready for a primary event. Begin to put together their primary event. I think two years out also isn’t too early to start knowing your competition as well; knowing how they split things, knowing how they race because if Olympics and the medals are the judge of what we are then ultimately we are going to be judged by the Games, Knowing your competition is really critical because you are really racing in the pool and a best time may not be the #1 goal at this event, so beginning to switch that mind-set becomes important. Understand that your swimmers have been programmed since they were eight years old to think about best times, personal best times and yeah that is still one of the things that is a nice thing, a pat on the back, but at the Olympic Games it is racing your competitor and in many cases knowing your competitor is a big difference. I mean, it is interesting watching Van den Hoogenband race Ian Thorpe at the Olympics and the different strategies he employed. I mean, most of us probably in the bleachers were second guessing his strategy in the 200, but he had a strategy and I am sure strategy was something Jocko had worked out long before and they had talked about and I am sure it wasn’t something they thought of the day of the event. One thing that you maybe need to never forget is that a guy like Ian Thorpe is just a champion and he just in his mind is absolutely supposed to win that race.
During the actual Olympic year probably one of the biggest things that I think works well for us at Auburn is we go to great lengths to get everybody in the program to invest in the big Olympic goal. We have a lot of great swimmers I mean, really great swimmers who probably aren’t going to make the Olympic team. Maybe it is because they are much better short course, and they have strong egos and they are good strong people and it is gentle how we have to explain to them that, let’s go for it, but understand you are also contributing to the Olympic goal within the team and it is a constant sell to do that. To give them that special attention for their individual goals and yet when we catch them encouraging one of the top folks on the team you just kind of give them some extras kudos for doing that because they are part of the bigger picture of making that Olympic goal a team investment is what we do and a lot of what we do is to encourage that kind of atmosphere.
Let me jump back once more to two years out, one thing that we have done lately at Auburn in particular is figure out if they have been in Auburn during their career and been in it for awhile, okay? Is this where you need to be? Don’t be afraid to move, even if it is for a one year change, just to change the environment. I think it was great for Dave Denniston to go out with Dave Salo. Dave coaches in a unique way and I think that he connected very well with him. He did his best 200 breaststroke and swam fabulous for Dave and it turned out to be a great move. Kevin Clements, I think Rick Shippard did a fabulous job of bringing him along as an age grouper and then at Auburn he kind of fell into a lot of distractions like he has in California. I know Bob well and when we were talking about what you need to do I said well, you need to get to where you are completely committed to the sport or don’t do it and even though it didn’t turn out that Kevin did well, he had a great run, probably helped push Michael in practice. I know he helped push Michael in practice, so again, in the greater scheme of things, it was probably a very good thing for all of us in here and you know, although I think probably right now Kevin is struggling with the whole thing, he, at the end of the day, will feel good about how his process went and go back and feel good about Bob, Auburn and obviously the experience through high school with Rick. The point being is that you ask is this the best place to be? Is this where you need to be?
During the Olympic year generally our team does more long course than short course, but our sprinters and breaststrokers do more short course than long course. So, it is the way we set up things; it’s the way it goes. When it comes to going through that during the course of an Olympic year a good example this year in terms of the way we try to select their events and kind of set them up. A good example this year, at the SEC Championships we had George Bovell do the 400 IM. Now that is not a great event for him, but knowing that he was going to be trying to swim the 200 free and the 200IM at the games and then trying to get him to invest in the training it would take to do that long course, I felt like if I could convince him back in the fall that look, you are going to be doing the 400IM at conference you had better be doing some good training to get ready for that 400IM. I could just get him to invest in the aerobic side of the training a little bit better. Now of course he probably would have placed better in the 100 backstroke. He probably placed better in the 200 freestyle at the conference meet, but that 400IM was good for his mental mind set and in an Olympic year that would be a unique thing. There has been a year in 96, yeah, 96, when I sent three swimmers because the US Nationals long course were in the same weekend as the SEC short course. I sent our top three swimmers to the US Nationals; they didn’t even go to conference so you have to make tough decisions like that. Now, the way it turned out for George is he did make consolation finals at Conference in the 400IM. I was a little disappointed in that and just to show me that night he led off the 200 free relay with his 50 free and set a new SEC record with a 19.3 so I think Coach you made a mistake, but point being, I think at the end of the day we still did the right thing. He probably won’t be doing the 400IM this year.
During an Olympic year in the process we try to use our video capabilities. The information available through USA Swimming, especially on the elite side, is fabulous. There is so much information. Now putting it together is and can be a challenge and putting it in a video format so that they can see it and look at it is also something that we try to do and for each athlete to have some form of a highlight video to have some anchors they can look back on. So that when they are feeling a little off and not feeling confident they can pop in a video. That would be something we strongly encourage them to develop and we have the resources to help them do that. Generally, try to have a program in that year where we set some priorities as to how we use the resources. Even though I know it sounds like we had unlimited resources and apparently we impressed Coach Salo with our resources yesterday, most of the resources are limited. There are caps to what they can do.
Let me just give you an example of how and this is just letting you guys in on the way we are kind of thinking and we tell this to the team also. We try not to beat them up with this, but this is what we present to the team when it comes to any priorities. An example would be Connie massages – like 50 people cannot get a rub down from Connie every day or even once a week or even probably once a month in reality. In prioritizing the resources there, number one it would be USA potential medallist. That would be our top priority so Mark Gangloff fit into that and he fit into it before the event is over. Olympic medal contenders Kirsty and George and some of the other swimmers that we thought were medal contenders had a very strong priority in our team. USA Olympic team qualifiers would be a very high priority in our program. Olympic Finalists, whether it be USA or international is a high priority. USA trials semi-finalists or finalists would be a priority over lots of other things including international swimmers who may even have qualified for the Olympic team and also another consideration is medal contenders for 2008. Examples there would be Doug VanWie, he probably wasn’t going to move into making the team this time, but he got a little bit higher priority because we feel like he is a guy that in 2008 has a chance to have a big impact for the USA so he got bumped up in the priorities. Now it is not dramatic, but it does impact, even helps set our mind of thinking. That is how we generally work at that.
When we went to the USA Olympic trials with those priorities in mind we took our whole staff. Now it would have been better to leave one of the coaches back to coach the international athletes and probably some would say yeah, of course, but you know, we had Oswaldo. I think Kim has something, I am getting into Kim’s talk, he stayed back and ended up coaching them and did a great job by the way of energizing them, but by the time we were at Trials he had everybody there we had all resources there, so that is kind of how we handled that.
A couple of quick things here before I turn it over to Kim for the good stuff is the way we deal with the pressure. The unique pressure of the Olympics. The Olympic trials in particular. I think trials are probably even more pressure, but I remember driving around with Margaret Hoelzen at on point and you could just feel the pressure, especially after finishing second in the world the year before. So I said what if you don’t make the Olympic team, talk through that with me and that exercise I think relieved her of some of her extreme pressures. Your mom is still going to love you, your sister is still going to love you, Keith and I are still going to support you in every way we can. Your world is not going to be rocked like you might imagine it would be if you don’t make the Olympic team. We try to put pictures and feelings of what the pools are going to look like to try and get comfortable with it.
This summer we went to outdoor meets to try and make sure we competed in outdoor meets and in our case, that was important. Get their foundation together as a person. We talked about that a lot; just make sure you have a solid foundation so it is not all based on whether you swim fast or not. Your faith, your family, your friends solidify those things so that you have a solid base of comfort with who you are and the people who won’t give you love based on your recent accomplishments. And we generally try a program of an overdress, you have no regrets, you gave it your best effort, you are the best prepared you can be and when you get up on the blocks that is where you want to be. A little quote by Ben Franklin I like is “I have never met a man that was good at excuses that was good at anything else,” and in our case we try to look for folks to not have excuses. We want them to be ready to perform at their best and not have other things on their mind. I am going to turn the program now over to Kim. She has a wonderful power point presentation on our top accomplisher.
Kirsty Coventry had an obviously magical Olympic experience. In some ways we were fortunate that she was in an event that was relatively open. I mean a 2:09, 200 backstroke, at least the one where she got a gold, was a little more open event than maybe it should have been in the world, but you know, that is the Olympic fortune I guess, that is the Olympic experience and I am going to let her kind of step through her program. These were our summer stats as we evaluated how we did at the end of the summer. We are generally very pleased with the percentages of best times at the big events and again we didn’t reach all our goals, but I think if we sit back and find out reasons we can be fairly pleased with this, that or the other this would be an indication that things went pretty well. In terms of adjusting plans, there will be some adjusting that we will need to do but I don’t think these are too bad compared to the overall competitions.
Let me turn the program over to Kim Brackin and she will step through Kirsty Coventry’s preparation.
Good morning everybody. Hopefully this talk will be informative in terms of giving you ideas about what we did with Kirsty, but also an interesting story.
She is, for any of you that have had the opportunity to meet her a wonderful person before an athlete and has an interesting background. I felt very honored and privileged to be able to spend the amount of time that I did with her at the Games and getting to know her better as a person more than I already did. We will step through June leading right up to the games and this all fits in to the plan that David just talked about and you will see in a two- year plan how…..I’ll just run through these first slides pretty quickly. In June her training emphasis was just like everyone else, well that is not true because our US Olympians were probably doing something a little bit different at this point. But for example, Jeremy Knowles followed this same plan so there were other kids in the program that were following the plan.
Max VO2, we probably had two to three good sets each week, really working on racing specificity and intensity so she was doing her primary events at that MAX VO2 type of work and always a lot of technique. Kirsty is a great technician, very coachable in terms of being able to give her something to do and she makes that adjustment right away. I didn’t do weeks out here because it is so far away, probably ten weeks out or so. I mean, this really covers the whole month of June. I wasn’t talking specifically by weeks so she was still working a lot on building strength. Kirsty tends to lose strength pretty quickly and isn’t a very strong young woman to begin with so strength is always a big emphasis although she has some tender shoulders so can’t do a lot of the general lifting that the rest of the team does so we have that modified for her, but definitely lifting very strong at this time.
We went out to Janet Evans to give her some outdoor racing experience and exposure to some big names in racing that she would be seeing at the games. This meet definitely gave her confidence in her racing ability. Then back at home at our Auburn meet which is a much smaller meet she raced off of them which I think gave her confidence just in her conditioning and how she was prepared at that time.
I think it is really important to give your athletes exposure to racing. We definitely have kids on the team that are timid about racing their primary events and you have got to get them to step up and play with a race plan and then give them the ability to race anything so that they have confidence in their conditioning and in their overall training.
In July her teammates left and at Auburn I think that is why our kids are successful, because of the teammates that push them and so it was very hard for the kids that stayed at home to see their teammates leave. Now, what they got from it was a lot of confidence in how they might swim because our Auburn kids, for the most part, swim very well at Trials so they were very much in tune to the meet back at Auburn, watching it on the internet and calling all the time. As David mentioned, Ozzie did a great job in coaching them.
We left very specific instructions on the type of sets that we wanted them to do while they were gone but I think one of the things it did is it allowed them to become somewhat independent. They didn’t have one of their primary coaches standing over them giving them constant feedback. They worked with each other. They worked on each other’s starts. They had to push each other. I remember hearing stories of Kirsty telling me how she had to motivate Romain Barnier who is one of the French Olympians to stop complaining in practice. They had to take care of each other because they didn’t have coaches to do it, and as we left the focus was just two great weeks of training. Take advantage of this training time.
During the first week of June which was six weeks out from the games you can see yardage total: the backstroke that Kirsty did was mostly aerobic volume during this week. We did a large amount of drilling, a little bit of pace work and her tempo work was very short. A lot of times we will do longer tempo sets. She just did a little bit of tempo work, a 200 tempo. The 200IM and the 200 back are probably the primary events we were getting Kirsty ready for at the games; still lifting strong. Examples of some of the mean sets that we were doing, the two 200’s, three 100’s and four 50’s. On these the first one was about 90% and then all out and on, they were all from a push. I think again, we are hearing this over the phones, I think she was 2:04 from a push on that freestyle. She thought was pretty impressive and the 100’s were all under a minute. I think the 50’s were, I don’t remember what the 50’s were do you? 27 high 28 so we just thought that was a good solid set.
Kristy is a pretty solid kicker; those were all pretty good. The IM’s are what was impressive and we got very excited about all of her IM’s which were done at under World Record times, of course they are all broken, but giving her the ability to see some very fast times up there I think was important. The 200 IM broken as two 100’s so she went a fly, back and a breast/free and then we did an extra three at the end just to kind of give her an extra time to repeat that freestyle time which she did and again, just confident in her conditioning there.
July 12, this is five weeks out and yardage totals are still pretty solid there. This week was more IM technique-oriented so now she can focus a little bit more on backstroke intensity so the IM was very much a lot of drilling. We stayed off of her breaststroke legs the back half of the week and that is to just give them a little rest so the next week they feel refreshed and you can pop her a little bit on some breaststroke. Still listing strong, some of the main sets. This is the one that we were very impressed with. She went six 150’s of backstroke on seven minutes. The first two were build and 3-6 were all out and she was 1:38 on the first one which we thought was pretty nice and then again, held some pretty consistent fast times there of 1:39, 1:40, 1:39.
The round of 50’s. Kirsty’s weakness is definitely her fly so we wanted to focus on getting her first 50 of fly during the IM set up and I thought this was a good way to do it without over-swimming some fly. On the first round she dove these, went five cycles fly on round three went four cycles of fly and I am sorry on round one it was six cycles. She would finish the rest of the 50 freestyle, strong freestyle so the whole 50 was strong, but really working on 200IM fly tempo which for her we wanted her at about 1-3 mid 1-4 and then finishing with a strong freestyle and she did a good job on that. I will talk a little bit more about how she struggled with that butterfly tempo. She just wants to get up and get racing there and that is certainly not the right strategy for her and then a set with some equipment on to let her feel some real fast speed.
July 19, this is four weeks out. We had some racing at the end of this week at our sectional meet that we hosted at Auburn. Still lifting strong, making sure she is getting her lifting in. We did a lot of threshold and pace work in the beginning of the week and some of that indicated to us that she was doing pretty well with breaststroke, which when she came to Auburn was probably her biggest weakness and she definitely has become a very strong breaststroker. She did a 1:13, we were pretty happy with that and then the 400IM we just talked about negative splitting and doing a good race strategy there and Paul Silver has a young lady who certainly challenged Kirsty through that race. It was pretty funny, not funny; it was interesting to watch Kirsty. She would just catch up or even lead the way on the first 50 and then Kirsty would catch her and you could see the intensity and the frustration in Paul’s swimmer, but it was a great race and I think they both pushed each other real well. It was fun and then in her 100 back we just worked on getting out at that 50 speed and we were a little disappointed there. We wanted her to be a 1:02 and she was 1:03. It kind of felt like she was capable of going 1:02 at that point and we had actually talked to her about that so when she got out of the pool there was that lack of confidence. We didn’t want to see that, well I didn’t go the 1:02 and then you would just have to bring her back. It is okay you know, your first 50, that is what we were looking at, you probably swam it a little bit hard, but you know, the first four cycles, but we had to make sure we were giving a lot of responsiveness about what she could change in order to go to the goal times and keep the confidence level up.
July 26, this was three weeks out. Starting to add a little more power to her workout. We talked about using the power rack with a lot of our swimmers but because of her tender shoulders you don’t put her on the power rack and instead what we did was have her on a stretch cord and we would hold the cord real low – she would swim probably about four cycles at racing tempo and then we would let the cord go and she would swim without any resistance just towing the cord a little bit holding race tempo. She got a little bit of power and then right into flow of her race. Those worked really well for her. We are probably doing I would say six to eight reps of something like that and just on rest and just leave whenever she felt ready to go again.
The main set she did this week and I really like this pace set. She did extremely well in this. The first thing she did was one 150, the first 50 smooth and then hitting the second 100 of her 200 pace which was 1:06 and she did that and then we went into three 100’s where the first 50 was smooth and the second 50 was a second 50 of her 100 pace, 31, and so she is getting confidence. She is not just pushing 50’s or pushing 100’s and going pace, but having to swim into them. We are going foot to foot so it is pretty realistic time so we were real happy with this pace set and then I kind of challenged her on one last 50. I said you are doing so well on these. She was going 30. on the 100 pace and I said let’s push and see if you can just go under 30 and she looked at me like I was crazy, under 30 for a push? And I said well yeah, you have been going 30’s here and she pushes off and I turned to Cathy and I am like oh my gosh she thinks she can do it and 29.8 and I think when athletes do something that is really a marker you have got to recognize it. You have got to give them a lot of kudos. Get excited; let them see your enthusiasm.
We did a set of broken Ims the first one we broke by the hundreds and she was 2:11. What she did was, she swam that crazy fly, she went out at 1-1 tempo, just completely over swam the first 50 and had a nice 50 back afterwards, but it is not the race plan she needed to do so 2:11. That was a nice time, broken, under her best. It was on rest 20 and then we got out an in between the Ims she could just recover and stand up and do the next one when she wanted. On the second we broke it by 50’s but I told her she had to be one three high tempo on her butterfly and if she didn’t we would do that over again and she did and yes, she had a little more rest. It is broken by 50’s now, but I really think the reason she was 2:09, so much faster is because she swam the right race strategy. It allowed her to have more energy at the end of that set and then we did 100 back broken at the 50 and I think she was 00 on that, again, we were not really focusing on her 100 back. We would allow her to do some of that just for fun and to change it up a little bit, but we were really focusing on her IM and 200 back and another set of ten 50’s, one smooth one fast. I think we did that freestyle.
August 2, this was the week that she traveled. I tried to keep the yardage pretty solid. She was still lifting. She made sure on the front end of the week she got her lifting in. We did some strong kicking this week and tried to hit her legs before she got on the plane early in the week. A lot of assisted work coming in now with cords. Made sure she loosened in the morning prior to getting on that long flight and then again, right when we got to Athens – getting in the pool and swimming off the trip.
The night of the 15th is the week before the meet began so one week out we didn’t want to get in the weight room so what we did was a lot of push-ups which she does in the weight room. It wasn’t like she went from lifting to some new exercise she didn’t do at all so we did a lot of push-ups and abs to maintain our strength. Carrying in some breaststroke power work, but again, focusing mainly on pace work for IM. We didn’t like to go down to, well, she didn’t like to go down to the main pool. She kind of likes to stay away from there to just keep the venue a special place so we tried to swim at the village as much as possible. There was a pool right outside the village that you could go to. It wasn’t crowded. You didn’t have to see a lot of people; you could just go in and get your stuff done which is really nice.
On August 12. Kirsty has a tremendous asthma problem and is on some medication and she was picked to be drug tested for that and the test that she has to do, I have a picture here, she is down here at the bottom. She had to breathe into this tube, she is all hooked up to it for ten minutes at a rate of….that hard, for ten minutes. It was extremely emotionally draining for her. I mean, she got off this machine and just broke out in tears because she was so tired and couldn’t breathe I mean, she had to do this without her medication to show that she required medication and this is two days out from her first race so we thought this was pretty challenging. The people who ran the testing site were amazing, the women in the white jackets. They were awesome and I think it could have been a very different experience if they were not as supportive and then that is a team doctor, Dr. Nitz there. Also during this week, the same night, I was like, should we do this thing, but we had to get it in, we generally do. In our program we do what we call a stinger which is we ask the swimmers to get up usually two days out from their swim, get up and do something hard, all out. Get a race in basically so Kirsty’s stinger – we went a 25 fly, again working on that tempo so that wasn’t really what stung her so much, it was 60 back so we go through a turn and a breakout and she had to do that all out. She did solid, but I didn’t think that her first 25 was where it needed to be so we changed the plan and had her step back up and go a 25 from a dive, working on controlling her tempo in the first 25. My point there is don’t be afraid to make some adjustments and not just kind of stick to your exact plan. We had always planned on possibly scratching the 400IM. Her medal contention there was not as strong as we thought in her other events and we just felt like racing those number of days might take a toll on her and she wanted to go to the opening ceremonies and probably if she had swum the 400IM we would have had to scratch that. I think going to the ceremonies was great for her, just to get in that Olympic environment and experience and these are our beautiful outfits that we wore. She loved the hat. She hates the hat, she can’t stand it.
The mental things that worked I think for us during this week. Brendan Ashby is her teammate who swims at Alabama actually, but is from Zimbabwe. It was his first Olympics and he was amazing. I mean, he just kept it comfortable and fun and exciting, always laughing. It was awesome to have Brendan there and then her Auburn teammates. It was my first Olympic experience and Kirsty’s second, but you go into that village and there is just this sense of awe. These amazing athletes around, so many people so I think it was important to have her Auburn teammates and she had a few other international swimmers that she knew. It is important to let kids get around that environment. Comfortable. They can become a distraction from the meet. Certainly her Auburn teammates, you know seeing Mark come in, seeing Bryce and Margaret, Steve Agusti was a diver that we had at the meet, they just gave her confidence in our group. What we do at Auburn and then watching them start to swim, you know, watching Mark swim certainly gave her confidence and it gave her a sense of team which is I think so important for an athlete.
This is Dr. Nix again here on the right and also Acadeo Dorcas, they just did a wonderful job taking care of Kirsty and I think the whole Zimbabwe delegation did an amazing job taking care of everything that needed to be taken care of. The lack of pressure was really orchestrated I think by us in terms of not allowing the Zimbabwe federation to put all that pressure on her of what she could do. We just really talked to them about letting her follow her plan, see the meet like she needs to and they did a great job of that.
The reason I was there at the Olympics is that Kirsty’s coach prior to that, Coach Mattheson, decided to retire from the sport of coaching and moved to South Africa, primarily because Zimbabwe is not a very good place to live right now for a lot of people. So Kirsty was allowed to pick who she thought would be best to go with her to the Olympic Games. Fortunately she thought an Auburn coach would be the best thing for her so we set a plan and then they allowed us to do it. She didn’t have to go home before the Games to travel with their group. She got to stay in Auburn the entire time and I went over with her so we were really fortunate in that. They managed the media really well, especially after she started being successful. I put the Minister of Education up here because this really took her out of the game for a second. The Minister of Education decided he was going to come to the meet, to the games. Well, he is not allowed to travel in the European nations, he is banned from travel and so there was actually talk about them kicking the Zimbabwe contingent out of the Olympic Games. I mean, this is something she dealt with during the week prior to her swimming. Am I going to be allowed to stay here? Am I going to be allowed to compete? So this is again, some things she had to think about. We roomed together and some athletes might hate that, but Kirsty and I had fun. I think that I could help control her environment. I knew when she went to sleep. I could encourage it. I left the room at certain times so she could take naps so I thought that that was really good and I also knew her moods and could adjust some plans according to those or try to adjust the mood.
This is her the week of competition. This is her schedule. On the 15th she had the 100 backstroke, prelims and semis, those are her times. They were both lifetime bests, right off the bat. On the 16th she had the 200 IM prelims, semis and then the 100 backstroke final. The 200IM again, her times and I am going to talk in a little bit more detail. I just want you to see the flow here and she won the silver medal that night in the 100 back.
The next night she had a 200 IM final and she took the bronze medal. Finally, a day off and on the 19th the prelims and semis of the 200 back and on the 20th her final event, the 200 for which she won the gold medal.
The medal strategies during that week of competition – we focused on one event at a time. For that 100 breaststroke and 200IM like David talked about earlier, you just go in, you swim between your lanes, you think about going a best time which she did. I think though on the 200IM we actually lost a little focus. I am going to go there in a second. On the 200 back we changed that a little bit. We said you know what, it is the Olympic Games, it is not just about going your best time any more. Actually that morning I had her take out her two medals and it was like this is what you have already, that you have nothing to lose, let’s go tonight, let’s swim to win, not to go best time and put a little bit of different pressure on her and she handled it real well. She remained very focused after her 100 back; almost I think she could have been a little bit distracted. She continued to have fun during the meet Watching the relays, probably one of the most exciting things was watching Mark Gangloff go off in the 100 breaststroke that first night. Well, the second night for finals, that was something. We made sure we stayed at the pool for her to get caught up in the excitement of her teammates.
Then last week on that day off she needed a mental break. Get out of the village and she went downtown with some friends that were at the meet and went shopping. She did something different and tried not to live the Olympics the whole time.
The physical assessment we made was always working on technique. On the 200IM, and this is what I alluded to earlier, I think she didn’t warm-up very well. She wanted to watch the semis of the 100 free, men’s 100 free. She got out of the pool, got cold, and rushed her warm-up. I think she lost a little focus that night and it was colder that evening so I think there were a few things that really affected her 200IM. I believe, we believe, she could have swum better. We made some adjustments for her last event’s warm-up after that for sure and also she wore the Speedo helmet during her backstroke event and on a 100 back. I think it was alright, that kind of little extra buoyancy you get from it. It put her in a little bit better position for power, but on the 200 we noticed from her prelims race she wasn’t breaking out very well and we had to ask her to make an adjustment for that extra kind of buoyancy your head has with that helmet on, you really lean back in your breakout so she came out of it a little bit better, making sure we were doing some adjustments.
Kirsty Coventry is just a humble person, we had to, people had to, ask her to get her medals out as she just kind of put those away, right away. She is very proud of being from Zimbabwe. She is proud of what she has done for her country and the people there. I would say that she is very politically savvy. She went to so many press conferences and about 10% of the questions were about swimming and 90% were about the political struggles that are going on in her country and racial tensions. They wanted to get information out of her about how she felt about her government, but she always found a way to steer it back to swimming and how these medals could help bring excitement to sports for women and men in Zimbabwe. I was just so impressed with that. Kirsty changed daily life in Zimbabwe for a week or a month I don’t know, it was very, very exciting. Her dad called and he was like, the bars are packed, everyone went to the bars to watch the meet. They stopped TV programming after the 100 back and had a news flash about what she had accomplished and her winning the gold. She was called the heroine and the golden girl in the papers.
She went on a visit home after the meet and there were thousands of people at the airport to greet her. Kids with her name painted on their faces and police motorcades. The streets were lined and probably one of the most special things she had was a dinner with President Mugabe who her family probably doesn’t quite see eye to eye, with what the president is doing now. But you know, he was genuinely proud of what she had done for the country and she enjoyed that experience. One of the things that someone said was that a cloud was lifted in Zimbabwe. There is genuinely kind of a sense of gloom among the people, everyone in that country, black or white, farm owners or not farm owners had a reason to be excited about Zimbabwe. I had a little video clip here let’s see how quickly it comes up, it takes a second. This is Kirsty talking about her experience – oh – let me get my microphone here – “Kirsty – what was your favorite moment at the Olympic Games this year? I think it would have to be when I turned in backstroke looking over at Kim and David and Elaine and seeing the expression on their faces after I had touched. And how did swimming in the United States help you achieve so much at the Olympic Games this year? It has helped me, first of all, you know, training with top athletes, all my great teammates, Margaret Hoelzer, Maggie Bowen – this type of competition that we have has really helped me you know, when we were at Olympic Games and we were in the waiting room and I saw Natalie and Margaret and other girls that I had competed against and it just really popped my nerves so having that competition and in drill meets and NCAA’S really helped me improve.
I think you should take advantage of coaching individuals and a lot of you are in that position. You go to meets with two, three, four or five individuals. Pay attention to the details in creating an environment that you think can help them adapt. It was really one of the first times I just got to be immersed in an individual and it was really fun. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments and I think trying to create some sort of team environment if you can, which is what we try to do at the Games. Get her around her Auburn teammates and also with other kids at the meet that she knew. So, not keeping her separated and if you have a small group, get together with somebody else in the States. Other club coaches that you know and try and make sort of a team environment if you can, alright? Good job.
You see why my job is so easy. The coaches are very thorough and they did a great job with Kirsty and I think we really go to Kirsty because she is obviously the one that probably did the best. I think that most of you can relate to that. I know that my first time of going to NCAA’S, the first time that I went to the nationals, I brought one athlete. It was a one swim and go home. Going to the big NCAA’S meet I have always had to go into as a coach and I took Kristie Krueger there and she qualified in one event, the 100 butterfly and Kristie false started on her butterfly, so we went home even earlier and that was my first experience at NCAA’S.
I was just looking at my files and this is a reminder I wrote to a swimmer before they went to Olympic Games and I am going to fire through that and we are going to wrap up with this. One other thing, I hope you guys are enjoying the meet over here. Really interesting contrast from our program, anyway, is to see Mark Gangloff who I think was the only US breaststroker to go a faster time at the Games than at the Trials so he was sort of on a progression. Well, he tried an experiment, he gained ten pounds to see if he can still swim fast and he found out this week, he can’t do that.
On the other side of that Margaret Hoelzer who won the 200 backstroke last night…..thank you….that was cool, you think you know a lot of things well, what she has done is just jump back into our program. She has not done a lot of special training for this meet, but what she did do is, she went through the basic stroke technique stuff that we did and reviewed and went back to some of the basics and did some heavy dry land stuff. About the time you think you know what you need to do with your athletes you learn something more. We probably have to keep her going a little bit stronger in dry land a little later so an interesting adjustment and a mental adjustment for Margaret. This is beautiful I mean, Margaret, this has been perfect for her to come off of this, this will really catapult her nicely.
Here is what I said in my little list in my little note to the swimmer at the Olympic Games. You are awesome – swim with passion – take your times, prelims, semis and finals. This person was probably going to make it at least to semis so emotionally you did not need to completely invest in prelims, but be ready for good prelims – don’t screw up – as I am saying that. Always flush out full the lactic acid in practice and after races. Stay off your legs as the meet approaches. Allow yourself to rest; at least every third day should be light. Keep your new starts fresh and sharp and study the starter, the routine of the starter. Swim as much free as possible with proper body set. When you do free evaluate your freestyle. Swim as much as possible, excuse me, and start sprinting beyond race tempo. Do a little bit of sprinting beyond race tempo, only a little bit though. Some sprinting in your suit so you feel the racing suit. Try the helmet. Didn’t use the helmet, but try it. Everybody should try the new stuff. For some people it could be magic – it clicked. Sharpen turns only on your fast days so full speed turns on fast days. Lots of swimming with cords. Cords is basically unlimited and always makes you feel faster when you get to swim with cords. Carry a relay attitude into individual swims – this person – some fabulous relays and their individual swims sometimes are not as good so carry that attitude in. Pain reminder – your hypoxic work. Do some hypoxic work to remind you of some of the pain that would be within your race – you should be dealing with what you will feel in your race. All fast work should be done with race breathing patterns. There is no sense in holding your breath and just trying to go fast for the stop watch set. You are getting ready to race. Don’t rush – swim from the core. A lot of times you get to big meets and they start swimming with their arms and their legs and not with their core. Race in your own lane – narrow focus. We talked about that a lot and you don’t have to win to be successful, but go for it. Thank you for being here and we will – is there time to take questions or – I know that we have run right to the end again. Kim will bring the two-year plan back there. We will wait up here if you have any specific questions. Thank you for having us.r