My Career in Swimming by Forbes Carlile (1998)



Carlile: In the summer of 1930 as a 9 year old, I joined the Mos man Amateur Swimming Club at Clifton Gardens, just around from Middle Head in Sydney Harbour.

That was 68 years ago.

So, I calculate my swimming days go back almost exactly half the time which spans the major developments in the history of world competitive swimming. figure that if you go backwards 68 years from 1930, and you come to 1872, John Trudgen’s famous appearance in London took place in 1873.

An Historical Perspective

What follows here may not seem relevant to this story of my Life in Swimming. However, because of the influence of early Australian swimmers and their “experiments” with freestyle technique have had on me and on my ideas regarding the development of the modern crawl stroke, I ask your indulgence for this thumb-nail sketch of an historical perspective.

Long fascinated by the history of the development of speed swimming, I shall attempt briefly to place today’s swimming techniques in context with man’s efforts in the past. This short history therefore is to serve as a background for understanding swimming progress , perhaps pointing to the future.

Trudgen, an Englishman who had lived in South America, swung both arms over the water and used a breast-stroke kick. For his day he was sensationally fast, but only at short sprints.

As Cecil Colwin tells in his new book, “Swimming Dynamics” (Contemporary Press, Chicago) , Trudgen’s over-arm style was really a revival of this stroke because in various parts of the world, including the South Seas, a variety of this overarm stroke had been swum for generations, particularly for producing that burst of speed necessary for catching waves in Hawaii. Trud gen’s ungainly, South American “Indian style” was soon dubbed the Trudgen stroke, It was executed with the very unstreamlined, knees drawn up into the breaststroke “frog” kick, with chest flat, and head high. Although Trudgen quickly “died” even in his sprint races his demonstrations can, nevertheless, be said to have been a landmark in the history of organized competitive swimming which had started in the late 1830s in London.

Early swimming history is exhaustively covered in the 1904, 488 page classic book, “Swimming” by Ralph Thomas. Famous American Coach Bob Kiphuth owned two valuable copies which, even then, were collectors items. In 1958 he gave us one of these when Ursula and I stayed a few days with him in New Haven at Yale University. Today it is a treasured possession.

Both before and after Trudgen’s time the sidestroke dominated competitive swimming and continued to do so until the early 1900s. It was a natural evolution for the breaststroke on the side to evolve into the side stroke and then single-arm-over sidestroke, the racing stroke of choice. At the 1900 Olympic Games Englishman John Arthur Jarvis won the 1000m in Paris, using a single-arm-over, knees drawn up sidestroke.

If I had been there as a boy in 1875 to see Captain Matthew Webb breaststroke his way to be the first to cross the English Channel, by 1930 I could have been about 76 years of age. So, it is less than two life spans back to the very early days of swimming competition. There must be still much scope for progress in our understanding of speed swimming.

Championship winning times flattened out for two decades after John Trudgen, but then in the mid 1890s with F.C.V. “Freddy” Lane and a handful of other swimmers I believe Australians led the world as innovators in technique.

The late 1890’s and the first quarter of the 20th century can be said to have represented the first golden age of Australian swimming. Those who pointed the way included Freddy Lane (Olympic winner, Paris 1900), Alex Wickham (in 1898 at 12 years of age becoming the crawl stroke model for Sydney swimmers — “look at that boy ‘crawling’ over the water”) There was Dick Cavill, first to break the minute for 100 yards freestyle, Barney Kieran, Cecil Healy, Fanny Durack, Frank Beaurepaire, and later Andrew “Boy” Chariton, each one of whom must stand prominently in the gallery of the Australian Swimming Hall of Fame.

These swimmers from the dawn of the 20th century all played major parts in revolutionizing world swimming. I have met a number of these early “greats” except of course Wickham, Kieran and Healy. But in the early 1950s, I did speak with a number who have swum with them.

My early days in the sport, in the 1930’s, corresponded with a slump in the world standing of Australian swimming, but after 25 years in the doldrums, and with the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne,Australian swimming entered its second golden age, just as Australians today hope that the year 2000 will be the peak of yet another.  But alas, because sponsors and friends of sponsors enjoy high priority, many of us here, the active swimming family in Australia and from around the world, will have little chance of gaining tickets to watch the swimming live in Sydney.

Fred Lane, at his Sydney home at Mona Vale, a northern Sydney beach-side suburb once told us that he reckoned his important contribution to speed swimming was that he became the first to successfully break away from the traditional side-stroke.

From the mid 1890s, Fred Lane won NSW championships from 100 yards to the mile with, for his era, what was a revolutionary breakthrough with a streamlined stroke. Lane swam with what he called the “double over-arm.” He astounded onlookers by winning a NSW one mile championship using double over-arm all the way. He had greatly cut down the retarding effect of bringing up the knees as seen in Trudgen’s stroke, reducing the leg movements to a narrow, and much more streamlined, scissors-like whip of straightened legs.

Stream-lining , that’s the key word. It took eight or so decades after 1900 before coaches took this concept seriously.

Onto the scene swam the Cavill family, in particular Dick Cavill, who soon beat the world (which in the main meant English swimmers) with a double overarm, but with the legs beating vigorously in the vertical plane. This stroke, soon named “The Crawl” stroke, evolved into the stylized “Australian Crawl” of Cecil Healy , Fanny Durack, Mina Wylie and others . Healy, the student of swimming taught many of his contemporaries to bend the knees at nearly right angles, and swim with a strong, thrashing, two beats to each arm cycle, left arm synchronizing with right leg, and right arm with left leg. This heavy kicking technique helped some Australians to world records, but it represented a blind alley. Some Australian champions of the early 1900’s however, were using, very successfully, particularly for distance swimming, much less kick-dominant, more stream-lined so-called “Trudgen” leg actions. These included Barney Kieran, Frank Beaurepaire and the 1924 Olympic 1500m winner Andrew “Boy” Charlton.

The Crawl stroke was taken to the San Francisco Olympic Club by Syd Cavill in 1898, but by the time it found its way to the East Coast of America the heavy two-beat kicking action was lost with the improved “flutter-kick” technique, which saw Charles Daniels of the New York Athletic Club become Olympic champion in 1908, and arguably the greatest swimmer of his era.

Towards the end of the 1920s, in Australia a regular heavy 123 456 synchronized, six-beat action became dominant, and Australia went into gradual eclipse as a successful swimming nation. We moved a long way behind the Americans.

Then came our phenomenal rise in 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics. And, let me tell you, this revival wasn’t induced by illegal doses of steroids!

From the London to Melbourne Olympics I was coach to the Australian Swimming team in London in 1948.

We had Olympic finalists and medalists. However, at Helsinki, four years later, the results were dismal. In their wisdom, the Australian Swimming Union did not consider it important to appoint a coach for the team in 1952. John Davies, then training in the USA, at Michigan with Matt Mann, won gold in the 200m breaststroke. But, there was only one other Australian finalist, John Marshall. He too, after 1948, had trained in the USA, at Yale, where, in two years, he had become the world’s top freestyler, having broken around 28 world records. Marshall was a very long way off his best in Helsinki, where he struggled into 8th place in the 1500m. Whereas John Davies was a true believer in “tapering,” and in even-pace swimming, being last to turn at the 100m in his 200m gold medal swim, John Marshall on the other hand, followed American methods of the time to train hard right up to the event and to “go out hard.” He was never able to regain his brilliant freestyle form. Marshall swam 5th in Melbourne in the Olympic final as a butterfly swimmer, not long before his untimely death in a motorcar accident in the Victorian countryside.

In only four years after the Helsinki Games, Melbourne was to see an Olympic triumph for Australian swimmers. We were competing on home soil in November 1956, and most of our rivals were racing out of their long course summer seasons. This was certainly an important factor which helped us. But there was more. I believe we trained better, and by 1956, the techniques of Australian swimmers, particularly freestylers and backstrokers, had became models for the world.

If you are interested in seeing why I say this I invite you to come and see the films of our top swimmers taken in the 1950s.

I believe Australian swimmers, due solely to private enterprise, were better coached and better prepared than most of our rivals. This was despite little effort being made by the Australian Swimming Union to obtain meet passes for their four appointed professional coaches. Their difficulty was that Herford, Guthrie, Gallagher and Carlile were professionals. It was before the days of J.A Samaranch who commercialized and professionalized the Games from the early 1980s. These four were the coaches who had prepared the team in Townsville and before. It is perhaps ironic that all four of us coaches were eventually honored by election to the International Hall of Swimming Fame, and also were elected as Associate (Coaching) members of the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame.

To many Australian swimming officials at the time, professional coaches were considered the disgruntled “enemy,” to be touched only, periodically , with a barge pole. This held back swimming progress in Australia for decades.

Even though I was one of the four official team coaches, I was able to get into the pool only because someone I knew worked as an expert commentator for Australian Television, which had just been launched. My connection gained me entry into the Melbourne stadium and the other three team coaches eventually managed to gain press accreditation. Finally things did change in Australian swimming —albeit slowly.

Dawn Fraser and Company(1956)

Returning to a consideration of technique; judging from underwater films we made about 40 years ago, which I am to show you in another segment, I think you will agree that the styles of Olympic gold medal winners Murray Rose, Dawn Fraser, Jon Henricks, John Konrads and backstroker David Theile all technically look good today.  Remember we are going back 40 years.

Some top Australian freestyle swimmers were swimming with their heads pretty well down and showed good “ rotation around the central axis” and getting their shoulder and back muscles well into the stroke. Their leg kicks were not regular, heavy six-beats. These characteristics, I believe, all go to form fundamental concepts of good technique, which are widely accepted today.

Over the years we have seen coaches attempting to have their swimmers “hydroplane” over the top of the water, and kick with heavily accented 1-2-3, 4-5-6 leg actions. Most of our rivals, even in 1956, were using deep, very heavy kicks and many were attempting to pull with straight arms at both freestyle and backstroke. In Australia, we had accepted the bent arm pull as the norm. I have heard Coach Jim Counsilman say that often it is the swimmer who points the way, and then the scientists figure out the reasons for it. I think Australian swimmers showed their coaches the way with their bent arm pulls. Eventually the biomechanical reasons became clear.

The Two Beat

Many years ago I came to the conviction that the arms should dominate the stroke as the propelling force, that the arms should not “dance attendance,” that is become secondary to the leg action, something which was common with most Australian six-beaters of the 1930’s. I encouraged “broken tempos” and unaccented continuous two-beat kicks with Ryde Club’s Karen Moras, Shane Gould, and Jenny Turrall, all multiple world record holders through the 1970s, and also with John Bennett who held the world 800m W.R in the 1960’s. I can tell you that at least we never “messed our pupils up” by attempting to force them to over-kick with strong accented “six beats”.

An interesting fact about these three girls, and I have underwater films of these swimmers clearly showing that progressively with each girl there was, with the arms, an increased ability to press backwards on the water more effectively, with the start of the push back coming earlier in each stroke. Murray Rose in the 1950’s, even today regarded as a fine technician, nevertheless pushed down towards the bottom of the pool considerably more than Kieren Perkins, Ian Thorpe, or Grant Hackett. Incidentally, both Rose and Perkins used combinations of two-beat and four-beat actions.

The Modern Crawl

What I have said about early great competitive swimmers is to emphasize the conviction that in large part today’s increased swimming speeds have been contributed to by swimmers be coming arm dominated, decreasing resistance and increasing the capacity to get the elbow up with the forearms making an inward rotation (first preached by James Counsilman), this resulting in a push nearly directly backwards on the water from early in the arm stroke.

Keeping the body horizontal of course is the key to streamlining, this being aided by pressing the head well down, looking to the bottom of the pool. This has been the message of Terry Laughlan with his Total Immersion teaching.

It has become clear of course that it is a great help to be 6 foot 6 inches tall, slender and built like a rowing skiff.

Having spoken for two-beat and broken-tempo leg actions, I should tell you that nowadays I am much impressed today by the obvious effectiveness of techniques involving shallow, fast fluttering kicks combined with high tempo arm strokes “long in front,” with the arm action dominant in an elbows-up backwards push on the water, all effected with good trunk rotation, particularly of the shoulders around the central axis with the back muscles well involved in the arm press. This is a fair distance from our girl world record holders I spoke of who used much higher tempos.

It seems to me that an important function of the leg kick is to help keep the body continually in the horizontal, streamlined position, but it seems reasonable to believe also that the strong kick contributes to propulsion during the deadspot, often in the “stretch out” phase of the stroke.

Even with pronounced rotation of the shoulders, with a high rating arm stroke, and an apparently nearly continuous kick, I have observed in some top swimmers that there is often very little hip rotation.

I believe that despite there still being a number of top swimmers who successfully use two-beats, and many have distinct “broken tempos,” continuous flutters, which on close analysis are shown to be 4-beats, will be seen more in the future. We are seeing more top swimmers who are distinctly “leg talented” with almost continuous kicks characterized by flexible ankles.

But of course there will always be exceptions to the “rule.” We still have a lot to learn about personal idiosyncrasies, measuring, modifying and linking these differences with what is the best for the individual, and of course , so much is “in the genes.” If the continuous flutter kick with slight or no broken tempo is part of the crawl-stroke technique of the future, then it is clear that as many of you have long realized that developing a vigorous “flutter” leg kick right from the beginner stage is very important. However care has to be taken that the legs are not permitted to exert a domi nance over the arms which should “call the tune” and not dictate arm timing or tempo. This is probably why “pulling drills” may be very important especially in the developing stages.

Learning to Swim

I was born on June 3rd 1921 at St. Kilda in Melbourne, coming to Sydney at about two months of age, my father being transferred in his bank job. I remained an only child. It was not until I was seven or eight that my mother could have been seen dragging me for swimming lessons along Balmoral Beach, which is directly opposite the Sydney Heads, to the rock pool at the northern beach-end. My instructor was a sun-blackened Mr. Bince. He welcomed teaching me about as much as I enjoyed learning. He grabbed me by the chin, and with a very imperfect breaststroke, reluctantly, in time I became water-borne.

As I grew up, much of my life was spent around the shores Sydney Harbour around tidal pools.

At the University of Sydney I started out at the University of Sydney in the faculty of Medicine, but after watching a very graphic color film of an eye operation,

I soon convinced myself that I would be much better off in Sci ence. Human physiology seemed as good a subject as any in which to major.

In my honors year, I came into contact with the then Doctor Frank Cotton Reader in Physiology who was to become Professor and head of the department. Cotton was a former swimmer who just missed selection in the 1920 Olympic team in the 4 x 200m relay. As a brilliant academic he specialized in the heart and circulation having studied at Harvard University in the famous Fatigue Laboratory.

In the early 1940s in the “Old Medical School” at the Sydney University, Dr. Cotton was carrying out pioneering work on the development of fighter pilot anti-gravity suits before turning to pursue his interests in the physiology of exercise. In the mid-1940s the Department of Physiology at Sydney was, on a shoestring budget, being largely transformed by Cotton (to the disgust of the academics) into the first exercise physiology laboratory in Australia. Nowadays there are hundreds of such exercise laboratories and sports science course throughout the nation, the smallest of which enjoy far more sophisticated equipment, and expensive electronic gadgetry than we could even dream about.

Professor Cotton needed a right-hand-man. Who better than a keen swimmer?

I was Captain of the University swimming team at the time, in my honors year. Soon, as a very enthusiastic “Johnny on the spot,” I was kept busy taking heart rates, and encouraging athletes from a number of sports to perform on bicycle and rowing ergometers to determine their maximum work capacities. However, it was on swimming that I concentrated, spending a considerable amount of my time on the pool deck coaching.

Professor Cotton can be said to be the “Father of Sport Science” in Australia.

For me he was a fine teacher, a constant scientific resource. On Wednesdays, we used to take the tram into the city to swim for exercise in the 20 yard Tattersall’s Club indoor pool which incidentally was almost a replica of the pool at the Illinois Athletic Club in Chicago where Johnny Weissmuller spent many hours with Coach Bachrack. Cotton and I discussed swimming and swimming training almost daily.

The professor worked with sports-people from a number of disciplines. I concentrated mainly on swimming.

It was in the course of one of our discussions in 1946 or 1947 that we decided on the term “tapering” to describe a process of reducing total training stress, approaching important meets. It was common practice then for most to swim hard practically right up to the day of the big race. The fear was that otherwise “you would lose condition.”

Today, 43 years after his death, I am conscious of the huge influence Frank Cotton had on my swimming thought, indeed on my life. It was one of life’s ironies that the professor died in 1955 of a circulatory ailment, and was thus robbed of the opportunity to enjoy the success of many athletes he had successfully influenced in their preparation for the Melbourne Games.

Shaving Down

First as a Teaching Fellow and then on staff as a Lecturer in Physiology, I was given time to pursue research interests, teach a little and found time to spend hours coaching swimming, as an amateur. I am reminded from time to time by those who participated in my researches in the 1940’s and 50’s of what I was doing then. At one time at the School of Engineering towing tank, I studied the resistance offered by swimmers in various positions (head up, head down, body on the side etc.) and the effect of rubbing on various substances aimed at lowering resistance. It dawned on us that it was important for maximum performance to shave off exposed body hair, then a radical operation. In Melbourne, the Australians became the first team ever to shave down and our men looked remarkably smooth compared with the hairy-chested Americans.

For years there has been argument as to whether the effect on performance was “psychological.” Well, I believe the effect was more than “psychological.” Resistance is quite significantly reduced.

Warming Up

It was about this time that I became interested in studying the mechanisms of warming up, the physiological effect of active and passive warming of the body. Looking at one aspect, at core temperature, I concluded then that passively warming by immersing a swimmer pre-race in a bath-tub for about 12 minutes with the water temperature as high as 48 C (112F), sweating and as red as a beetroot, swimmers’ core temperatures were increased as much as two centigrade degrees. Performance was significantly improved.

The situation, I believed, was analogous to speeding up chemical reactions in a test-tube by heating with a Bunsen burner. Interested in the effect of exercise on muscle temperature, I embarked on a series of heroic experiments involving plunging needle thermocouples two centimeters or so into the large muscle of the thigh. I was reminded recently of the gruesome experience by a pupil who was a volunteer subject 45 years ago. With myself as subject I can tell you , although relatively painless, I found it particularly harrowing pushing in those needles which were connected to a galvanometer. Conclusions? — I am strongly convinced, that on the day of the race, there are two factors which can very significantly affect performance, muscle temperature and even pace judgment. Both can be controlled, but I often see one or the other neglected.

The Palm Beach Group

My first coaching was with a group of young swimmers from the Spit Club in Middle Harbour, and my first NSW Championship

winner was Neville Adams in the Junior 165 yards IM, NSW championship —three strokes were swum then. The State Championships were swum in the old highly polluted Domain Baths, near the Woolloomoolo overseas wharves in the Harbour.

Then in 1946, the Palm Beach Surf Club decided to sponsor an “elite” swimming program and a club. I was the Head Coach and Professor Cotton became the Scientific Adviser. We trained during the long summer school vacation in the ocean filled concrete pool at the southern end of Palm Beach Our large portable minute clock which was, I believe, the first in the world used by swimmers to time training “efforts” and count heart-rates. Our swimmers then were keeping personal training logbooks — 52 years ago.

We camped at the surf club. During the remainder of the summer season North Sydney Olympic pool was our headquarters. We also trained at the Manly Reservoir and used to string out 150-m lane lines along the wall of the dam .

The pace clock came with us to North Sydney Olympic Pool where we also trained. I think it is still there, perhaps with a new clock motor.

The Palm Beach group had many NSW and Australian champions including John Davies, a close 4th in the 200m Olympic breaststroke at the London Olympics and winner of gold in 1952 at Helsinki.

Throughout the summer season of 1947-48, we had Queenslanders Nancy Lyons (who became 1948 Olympic breaststroke silver medalist) and 400 swimmer Denise Spencer training with us in Sydney. They were joined from Victoria by Judy Joy Davies (no relation of John Davies) . Judy won bronze in the 100m backstroke in London, where I was the Australian coach. I was reminded the other day that back in those days, in the 1940s, I was nagging pupils to keep their individual diaries well filled in. Californian Judge John Davies says he still has his log -book.

Training In the 1940’s and 50’s

I looked up our book, Forbes Carlile on Swimming, published in 1963.

In the 1950s we trained less than half as much as we do today, both in intensity and in daily and yearly mileage. We did not have year-round swimming, in Sydney, until Ryde training was extended to the Pymble Indoor Pool in 1966. However, every second year , for Olympic or Empire Games , Australia’s top swimmers trained together for a month or two in tropical Queensland before embarking overseas. At first the training was in Townsville.

I see that these were our training items in the early 1950s

  •  EFFORTS, over the distance of the race most at from “80% to 90%” monitoring with heart rates all timed with the large minute clock;
  •  RACE PACE swims with slow recovery swimming;
  •  REPEAT 50s with short rests;
  •  SHORT SPRINTS (“explosions”); and
  • BASIC , a term I settled on early to describe rela tively slow swimming.

It was surprising and gratifying, at the 1993 Gold Medal Clinic in Hawaii to hear Coach Genadi Touretski quote verbatim words I had written in a booklet in 1953. This is what I wrote in “Training for All Sports”, 45 years ago. Please forgive me for blowing my own trumpet in repeating those words. I believe the training philosophy expressed then is still pertinent today.

“Each individual should draw up his training program from five categories. The greatest distance covered will usually be basic work for both sprinters and distance performers. Both the sprinter and distance person will benefit from any amount of distance work, provided it is done easily enough. Slow work will not ‘bog down’ the sprinter, but too much fast work will spoil both types of athletes.

Slow work alone will not give best results. There still should be a blending of various types of pace work” I think, we would now call this pace work, “specific” training.

I believe this just about sums up many coaches’ philosophy of modern training today, now that the fad of excessive concentration on so-called “quality” (continually high intensity) training may have seen its day. The pendulum has swung back towards application of the principle I have dogged [espoused through most of my coaching career, “speed through endurance,” with a concentration on endurance aerobic training with younger swimmers.

There was another important consideration in training elite competitors.

For many years the philosophy that “some is good, more and harder must be better” has trapped over-enthusiastic coaches into all but destroying some of their pupils. Often every imaginable reason was found to explain poor performance on everything except the fact that a swimmer had run out of “adaptation energy.” Perhaps apart from this, I have a theory that the nervous pathways involved in carrying out the actions in a particular stroke can in some swimmers become affected for a considerable time so that a long period of staleness” can occur until slow restitution takes place.

Adaptation to Training

In 1949, at the Physiology Department, an informal staff symposium was arranged to discuss the then-revolutionary ideas of Canadian physiologist Hans Selye, regarding the body’s adaptive mechanisms —centering on the signs and symptoms of the body’s failure to adapt. Suffice to say that Selye’s theory so impressed me that I immediately embraced the concept and wrote some articles on the Theory’s application to training for the Australian physical education journal of the day. Much later, in 1974, I was invited to lecture to 400 Russian coaches in Tallinn (Estonia) on the importance of aerobic training and on the application of Selye’s theory of failure in General Adaptation..

A number of stressing factors can be listed which affect the athlete besides the training load; stresses such as dietary inadequacy, emotional conflict, insufficient sleep, onset of infections and so

  1. These should be recognized by the coach. Chronic overloading with various life stresses can result in such symptoms as loss of body weight, a state of being permanently tired, in joint and muscle pain not attributable to a particular local injury, swollen lymph glands, rashes, and one-day colds, etc. A number of signs and symptoms will often be understood as indicating failure in the processes of adaptation, representing warning that the intensity and probably the volume of training should be decreased.

The capacity to adapt and to absorb training stress may be largely controlled by the hormonal system, very likely enhanced by a better than adequate supply of various internally produced steroids particularly ACTH(Adrenal Corticotophic Hormone). Some athletes demonstrably adapt better and resist stress better than others. Champion swimmers can often be observed to be able to absorb large training loads.  Lucky are their coaches!

Recognizing differences between athletes, that one person’s training meat may be another’s poison, rests on a firm scientific basis.

How the athlete feels, I believe should be accepted as an important guide to administering training doses . This includes the perception of fatigue during and after training swims, the ability to assess the degree of physical efforts expended. This, I am inclined to believe can be as important for the coach a an heart-rate test.

I throw in here another long-held conviction that there are two types of fatigue, one of a general systemic nature and the other resulting from the overuse of specific pathways in the nervous system. A reduced training load and relative rest for a week or so will often prevent or repair a state of overtraining, sometimes called over-reaching. However, the effect of fatigue on the nervous pathways caused by too great a training load, particularly training of an intensive nature, may take a considerable time to remedy, even as long as a year or so.

A Human Guinea Pig

I found a good opportunity to study first hand, stress and adaptation in the human body — mine. In 1949, having been Olympic Coach at London, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to train for selection in the Modern Pentathlon, and try to be Australia’s first competitor in this event. I had been pretty successful in a number of sports at Scots College, Sydney.

The daily training at five disciplines, coaching, and my university duties kept me very busy. Signs and symptoms of failing adaptation were a constant companion. This was why, when the Hans Selye concepts came to my notice a year or two later it all fell on fertile ground.

The running part of the Modern Pentathlon was a 2.5-mile cross-country time trial . I thought to practice my running I would contest the 1950 NSW and virtual Australian marathon championship. As it turned out this provided an excellent opportunity for me, although it was certainly not initially planned that way, to examine first hand the results of what turned out to be very much failed adaptation. I finished both but it was very nearly at the cost of my life. Relatively untrained for the 26-mile run, I suffered extreme dehydration and blood in the urine(“March haemoglobinuria”) which assaulted the kidneys and which after the race brought me next door to death with acute kidney failure in a then emaciated body around 23 kilograms lighter than I am today. This was during the very early days of kidney dialysis machines. Fortunately for me top Sydney physicians who were called in decided they would not use dialysis with me as a guinea pig. As an experimental patient I would have been “pickled” to death by the dialysis fluid.

I followed closely the physiological aspects of my slow recovery including 6 weeks in hospital. I regard every day since that Marathon on Saturday, September 23rd, 1950, as a bonus. That was my first and last marathon, but slowly I started to build up my pentathlon training. After completing my special one-man trials, I was selected for Helsinki, and I succeeded in becoming Australia’s first Modern Pentathlon competitor at the Olympics and in being a competitor after serving as an Olympic coach. I finished 25th out of 51 competitors and was proud, as a contingent of one to be half way down the field and to beat one of the Russians who had a back-up team of about 20. That, of course, included security officers.

Why did I bother to train for Modern Pentathlon? It was because my coaching philosophy has long been not to attempt to bask closely in the reflected glory of a pupil. I have always believed that it is the talent of the athlete that is more important than the coaching. But of course both talent , good coaching and good management of talent are required. I felt a need to meet the challenge of succeeding on my own at 30 years of age , even in a relatively minor way, off my own bat.


After the Helsinki Olympic Games, I developed very painful back pain, the result of coming off a horse and landing on my backside. Actually I fell off a horse only once in my few years training and managed to negotiate the 22 obstacle, cross-country Olympic course without fault. I was even contemplating a back operation such was the persistent pain, however in the course of looking for a cure, I came across a classic book, Progressive Relaxation , as I recall by Edmund Jacobson. The theory is that general relaxation of the muscles can cure many diseases including breaking the vicious cycle of pain/muscle spasm. I am not sure whether it helped me , but anyway this painfully debilitating back condition in due course got better. My study of Jacobson’s relaxation techniques became a step towards studying suggestion and closely allied hypnosis. So I read extensively haunting the stacks of the Sydney University Fisher Library and attended some seminars on the subject in the Department of Psychology.

You can probably appreciate my line of thought that the power of suggestion might well be used in a systematic way to improve swimming performance. Time prevents me from discussing my adventures in this field, but I can tell you I was amazed, within days of receiving hypnotic suggestion, to see clusters of warts disappear from the hands of a subject. The same highly suggestible girl was persuaded not only to go to the dentist to have a mouth full of tooth decay repaired, but she decided to have all the drilling done without a pain-killing injection. Such could be hypnotically induced faith.

A pupil training at the Bronte ocean baths during the winter of 1953 once stopped and said to me…“don’t wake me up, the water might be cold.” At about 55F(13C), it was cold but he swam on.

Can hypnotic suggestion help the swimmer go faster?

My experiences left me uncertain whether hypnosis can make any difference in boosting performance with the elite athlete who seems to have a “built in” capacity to make maximum effort without such assistance.

Murray Rose reminded me recently that I did some suggestion sessions with him, which he told me, cured him of stomach aches when he raced hard. I was more inclined at the time to think that the relief was due to easing down on taking masses of Vitamin E causing indigestion .

We know of course that coaches use a great deal of positive suggestion with their pupils.

A Professional Coach

I became a professional swimming coach on leaving the University of Sydney in 1955, attracted by the opportunity to take the lease of the Drummoyne Pool when Harry Gallagher moved to Adelaide with Dawn Fraser. Drummoyne was then a crumbling concrete pool ancient, unfiltered, non-chlorinated, and filled and emptied with fairly polluted salt water from the harbour, once weekly a high tide. The year, 1955 was the start of a 5-year stint there. Being the manager-coach at Drummoyne left very much more to be done than coach. My wife Ursula might tell you she did a lot of the work around the pool. She would be right.

Ursula and I met early in 1956. In 1957 we worked on an ABC TV documentary when we traveled through China and on to Russia on the Trans Siberia railway. We married in 1958. I later found that Ursula was described by the head of the physical education department at the University of Adelaide at the time, as the “best student he had taught”. So you can see where any success may have won has come from. Her qualities include being a conscientious and extremely hard worker. She was no load to carry. We set up what we called the Professor Cotton Memorial laboratory at the Drummoyne baths, as well as the Carlile Swim School, later to become the Carlile Swimming Organization.

In the poolside laboratory we did a lot of testing of sportsmen which include top cyclists, Olympic 1500m track champion Herb Elliott and World Champion boxer Jimmy Carruthers. We were chasing the elusive trail of identifying physiological signs of failing adaptation, a trail that even today has led researchers to the conclusion that no one physiological or biochemical test has proved even a useful guide.

We studied heart-wave responses on the Cameron Heartometer. You could always pick the trained athlete from the large “heart waves”. They did have big powerful hearts. We looked at red cell counts and at blood hemoglobin concentrations, which when low invariably meant that in this anemic state the athlete’s capacity for maximum performance had dropped significantly.

We studied the T wave changes on the electrocardiogram. This work with hundreds of athletes from different disciplines including top level cyclist studied through a 6-day race, turned out, I believe to be scientifically the most important work we ever did. For the first time we showed that the shape of this wave, sometimes flattened and even inverted, could change alarmingly during

times of severe exercise and not as was previously thought only as the result of serious heart muscle damage following a heart attack. We showed that with marked decreased amplitude of the T wave there was always deterioration of performance. The shape of the T waves, with some days rest, slowly returned to normal as capacity to perform well, increased. However, significant T waves are marked changes you can be sure that here is a very definite indication of failing adaptation.

As I have already remarked, today more than 40 years on, despite gleaming and expensive equipment and much research, there still is no one test or physiological marker known which can demonstrate unequivocally that adaptation reserves are low. Performance based tests are best. The broad Hans Selye approach of observing signs and symptoms of failing adaptation remain the most useful measuring criteria.

The 1960 Olympic Team Study

The peak of our scientific endeavors may have been the physi ological study we made on the Australian Olympic team at Townsville for eight weeks before the Rome Olympic Games in 1960. Various physiological changes were shown to progressively occur as the swimmers became better trained. There were some changes which almost certainly reflected overtraining and failure in adaption. The study was published in a monograph in 1961.

Not Only Physiology

As a student of physiology we once looked mainly to this science, at heart rates etc., to provide all the answers for fast swimming. However, as important a place as this approach may hold in guiding athletes to maximum performance, I have come to realize that as we learn more it is increasingly clear that biomechanical considerations of technique — understanding propelling and resistance forces rank in importance with physiology, optimum nutrition, strength, flexibility and psychology. Many and various factors including the height, slimness and natural streamlining of the swimmer all interact to determine what is best for the individual. The importance of ingraining good technique and optimum muscular (core) strength, flexibility and endurance early with the young swimmer is now becoming increasingly better understood.

Swim School Business

In 1961 we moved from Drummoyne to the newly constructed Ryde Swimming Centre which now with concrete cancer is about to be demolished for a new leisure center and second Olympic water polo venue for Sydney 2000. It has always seemed obvious that we should involve ourselves deeply in a swimming school business. So we soon built an indoor 12 1/2 meter heated teaching pool behind our leased home at 16 Cross Street, 500m from the Ryde Centre. We had an option to purchase the house later when we could afford it.. It was one of the first indoor teaching pools in Sydney and it is still operating strongly today after some 37 years.

It was there that we embarked on a program of teaching toddlers from 2 years of age in our “Kindergarten” program. It was the forerunner of Baby swimming which with us came five years later, in 1966.

It had become clear then that it was difficult to make a reasonable living by just taking training squads. In private enterprise it is even harder today for a coach who only coaches advanced swimmers to make a reasonable living. Yet coaching elite swimmers needs to be a full-time occupation. This poses dilemma with financial considerations central.

Kiphuth Exercises and Light Weights.

In the 1940s and 50s with Olympic or Commonwealth Games every second year there were not the facilities in Sydney for year round swimming training. “Kiphuth exercises” illustrated in the famous Yale coach’s book, Swimming (1942), were carried out religiously by a few Sydney squads during the winter, mainly by Guthrie, Herford, Gallagher and Carlile. In retrospect, be cause many of these flexibility, “calisthenics” exercises are now recognized as being excellent “core strengthens.” This activity, together with medicine ball work advocated by Bob Kiphuth, was undoubtedly very good practice. We also carried out pulley weight machine exercises at fast tempo, specifically strengthening arm and back muscles. This was the fore-runner with us to using of stretch cords, medicine ball training and carrying out “weight work” with light weights—from 10 to 50 pounds— done at fast tempo with swimmers from about 10 years of age up. Later came the use of the portable “Exergenie-type” resistance machine which we brought to Australia after we observed Coach Gambrill using it in Los Angeles in 1965.

However, our daily and training distances then by today’s standards remained low.

Film Making

Swimming coaches in Sydney were looking for something to do during the winter, and Ursula and I usually got ourselves overseas.

Sometimes we did clinics. We took up commercial film making in 1958 to help pay our way, making a half-hour swimming film, Record Breakers for Jantzen. We coached and filmed in Townsville and accompanied Australian swimmers to the Cardiff Empire Games then on to Europe, Japan and Hong Kong. For this film we spent a lot of time and effort recording the techniques, much under water, of a number of Australia’s world record holders in Townsville during their preliminary training. It was, I believe, one of the first serious attempts to analyze swimmers from an underwater perspective. We collaborated in films , Training Champions (1957) and What Makes a Champion (1 960), and also in 1960 made “The New Magic of Swimming” the latter compar ing techniques of leading swimmers from several countries. I will be showing these “historic” films at a later session.

In the winter of 1959, Ursula and I spent 4 or 5 months in Northern Queensland making a widely shown educational film for the Shell Unit, one of the first of a world-wide flood of such underwater “fishy” films. Ours was called The Great Barrier Reef. In 1965 we made Swimming the American Way Our last instructional film was for Speedo, Champions of the World, 1971.

In 1962 Ursula and I accepted an invitation to become National Coaches in the Netherlands staying there for 6 months through 3 Australian winters, up until the Tokyo Olympics where we marched with the Dutch team. Despite niggling press criticism in Holland about our training methods, which at the time to them seemed radical, at the European Championships in Leipzig, it was a relief to us that both the Dutch men and the women made their best-ever international performances, with the girls well in front of the then emerging East German women.

In 1965 we spent the winter on a grant at Indiana University with Dr. James Counsilman, combining this with visits to many swimming groups around the USA, giving some clinics to pay our way and putting together the film survey of American swimming.

Pymble Indoors, 1966-1983

The year 1966 saw us lease the Pymble Indoor pool on the North Shore of Sydney, and the start of the Ryde-Pymble axis with our first year-round serious water training program. This, I believe, ushered in a new era of swimming in Australia. A year later Don Talbot was indoors at Hurstville and keen competition continued between the strong Auburn and Ryde Clubs.

Baby Swimming

Following a visit to Pymble by Professor Lissiot Diem from the University of Cologne (West Germany) in 1966 and her remark “Why are you only starting at two years of age?”, followed by a demonstration with some apprehensive mothers and babies, in Australia, this was the beginning of “commercial” Baby Swimming , which has now swept the world.

At War with the Australian Swimming Union

At this time I was complaining to anybody who would listen about what I saw as the autocratic structure and ineptness of the Swimming Union of Australia( the ASU) and was not exactly the favorite person of the hierarchy. But at last, in 1985, there came a radical restructuring of the Australian Swimming Union in a more democratic Australian Swimming Inc.

Karen, Shane and Jenny

Six or seven Ryde/Pymble swimmers were on the team for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970. Through the 1970s we had the three successive multiple world record holders in Karen Moras, Shane Gould, and Jenny Turrall. Karen was outstanding in her 800m world record swim at Edinburgh and then Shane in two brief years swept all world records from the 100m to 1500m with the 200m IM thrown in for good measure at the Munich games. Ursula was assistant coach to Don Talbot. I worked for ABC radio in Munich when I took the opportunity to count hundreds of racing stroke rates, presenting a paper on this subject at the second World Swimming Coaches Clinic in Montreal.

When in Belgrade, as the Head Coach for the first World Championships in 1973, our coach Tom Green at Pymble wrote to us of the progress of Jenny Turrall. There were only four years between Jenny winning her Tadpole certificate for being able to swim 200m “in good style” and becoming the world record holder for 800m with her fast rating 2-beat stroke. We watched Jenny win the World Championship with some ease from the East Germans in Cali, Columbia. One thing I remember about this race was that after the first 50m(dive) lap, Jenny did not vary her time for any lap by more than two tenths of a second That’s the sort of even ace judgment I have always approved of.

Branching Out

In 1968, we purchased the Castle Cove 16.6m pool from former pupil Terry Gathercole (now President of Australian Swimming) and John Devitt. Nowadays with Richard Cahalan as manager and part owner, the Castle Cove Swim School, with Killarney (our “flagship”), is successful in several ways, fortunately not the least, financially. A lesson learned in recent years has been that in our swim school businesses it has been important to bring in Learn-to-Swim orientated, manager-owners having their capital invested their “bums are on the line” as our general manager John Coutts has impressed on us. This, we have found can be a successful formula.

Eight times to China

Ursula and I first visited China as swimming coaches in 1973. We went through by train in 1957 on our way to and from the USSR. Our visit was to help bring the country’s competitive swimming “up to speed”. It was during the tumultuous times of the Cultural Revolution when things were a lot different from today. Chairman Mao did not allow foreign magazines and this included Swimming World, into the country. Capitalism and private enterprise then no-nos in China.. We were invited back, in all 8 times. We were even proclaimed Honorary Coaches to the Peoples Republic of China, a “first” we were informed, recognized on elegant certificates adorning our study wall today.

Around 1985, East German coaches went in as advisers. One coach and a medico, we now know were specialists on Human Growth Hormone. So don’t blame any doping program in China on us!

Towards the end of our visits to China, we acquired our best interpreter. He was scientist-coach, Zhou Ming, later to coach two well-muscled girls to win the Olympic 100m freestyle, Yong Zhuang(1992) and Le Jingi(1996). He was also the coach of a Shanghai swimmer recently suspended for the use of a diuretic in Perth. It was interesting that when Zhou was called to testify before the FINA four-day doping “Investigation Group” in February 1995, after China’s seven post -Rome and Hiroshima positive steroid tests, that Zhou was able to convince this credulous FINA group that he could not speak English!!

Beginner Lessons vs Elite Training

The financial success of our Killarney and Castlecove Swim Schools today is due in part to the fact that these swim schools are dedicated today to providing lessons, not advanced training. No squads attend more than 3 sessions a week. It has long been our experience that advanced coaching by private enterprise, as at Ryde and Narrabeen has been a sure way to lose money. How ever, such are the demands of Municipal Councils and the with the cost of real estate today, it is now far from easy for a coach without the legacy from a very rich aunt to set up a supplementary swimming school business and be totally in control, independent of the whims of municipal councils or an employer.

After seldom being out of the National top three for about 45 years with more than 50 Olympic, World and Commonwealth Games swimmers, of late the competitive success of our group has been modest. However, it is good for Australia that world class swimmers are emerging from many parts of the nation. Our Organization, operating at half a dozen places, all round is stronger than ever, and there are many good staff well-trained to take over full control.

The Future

Recently, a new member of our staff, looking around my study crowded with books, papers, various memorabilia, and an impossibly cluttered desk said, “You have done so much. What are your ambitions now?”

I told him it was to grow really old. But it got me thinking. I suppose what I want is to do the things we want to do—and actually, I get close to doing just this (as Ursula could tell you). I have long retired from coaching on deck, but I would not say I have yet retired.

I see many things in swimming which need to be improved, in our own Organization and beyond. Not the least of these is the scourge of possible worldwide use of performance-enhancing drugs. As an active member of the Anti-Doping Committee of the World Swimming Coaches Association, I can tell you my work in this field has dominated my life.


China, has shown itself to be by far the world’s worst drug cheating offender, but it seems WSCA (the World Swimming Coaches Association)and the Federations have not yet succeeded in prompting FINA to initiate more than self-investigation, but appear to be accepting promises and assurances. An independent investigation by experts is essential to test China’s claim that there is and has been “no systematic doping program.”

Only such a probe by independent experts can demonstrate the sincerity or otherwise of China’s long proclaimed assertions that phenomenal improvements have been due to traditional Chinese medicines and that “just a handful of individuals” have been concerned in doping practices. Only after intensive probing, followed very likely by a supervised “cleansing “ process, can China’s athletes escape the stigma of pariahs in the swimming world.

A growing number of people, worldwide, are dedicated to the cause of an independent investigation of China swimming before the country is admitted back into international competition.

I will not abandon the cause to have initiated such an intensive investigation within China, with the full cooperation of the Central Government.

Nowadays,I am up before 5AM most mornings,writing,reading and answering my overseas e-mails before riding my exercise bicycle ergometer for the best part of an hour, at the same time reading the newspapers, marking pieces to cut out, to circulate and probably respond to. It is not unknown for Australian to hear their fax machines churning out my messages even before 4 AM.

I find it best to get these things done at the time I think of it.

My Thanks

Before concluding, I want to recognize and thank all those who have supported and helped me along the way.  This includes all those I have mentioned, but there are many more. Not the least of these there has been John Leonard to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for having provided the spark which has ignited many of us into action being largely instrumental in prompting FINA into significant anti-drug action.

I also recognize Dr. Brent Rushall, a former coach with us at Ryde and now Professor of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University. Brent, with Ursula, a stern critic, has greatly influenced my thinking on swimming over a number of years now. His Swimming Science Journal and Coaching Science Abstracts on his excellent and important Internet web-site are without equal.

Concerning Ursula , my wife of more than 40 years, I cannot begin to tell you of my admiration for her work ethic, her integrity, her abilities, and her judgment. She has contributed greatly for more than 40 years, to anything I may have accomplished.

So that, ladies and gentlemen. Spiced with some convictions arrived at along the way, this is a thumbnail sketch of my life in swimming — up until now.

I don’t have to tell you that I have enjoyed a fortunate, interesting, and at times, an exciting life.


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