A living legend in swimming rolled into town Monday when Australian coach Forbes Carlile flew in to check out the region’s swim clubs while visiting with longtime friend and business partner, local coach Rick Curl.
Even at 88, and 31 years removed from his induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Carlile arrived eager to learn, excited at the prospect of seeing Michael Phelps, and full of incisive commentary on the direction the sport has taken in recent years.
Carlile will tour Curl-Burke Swim Club’s various training sites before heading north to try to catch a glimpse of Phelps during a workout. On Wednesday, Curl will escort Carlile to the North Baltimore Aquatic Club for a meet-and-greet with Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman, and an up-close-look at his NBAC elite training group.
Fresh off a long weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he participated in the American Swimming Coaches Association World Clinic 2009, Carlile seemed to have replenished his ever-ample store of strong opinions when handed Curl’s cell phone Monday on the way to one of Curl-Burke’s sites.
Carlile, who is helping Curl launch an arm of his Carlile Swimming schools in the United States, denounced a push — led in part by Swimming Australia — to backpedal on the suit rules approved in July when the world governing body’s (FINA’s) decided to ban all non-textile, full-body suits. Swimming officials from Australia, Great Britain and Italy have proposed that men’s suits to extend above the waist, making them the same shape as women’s suits.
“The majority of the coaches in the world are assuming on January 1st, it will be only waist-to-knees [for men],” he said. “That is the understanding of the coaches, and if that doesn’t happen, there will be all hell to pay, I can assure you.”
The rationale for making the suits equal — as the FINA Bureau would consider doing in January if one of its myriad committees asked it to consider such a proposal — many critics contend, has nothing to do with equality of the sexes; rather, it has to do with maximizing revenue. Suit companies can better display their logo on a swimmer’s chest than below his navel; and suits that extend above the waist also allow for the selling of other sponsor space, too. (Australia prominently displayed the communications company “Telstra” on its world-championship uniforms.)
This argument, however, is of no interest to Carlile or, he says, most of his coaching colleagues — except, perhaps, Swimming Australia National Head Coach Alan Thompson.
“Now the coaches are saying, ‘Damn the sponsors, damn the money,’” Carlile said. “The sport of swimming is much more important than the money that goes into it.”
Added Carlile: “My concern is [FINA] even allowed suits to the knees. They should have gone straight to traditional briefs. This is [already] a win for the companies, a win for Speedo.”
Carlile, who competed in the 1956 Olympics in modern pentathlon and coached at four Summer Games, said the swimming world would have to be vigilant to ensure FINA did not loosen the rules when its 22-member Bureau convenes in January. The executive director, Cornel Marculescu, had provided coaches with personal assurances that no changes would be made to the July rules but, Carlile said, “it could happen.”
The lack of trust between FINA’s Bureau and its coaches, Carlile said, is significant and requires a remedy. The Bureau, FINA’s executive, decision-making arm, should be overhauled, he contended.
“FINA is still the same corrupt body,” he said. “There’s a strong move ahead … to reshape FINA … We want the Bureau changed to the people who understand swimming, not the sort of people there now.”
FINA is headed by President Julio C. Maglione of Uruguay and includes 21 others from around the world including former USA Swimming President Dale Neuburger.
Despite his concerns, Carlile didn’t seem too worried about lingering damage to the sport’s record books even with the nearly 200 world records set in the last 18 months by athletes in high-tech swimsuits. In that case, he said, good old-fashioned swimming would eventually prevail.
“Some of the ‘plastic-bag’ times may not be reached, but I think most will,” Carlile said. “Even without the fast suits, ingenuity and innovation will enable us, perhaps, to by London [Summer Games in 2012] catch up to some of the records.”
Carlile also dismissed the notion that Australia had sunk into a swimming slump. Despite its drop in major-event gold medals — the Aussies won seven and six golds at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Games and only three at the August world championships — Carlile said Australian coaches remain among the best in the world and the Australian team continues to be squad of over-achievers.
“If I didn’t think we were doing the right thing, I’d be telling you right now,” Carlile said. “I think we are right on the ball.”
Meantime, he said, America’s cadre of coaches (which now includes former Aussie star Brett Hawke, the Auburn coach who gained his U.S. citizenship last week) have gained ground on their vaunted Aussie counterparts.
American coaches “are well up to scratch on this,” Carlile said. “The American coaches, in my view … are certainly at the same level as the Australians.”
As for his hopes of seeing Phelps?
“We are very interested to see him … we know he is a very unusual individual who has trained unbelievably hard,” Carlile said. “He is a freak, in a way, because of his physique.”