Tough talk is tonic to create a team of serious swimmers
A few days before the start of the 1980 Moscow Games, the head coach of the swimming team, Bill Sweetenham, called us together for one of his rousing pep talks.
In true Bill style it was loaded with inspiring rhetoric. ''We must not let down those at home who had supported our Olympic dream to get to Moscow. More importantly, we must rebuild Australian swimming's reputation and the trust of the Australian people.'' Four years earlier, they had watched in horror as their team in Montreal committed the unpardonable sin of not taking the responsibility of representing Australia at the Olympics seriously enough. It was up to us, Bill said, to show Australians that we were serious about swimming for our country. That we were tough enough for the huge task ahead. Serious and tough were Bill's two favourite words.
I was close to tears with the enormity of the task Bill laid out for us in that talk. I was a serious, tough, intense teenager, committed to the job.
Until the final bombshell: those of us swimming in the first two days of competition would not march in the opening ceremony. I was devastated; I knew that marching in the opening ceremony was something I wanted to do. It was a life experience that no one should be denied and after the dramas of the boycott it seemed important that we walk into that stadium as Australians and say ''we made it''. Besides, opening ceremonies were fun - and there hadn't been a lot of fun around our preparation for Moscow. Who wouldn't want to choose fun over the pressure of swimming for your country?
I got out of the meeting as quickly as possible and headed straight for the phone booth and called my mother in Sydney. The tears that had threatened all through the ''pep talk'' flowed freely as she urged me to defy the coaches and march.
But I wasn't a rebellious sort of kid. I was captain. I remembered the headlines from Montreal. I wanted to do my best for my country. It wasn't an individual event I was swimming on the first day, but the medley relay; so I was also swimming for a team. So I sucked it up, wiped my eyes, and left the booth.
I didn't march. On the first day of competition I swam my best time for the 100 metre backstroke in leading the Australian women's 4x100 metre relay; we finished sixth in the final. I did the job I'd been sent to Moscow to do.
Of course, as most people know, at the end of the week I slipped at the start of the final in my pet event, the 200 metre backstroke. I was only 16, but in my own estimation, I'd let everyone down. I felt I wasn't tough enough to compete for Australia at the Olympic Games and I never went back.
No one in their right mind would ever want our current swimmers to be treated like we were post-Montreal. But in the wake of the Bluestone Review into Australian swimming's performance in London, where a team that had every opportunity to cater to their individual needs as well as their Olympic experience, there are some lessons from the past that are worth remembering for anyone wanting to swim for Australia in the future.
The reason why the Australian swimming team holds such a beloved place in the hearts of the Australian public, and receives such an enormous amount of financial support, is that we are in a unique - albeit high-pressure - place. We lead the Australian team into battle at both Commonwealth and Olympic level. It is our job to set the standard, the tone, not to mention inspiration for the rest of the team. It's a tough job, but is well-rewarded.
It is true the Australian public love winners. But the story we all have ingrained in our psyche from a young age that defines us as Australians, is not a winning story. Gallipoli, to coin one of my son's favourite sayings, was an ''epic fail''. But it's the way we behaved in defeat that appeals to us - we were gallant and courageous and true. On the sporting battlefield (or in the pool) of today, if you can't win for Australia then all you've got to do is lose well. Silver medals can be celebrated; bad sportsmanship cannot.
In London, at the Australian team's press conference before the 2012 Games began, I asked James Magnussen if he understood the fine line he walked with the public in terms of the bravado he exuded and the way Australians like their champions to behave. He recoiled from the question, as if he didn't understand my meaning, while Stephanie Rice stepped in to answer. It was not surprising the Australian women came home with the only gold medal in the pool.
The road to recovery after the London Olympics is the same one we took after Montreal. Swimmers need to be serious and tough, as Bill Sweetenham said. If that isn't a job you feel up for, then try another sport.
Broadcaster and author Lisa Forrest captained the Australian swimming team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.