Jacco Verhaeren when he was coach of Inge de Bruijn at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Swimming Australia has no doubt it has the athletes to help the country become the sport's world power. And with Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren as the new national head coach, SA believes it has found the key to turn a recent run of near-misses into gold medals.
The appointment of Verhaeren, who has coached successfully in five Olympic Games and eight world championships, was confirmed on Thursday. The Dutchman, 44, has strong credentials having coached seven Olympic medallists, including Dutch freestyle star Pieter van den Hoogenband, who won gold in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.
According to director of high performance Michael Scott, SA hopes Verhaeren will convert a worrying number of below-par performances at the last world championships in Barcelona in August into optimal performances, if not gold medals.
"The key analysis to me says that we certainly have got a lot of talent, but we are not converting those finalists, semi-finalists and even medallists into gold medals, which is ultimately what you are judged by," Scott said.
"Ultimate success is always measured on golds. The key differential . . . is we have a lot of good things in swimming in Australia. The area we need to focus on is our skills set. We lost races. We lost gold medals in Barcelona because of poor execution skills. One thing Jacco brings to the table, in my view, is – besides the cultural fit – his technical skill. The Dutch have shown time and time again in a small swimming country that when they have targeted an event, they are very good at it."
The recruitment of Verhaeren was labelled by SA president John Bertrand as a "coup". With the process beginning after the world titles in Barcelona, Bertrand said it was aimed at making Australia "the No. 1 in the world in the future, both in the Olympics and Paralympics world, from the Olympic podium right through to grassroots."
According to SA chief executive Mark Anderson, the search for "the world's best coach" included interviews with "a whole raft" of candidates that concluded in Australia, where they were asked to "present their visions of Australian swimming". Anderson said the nationality of who would get the job was never a priority, and rejected the notion the appointment of a foreigner was an indictment on local talent. "We were in search of the world's best and we had a whole range of very high quality candidates both from Australia and internationally," Anderson said.
Anderson said Verhaeren's appointment was the last in SA's high-performance area and that after he moved to Australia his focus will be on Australia's campaign for the year ahead, starting with the Aquatic Super Series in Perth in late January, followed by the national trials in April, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Pan Pacific Championships on the Gold Coast.