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Trials shift among major changes as Swimming Australia sparks post-Rio reform

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Swimming Australia insists it hasn't simply produced a carbon copy of the American system, saying the pivotal decision to move official trials to just five weeks out from major events was a result of local factors and circumstances.

In what was the major change following the post-Rio review, Australia will now stage its championships just over a month from key meets, as opposed to three or four months out under the current system.

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It's the same timeline used by the dominant Americans, who swept all before them in the Olympic pool to win 16 gold in their 33-medal haul. Expected to win anywhere between eight and 11 gold, Australia took home three (10 medals overall) to be second.

Reviews are part and parcel of the wash-up to any major meet, but the underwhelming performance of a number of Australia's leading hopes in Brazil proved to be the catalyst for dramatic changes to the schedule.

Immediately after Rio, head coach Jacco Verhaeren distanced himself from the idea of moving the trials. Six months later, that is exactly what has happened as the Dolphins revamp their system in a bid to get the most out of their athletes on the biggest stage.

SA chief executive Mark Anderson said he was aware of the comparisons but stressed it wasn't simply mimicking the US trial system, although he acknowledged that was at least part of the inspiration, given that country's wild success.


"We looked right around the world, in terms of the global situation," Anderson said. "This is the model the US uses. But this decision was made in the context of the Australian environment and what we face. The really key thing is not just the timing of the trials but the shifting of the state championships to make sure it was all aligned.

"The states recognise they needed to move and assist high-performance swimming. No, it's not just a copy because it's a decision made off the back of what is unique to the Australian environment. We look to all nations, including the US, and have looked at a number of nations around the world."

Verhaeren said in an Olympic year the trials would finish the day before final nominations for the Games, which is the same timing as the American system. Other than that, he said, the inspiration for the move arose from a different set of needs.

"The only comparison between us and the US is that we're both respecting the entry deadline for the Olympics," he said. "We'll finish our trials literally a day before the entries for the Olympics. For all the rest, we're doing it for different reasons."

Verhaeren, who was careful not to use the timing of trials as an excuse for some of the underperforming stars in Rio, said Australia was in a unique scenario in having to prepare in winter, as opposed to northern hemisphere nations.

That left a period of little racing between trials and events, which many felt took the competitive edge off some of the Australians at the Games.

"I'm comfortable with five weeks out, also five months out," Verhaeren said. "But this particular change has to do with the Australian situation. We're one of the few leading swimming nations in the world that are having winter when most are having summer.

"The significance of that is an increase in injury and illness. We deal with that. The structural issue in Australia is that there is a true lack of meaningful competition between April and August. We have to invent that ourselves."

The change will come into effect in 2018, before the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. This year's trials for the FINA World Championships in July will be held in April, followed by a swing through European lead-up events.

Also on the cards will be more training and potentially racing in warmer climate pools, such as Townsville, and the reduction of SA-backed high-performance centres from 14 to nine. Four state coaches are now also under the SA umbrella in a leadership group with Verhaeren.

One pool not on the list of elite centres is St Peters Western in Brisbane, home of one of Australia's leading coaches, Michael Bohl. But Bohl has been tipped to be on the move to a new centre, potentially at Griffith's rapidly expanding campus on the Gold Coast, and remains one of the most influential mentors in the nation.