When it came out that some of the swimmers had been acting up at the Olympics, playing pranks on each other and allegedly experimenting with Stilnox at the most inappropriate of times, and that there was a hostile rift between some members of the swim team, it became obvious that things need to change.

Relay swimmer Tommaso D'Orsogna is at the centre of a spat about swimmers' behaviour

The report that some swimmers may have been acting like children was no shock. Especially for the young members of the team, swimming is a sport that does not give you much of a chance to grow up like most people do.

It starts with the wake up calls from Mum or Dad. It’s too early in the morning to respond to an alarm, a gentle nudge and some softly spoken words are uttered to get you out of bed for your morning swimming session.

They’ll pack your bags. Make your lunch. Drive you around. Wrap you up in a towel. Anything for the kids who focus every aspect of their lives on trying to reach their dreams. But alas, they are not kids. They may have fantasised about that moment of standing on the medal dais at the Olympics as a child, but they are young adults, fully capable of looking after themselves.

As a swimmer, you are wrapped in cotton wool throughout the years that you compete. I’ve seen first hand the kind of royal treatment that is given to elite swimmers as if they cannot do anything but train and race.

It’s the ultimate excuse not to grow up. A sport that is so demanding and time consuming as swimming gives you reason not to do just about anything. From study, to going out with friends to doing the washing up, being a swimmer excuses you from all.

There is no off-season for swimmers. If you train throughout your teenage years, you are never really given a proper slice of life to mature, to make the mistakes that your non-swimmer friends are making. Your lives are, ultimately, not that different from when you were children. Having been a swimmer myself, I remember my life being turned upside down when I quit the sport, faced with new experiences and responsibilities that I previously hadn’t had to take.

Too many swimmers are so often treated like princes and princesses by their parents, who are both so proud and so afraid of destroying their kids’ dreams that they’ll do just about anything to keep them happy.

Then there are the coaches who convince you that there is nothing else in life. That your success in the sport is of utmost importance and that commitment comes first, even if it means missing out on study or a normal social life. 

And finally, there is Swimming Australia, who drill a sense of elitism into swimmers from as young as 12 years old when they first attend the Australian Age Championships. To compete, you must qualify as an individual. And if you don’t, you hope to be chosen to compete with a relay team. But they’ll never let you forget it. If you only qualify for a relay, you are given a competitor’s pass that is a different colour to those of the individual swimmers. That rift has already been established.

So it was no surprise when it was announced that Ian Thorpe was being given $100k to make his comeback to the pool. And that others such as Melanie Schlanger are unhappy about their vastly lower income for the same amount of work, because there is a hierarchy in swimming that is instilled from when you first start to compete.

And these Olympics presented an issue from the outset. When people such as Ian Thorpe, Libby Trickett and Geoff Huegill announced they would be making a comeback, young swimmers around Australia, who thought that it was finally their time, were faced with the threat of ghosts of past Olympics.

The elitism within the team is very clear and needs to change. Although it is an individual sport, they should be treated like a football team, where they are equal and where they understand that each of their actions affects every individual.

The Australian Swim Team has managers and organisers looking after swimmers’ every need. Treating them like royalty just as their parents would have throughout their younger years. But instead of being given the royal treatment, swimmers should be held accountable for their own actions, and given a sense of responsibility.

It shouldn’t just happen at the Olympics either. It should be given to them from the early days of their careers. It should start with young swimmers packing their own bags, making their own food and getting themselves out of bed in the mornings, just as everyone else has to.

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    • Alfie says:

      12:22pm | 14/09/12

      It must be the pool chlorine that turns their brains to jelly.

    • Don says:

      06:02pm | 14/09/12

      I have mentioned it before - Gen Y athletes just don’t cut it.

    • Baloo says:

      12:25pm | 14/09/12

      Did the swim team in every country act childish? or just the Australians?

    • bella starkey says:

      03:32pm | 14/09/12

      Ryan Lochte

    • Tango says:

      04:19pm | 14/09/12

      Did the members of the paralympics swimming team act like small children? Or, just the members of the Olympic team for ‘able bodied’ athletes. I think the paralympic team members just got on with the job at hand. They were proud to represent their country and relished the opportunity. Didn’t see too many reports of any of them behaving like prima donnas or idiots or complaining. I think they just thought that they were there do a job and then did their job.

    • Showmethamoney says:

      12:53pm | 14/09/12

      Olympic athletes don’t have real jobs so why should our taxes be given to any of them ?  Surely we have more important things to do with taxpayers money ......how about education, health and homelessness - aren’t they slightly more important than helping a tiny minority swim faster and live in la la land…all for bragging rights and a few gold medals ?......(roll comments about “role Models” and “inspiration”)

    • Rose says:

      01:52pm | 14/09/12

      Define ‘real job’. Just because someone’s job is different to yours, just because it may mean that they organize their lives differently to you, doesn’t mean they don’t have real jobs.
      They provide a service, they fulfil a role and as such they get paid. Not everyone can fulfil the social roles, and by being swimmers/athletes it doesn’t mean they are more or less valuable as members of society.

    • leena says:

      02:09pm | 14/09/12

      Rose What service do they provide. What role do they provide. Sport and I’m not just ttalking about swimming is a hobby that becomes increasingly self absorbing the better you get, it is not a job

    • Oh there it is says:

      02:32pm | 14/09/12

      Rose, they are entertainers. Government subsidised entertainers.

    • Rose says:

      02:47pm | 14/09/12

      They provide entertainment and they provide sporting ‘role models’ for kids who wish to do well in their respective sports to follow. They provide something to take people’s minds off things when things aren’t great and they are the icing on the cake when things are good. If they provided no value they wouldn’t be getting paid, really simple.
      Whether or not you feel the service they provide is important is irrelevant, enough people do that they have a chance to turn this ‘hobby’ into a job that earns them an income.

    • Ima Back says:

      04:10pm | 14/09/12

      Rose, clowns can provide entertainment at much less cost. The problem with the Olympic Juggernaut is that it has become so huge that no-one dare question its worth.

      And please stop waving the “role model” banner. For every great role model, there’s a complete jerk who is the opposite of that. That’s the whole point of this article.

      “Whether or not you feel the service they provide is important is irrelevant,”

      Why is it irrelevant? Don’t I get a say in this, or do you just want to steamroll your opinion over everyone else?

    • Rose says:

      04:54pm | 14/09/12

      Okay, let me clarify as comprehension seems to be a bit thin on the ground here.
      Role models… I said ‘sporting role models’, not behaviour role models, not moral or cultural role models, just sporting role models. Meaning that in this country they are the best at what they do, kids learn technique from watching them, kids see how the sport is supposed to look (usually, not always) at the highest level. They give kids who enjoy and excel at sport something to aim for.
      Entertainment, Yes clowns can provide entertainment cheaper, but a lot of people would much prefer to watch sports than clowning, and they have every right to. As long as people are prepared to pay to be entertained they also get to choose who they are prepared to pay to do the entertaining.
      My opinion is irrelevant, as is yours. What is relevant is that there are enough people prepared to pay to see these people in action to ensure that they can make a living doing what they do, and what they do is sport. There are a lot of things in this world that I would never support, but my opinion isn’t sufficient to ensure that they don’t exist, just as those who feel sports people are unnecessary can’t wish them out of existence.
      Sports people are doing a job, it’s a REAL job, whatever that’s supposed to be, and just because some people don’t like it doesn’t change the fact that what they do is apparently of enough worth to enough people to keep them going.

    • Mahhrat says:

      12:54pm | 14/09/12

      Who can pull themselves fastest through a straight, flat and highly regulate pool of water is no “sport”.

      I think it’s hilarious that the thing we truly love - the beach (and hence, beach sports) - has been usurped by the nonsense that is pool swimming.

      Iron Man/Woman, surf events etc…now those are sports.

    • Ally says:

      02:30pm | 14/09/12

      Rubbish. Based on that example, track running isn’t a sport because it’s on a specially constructed, flat surface.

    • Punters Pal says:

      03:07pm | 14/09/12

      @ Mahhrat re your quote: Who can pull themselves fastest through a straight, flat and highly regulate pool of water is no “sport”.

      Err, you could say that about any sport:
      - Who can run fastest down the stadium lane, it is no “sport”
      - Who can jump longest into the sandpit, it is no “sport”
      - Who can can run around 13 men and carry piece of synthetic rubber across the lane, it is no “sport”
      - Who can kick the ball into the goal, it is no sport.
      - Who can hit the piece of leather over the fence with a wooden stick, it is no “sport”

      Of course swimming is sport, as much as your beloved Ironmen events or football, cricket or atheletics. That’s why it is sport, ultimately it is just an entertainment business and does not serve anything useful other than that.

    • Lee says:

      12:56pm | 14/09/12

      I think you would find that most elite athletes would be decribed the same, the higher the profile of the sport the worse it is, just look at footballers. Swimmers are also individual sportsmen, it is every person out for themselves true teamwork is not in thier vocabulary. There is no i in team but there is in swimming

    • Troy Flynn says:

      02:05pm | 14/09/12

      You could say the same thing about Davis Cup Tennis. It’s promoted as a team sport, but really it’s an individuals pass time.

    • Darren says:

      01:04pm | 14/09/12

      I reckon I heard more about other things than swimming in relation to Stephanie Rice & James Magnussen than I should have.  These two seem to be the most Out There two that think they are Gods gift to us all.  When it came time to put up they just didn’t cut it.  Rice was straight onto Twitter & radio talking about all kinds of crap other than her swimming.  I really don;t think she cared how she went & I don’t think Magnussen did either. And the girl that cried for finishing second.  She only cried because she could see that Uncle Toby’s contract slipping away.  Grow up all of you.

    • Ian says:

      01:57pm | 14/09/12

      Darren, the thing i find annoying the most is the fact they get paid for what they want to do. if swimming was a uni degree they would have to pay back a hex debt for there learning and degrees. How is it a swimmer for example can get paid 17k a year even if they finish last or not even get through to a heat. they all get 3 week holiday possible sporting contracts or television roles, if good what the problem wish i got paid to train.. If your a bad swimmer you don’t have to pay back the investment the Australian public made in trying to make them great you just cry and tweet, that seems to be the norm for our sporting groups.
      if you don’t like it choose another job. or maybe try a bit harder next time.

    • RTH says:

      02:29pm | 14/09/12

      Bit harsh, they’re not robots.

      Athletes fail all the time. Not everyone can win, that is why they put so much into being the best.

      They are allowed to have lives outside of their profession, just like you and me are.

      People need to realise that the life of a professional athlete is bloody hard, not only do you have no social life to speak of, your body balances on a knife edge between being in prime condition and breaking down, every day.

      You need to be mentally strong enough to push yourself beyond your own limits day in and day out as you train.

      Then when you get to your big moment, and if you happen to fall short on the day, you get armchair warriors spouting crap about you on some opinion site and how the money you get paid is a waste of resources and blah blah blah.

    • Clare says:

      01:05pm | 14/09/12

      these people need to grow up! getting paid $17000 for a hobby, that is your choice. they swim, that is all.

    • Jack says:

      01:13pm | 14/09/12

      Good long-term plan Amelia, but until then let’s remember that they’re still children and give them nannies who will enforce good behaviour and a curfew.  If someone had had the guts to roar ‘go to bed, children’ at them, half the shenanigans wouldn’t have happened and they would have performed up to form.

    • Gaaaah says:

      01:22pm | 14/09/12

      I’m wondering when the ATO might take a look at these clowns.
      Doesnt look like they are claiming their appearance fees etc under Tax according the person earning 17K a year for swimming in water…..
      And didnt they raise the Tax Free threshold above 17K a year or two ago?

      The sad part is there are a lot of aussie swimmers that are nothing like the Rices and co , we just got a bad bunch atm and were spoiled with the Hackett/Thorps I guess as ( while swimming ) they were perfect role models.

    • Blackadder says:

      01:29pm | 14/09/12

      All adults know right from wrong. It’s how you choose to act that is what defines you and people’s perception of you.

      As another poster implied, it was just the Australian swimmers that embarrassed themselves - every other nation appeared to act professionally. The problem was that the team that went to London was full of self-importance from past meets. They expected to win. They were bouyed on by social media who expected them to win. They carried on as if they’d already won before they’d even arrived. Then they got wiped from the pool like drowned rats and received a real lesson in swimming.

      The two shining lights of the Olympic squad - Anna Meares and Sally Pearson - cut all forms of media and social media in the weeks leading up to the games. They focussed on the events and their training regimes. They came out winners.

      This trend of ‘blame’ is disturbing. Just because some acted like fools, doesn’t mean we blame their childhood, their parents, their schools, or anything/anyone etc to abscond blame. How about they man up and take some responsibility for their own actions as adults ?

    • kitteh says:

      02:34pm | 14/09/12

      I agree. A key word that isn’t used once in this article is character. Despite their similar experiences in training, not all athletes diplayed the arrogance and lack of judgement displayed by several members of the swim team. At some point blaming mum n’ dad, the coach and society in general just doesn’t cut it any more - their behaviour reflects their intrinsic traits and personality.

      I also have to laugh at the idea that athletes are so unique with regard to their teenage experiences. An academically strong teenager works incredibly hard in and out of school hours, sacrificing many of the experiences this article presents as essential for ‘maturing’ - or doing them in spite of their heavy workload. As do the gifted musicians, the kids in drama club, the kids heavily involved in community service, and so many others. Their time is as tightly managed and their discipline just as strict as any young athlete - yet in general they manage to mature into valuable, well-rounded adults, in spite of the lack of funding and recognition. This doesn’t bode well for Amelia’s hypothesis.

    • Rob of Brisbane says:

      02:34pm | 14/09/12

      I agree.  The media, both social and mainstream, generally treat these people like demi-gods, and the coaches and administrators were too wimpy to stop the grand illusion from convincing the athletes that they were invincible.  I heard one of our former Olympians say that she expected our athletes to “have fun” in London.  Have fun! 

      My wife is a former gymnastics coach.  She is also Russian.  Before the Olympics, she was commenting on the apparent lack of swim team spirit, training practices, hype….....summarised by saying that the Australian swimming team were “soft” and would be humiliated in the pool. 

      I didn’t want to believe her, and hoped she would be proved wrong but the signs were unmistakable.  Her observations proved to be spot -on. 

      Being a professional athlete is a demanding yet priviledged position - either give it 110% or move aside for someone else.

    • Andrew says:

      04:11pm | 14/09/12

      @kitteh the point is that swimming is far more physically taxing than any of the other activities you mentioned - that’s why it’s so different. Young swimmers do not have normal lives. Young people who study hard have very normal lives because that is what they are supposed to be doing - not training 20+ hours a week on top of school

    • Debbie says:

      07:04pm | 14/09/12

      @andrew, swimming is no more physically taxing than any other sport played at an elite level. My daughters are gymnasts and the eldest (9yrs old) already trains 12 hours per week even at her level plus does extremely well acedemically , plays in the school orchestra and a host of other things. She too is physically exhausted by the end of the week, just as the swimmers are, but we do not treat our kids as prima donnas, and still expect them to do normal chores and help around the house, as well as keep on top on top of their school work. Swimmers are no different to any other kids that train intensively for a sport. You did not see the same behaviour from the gymnasts, far from it, and at least two of the womens team were competing with major injuries, but you never heard ANY excuses from them. It defeinately seems to be a culture thing in swimming.

    • Millsy says:

      01:32pm | 14/09/12

      “Treating them like royalty just as their parents would have throughout their younger years”

      Surely this is a windup?

    • Misha says:

      01:34pm | 14/09/12

      The same could apply to other professional sports where the participants can be young. Dare I mention the death of the AFL foootballer who, with a little more maturity, would still be alive. The fact that clubs talk about sending chaperones with adult men suggests that these men do not have the maturity expected of normal adults of that age. It is time the administrators/managers/coaches took responsibility for transitioning these kids into the adult world so they are equipped to deal with the inevitable pressures that occur outside of competition.

    • Kika says:

      01:38pm | 14/09/12

      I think they act like children because they ARE children. I think the attitude is endemic to most young kids I come across these days - the attitude is amazing. I was young not so long ago - I finished high school in 2000 and we were never like the way kids are these days. But… the real issue to me is the glut in talent we have thanks to losing some big names in recent years. In the olden days we had swimmers who were specialised to 1 or 2 races. Then we had swimmers like Thopey who could do the 100, 200, 400 and 800 so we missed a whole talent pool of kids coming through the ranks. Plus our coaches are being poached by the Chinese by way of being lured by the big cash and big cash bonuses for gold medals. It’s a tough situation indeed.

    • Markus says:

      02:27pm | 14/09/12

      You’re kidding yourself if you think ‘kids these days’ is the problem.
      You may not have been like this, but you can be assured there were others your age like this.
      I graduated very close to when you did, and there were dozens that acted like this, and most of them didn’t even have any actual ability or talent to back up the talk.

    • Simstar says:

      01:53pm | 14/09/12

      This is nothing new and has been happening for ages, especially in swimming - remember Dawn Fraser and her ‘antics’. The trouble is you have various ages in the swimming team, some as young as 14 up to late 20’s. Some are mature individuals some aren’t (doesn’t depend on age). Each one has the responsibility to look after themselves within the management structure laid down by Swimming Australia.

    • Michael says:

      01:59pm | 14/09/12

      Couldn’t agree more. This is a cultural thing and culture comes from the top-down. Don Talbot was the bloke who pulled Australian swimming out of the stone age, punted coaches who didn’t get on board and dismissed swimmers who behaved like prima donnas, and restored swimming’s culture. Australian swimming has been on the slide ever since he left.  Maybe a good start would be to get him back - oh, that’s right, I forgot. He’s now in the UK earning 10 times what we wanted to pay him.

    • Grandma says:

      01:59pm | 14/09/12

      Melanie Schlanger, I’m an invalid pensioner who gets about the same as you. But that’s all I get, I have to pay all my bills and live on that. I won’t be going to London on a taxpayer funded trip any time soon. I spent a lot of years being rpoductive despite my health, and paid taxes for nearly 40 years, but I still feel guilty that I live on other people’s taxes. I’d much rather be healthy and earn $60 -70,000 with the skills I still have mentally.

    • marley says:

      02:06pm | 14/09/12

      I think the problem with the team lies less with the athletes and more with the management.  Yes, some of the team are obviously very immature, very self-important, and quite irresponsible.  There is no reason, however, why management shouldn’t have clamped down on those behaving badly, in the interests of the team as a whole. 

      If the coaches and managers cannot instill in the swimmers a sense of group responsibility, a sense of teamwork and fellowship, a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to represent Australia, then get new coaches and managers.

    • Dig a little deeper says:

      02:11pm | 14/09/12

      This is a joke right? (checking calendar to see if it’s April 1).  You’re blaming *other* people for *their* bad behavior?

    • marley says:

      02:43pm | 14/09/12

      If that comment was meant for me, no, I’m trying to distinguish between bad behaviour and poor results.  I’m not blaming the coaches for the bad behaviour of some of the team’s members. I’m blaming them for not doing anything about it, and for allowing it to impact on the performance of the team as a whole.  After all, they’re paid to get a team to the starting blocks in the physical and mental shape to deliver.  They didn’t do that.

      Of course the individual swimmers wear the responsibility for whatever they got up to; the coaches, however, have to wear the responsibility for allowing a destructive division to develop within the team as a whole.

    • mmg says:

      02:27pm | 14/09/12

      Generation Why?  Indeed…

    • Yousaidit says:

      02:50pm | 14/09/12

      Treat swimmers like adults?  So…. make them get real jobs and sack them if they stuff up?  Sounds good to me, and will certainely save a lot of tax dollars that are currently wasted on ‘kids’ swimming in a pool…

    • Heath says:

      03:19pm | 14/09/12

      Amelia, you are as good of an example as any that not all swimmers are arrogant, insular babies. All the people I know who were either in the australian swim team or near members were top people. I agree there are issues that need to change with in swimming australia, they need to get back to a raw meritocracy (schlanger on less than thorpe is a joke) but you should know better than most that most swimmers are not babies.

    • sal says:

      04:13pm | 14/09/12

      It doesn’t say that they’re all babies, just that they get babied a bit

    • wynner says:

      04:02pm | 14/09/12

      All professional sport is an extension of the games we play in the backyard. So why should a rugby player earn 100k over a swimmer 17k. The reality is it is down to entertainment value or really TV audience size and their value to the advertising world.
      Squash players are some of the fittest and most skilful sportspeople going around yet they can’t even get a look in at the Olympics.
      Unfortunately, if your good at a low paying sport you only really do it for your own satisfaction. Maybe that is how all sport really should be.

    • Fish says:

      04:14pm | 14/09/12

      Amelia obviously doesn’t understand much about football teams when she says that everyone is equal. Do you really think that the star players get the same treatment as the rookies or the bit players? If you do, you live in a fantasy world.

      In any event, apart from the relay events, the relationship between one swimmer’s performance and that of someone else can do is distant. Swimmer’s don’t depend on how the other swimmers perform. It’s not a team sport. Sure, there’s team spirit and morale and what people do can rub off on others. But you can’t compare a team sport where the person kicking or shooting for goal depends on a whole bunch of other people working together to get the ball to them with swimming. My ability to swim a personal best is not dependent on your performance or attitude or behaviour.

      Setting that aside, you can’t treat kids like adults. They aren’t. Irrespective of whether a kid has been training and competing in a sport since they were old enough to hold a spoon or whether they were brought up as ‘normal’, they are still kids.

      Just look at the example of some top level football and basketball players: many of their actions and escapades reported in the media demonstrate that they don’t have the maturity needed to take responsibility for their actions.

      Young, inexperienced athletes need guidance, firm guidance. They need to be told what is and what is acceptable and what is expected of them. Their behaviour needs to be monitored and controlled.

      The article says that “swimmers should be held accountable for their own actions, and given a sense of responsibility.” That’s impossible. They are kids. Biologists and psychologists will tell you that a person’s brain doesn’t develop biophysically and biochemically to enable people to accept responsibility for their actions or to understand the consequences of their actions until they are in their mid-20s. The focus of teenagers and people in their early 20s is on the here and now and on themselves. They can’t ‘get’ it until they are old enough - it’s nothing to do with personality, it’s the physical limitation of the human brain. And that part of the brain doesn’t develop fully until around age 25 (maybe earlier for some, maybe later for others).

      But maybe the article is right in one respect. As a swimmer in the 1970s (not to Olympic standard, but at state and national level), I set my alarm, work up without help, packed my own bag, made my own food, got myself to the training pool on my deadly treadly, got myself back home and organised my own timetable. That’s because my parents both worked and didn’t have the time or energy to do all those things.  Nor did I expect them to.

    • Bazza says:

      04:15pm | 14/09/12

      “But instead of being given the royal treatment, swimmers should be held accountable for their own actions, and given a sense of responsibility.”

      Yes, Mr D’Arcy. How’s that life of bankruptcy going? By the way, I skipped out on paying my hospital bills because I look to you as a role model. I think I’ll hit the town tonight… literally.

    • Ben says:

      04:21pm | 14/09/12

      My brother is in med school (he is alot smarter than I am). Once he is finished he will spend quite a few years paying back his considerable HECS debt. He will actually contribute something to society and help people in need. Why don’t swimmers like Ian Thorpe who lived off govt funding have to pay back that funding once they are earning a certain amount of money through race meets and sponsorship? Of course not all swimmers/athletes will end up earning lots of money but surely those who do can pay back the people who paid for them to spend their days in a pool. And before people get upset…yes i realise they are not just hanging out having fun, but they chose a lfestyle where the government pays for them to play a sport and they are never asked to pay that back.

    • Rose says:

      07:16pm | 14/09/12

      A HECS type system is not a bad idea.

    • De says:

      06:23pm | 14/09/12

      Bring back the good old days when sportsmen had real jobs, loved their sport and were proud to represent their country. Any cash incentives were a bonus but not expected. They were better sportsmen than the overpaid brats we have these days. It also cost less to go and watch the games.

    • Jeff says:

      06:35pm | 14/09/12

      Sport is a game, no more no less. People have been encouraged to worship sport and spoartspeople for I what reason I`m not sure. Perhaps goverments have a vested interest in having sheeple distracted. I really dont see the point of ` i can run faster than you by .21 of a sec, i kicked 2 more points than u`, it is the sad little ego wanting to feel special, i think we all need to realize that we belong as a group to the human race, it is not `a race`. We are valued and valuable and we dont need someone else to re-enforce that via medals or competition. Feeling inferior to others is what motivates many to `excel` beyond others.

    • just shut up says:

      07:35pm | 14/09/12

      Your comment:the swimmers did well at the paralympics and badly at the olympics


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