Australia’s record at the Olympics in Rowing, Cycling and Swimming has been excellent for many, many Olympiads. They are our most consistent haulers of medals, in fact, looking at the last 6 Olympic Games results, we can see just how much these three sports make up our medal success.
Swimming [32 Finals ’08-‘96, 28 Finals ‘92] 2008 (20), 2004 (15), 2000 (15), 1996 (12) and 1992 (9)
Rowing [14 Finals] 2008 (3), 2004 (4), 2000 (5), 1996 (6), 1992 (2)
Cycling [18 Finals ’08 14 Finals all others] 2008 (1), 2004 (10), 2000 (6), 1996 (5), 1992 (5)
(Source. AOC Games results table website, Swimming Australia, Rowing Australia, )
Total Medals won during these games and number and percentage % won by these three sports.
2008 46/24 (52.1%), 2004 49/29 (59.1%), 2000 58/26 (44.8%), 1996 41/23 (56%) 1992 27/16 (59.2%).
In four of the last five Olympic Games previous to London (the exception being the 2000 Sydney Olympics) the combined medal hauls of Swimming, Cycling and Rowing represent more than half of the total medal count of the entire National Team.
Now let’s add in the 2012 results. 35 total medals won in 2012, of these, 23 were won by Swimming (10), Rowing (7*) and Cycling (6*). [*Canoeing/Kayaking was included with Rowing, BMX with Cycling]
That represents 65.7% of the medal haul, the highest percentage ever.
The discussion for why and how we arrived at these results could easily make up the subject topic of a seminar involving every stake holder in sport in this country, but some of the questions worth pondering are as follows…..
* The bioenergetic profile of these disciplines are usually lactic-aerobic or aerobic lactic; is this a coincidence or are we better skilled at producing these kinds of athletes?
* Is it a cultural issue why we do well at these sports? I sometimes refer to these kinds of sports (along with Tennis, Golf and Cricket) as ‘Country club/Colonial sports’.
* Is it a funding issue? and is that derived from the cultural popularity or from lobbying and advocacy? Is it something that the AOC is driving? Do they feel there is a better yield in these sports due to the number of medals available?
* Are the education skills in our degree programs creating this coaching skill base, or is it serving it? Exercise Physiology and Science students are getting a lot of education in understanding, measuring and effecting VO2 Max (oxygen uptake and capacity) and the Lactic energy system. At the same time however, the knowledge of strength and power development is being left to the wayside by comparison.
Exercise Sports Science Australia (ESSA) is the main influence of curriculum for university undergraduate studies. In 2010, Shire Speed and Strength hosted 6 Exercise Science and Physiology students from 2 different universities to complete their practical placement hours as undergraduates. In 2011, we hosted 2 more; there are currently 3 graduates who are members of the gym here. Every student remarked at how little time in the educational modules was devoted to strength and maximal power development, and what was, included prescriptions of little or no use in performance development for even beginner athletes. It seems, on the testimony of the graduates I have spoken to, clear that strength development is far down the ladder of importance for tertiary educators.
Netball, Rugby League, AFL, Cricket, Soccer, Basketball and Golf have the biggest participation numbers for organized sport (source ASC 2009 ERASS Annual Report) but they have significantly different bioenergetic profiles to Swimming, Cycling and Rowing. Instead of consistent efforts of energy system work, our most popular sports have significant alactic profiles where competitors stop, change directions, take breaks and are able to catch their breathe again before another series of maximal and sub-maximal outputs. Maximal strength and power development can also be made redundant in Swimming, longer Cycling events and Rowing.
I’m just going to throw those observations out there. Its terribly complex trying to properly understand why Australia’s sporting landscape is the way it is but there has been a number of occasions over the last few years that have boggled my mind and its necessary to make it a puzzle (solvable) rather than a mystery (not-solvable). Our newest member of the gym is a member of the NSWIS and AIS development squad for his age group in one of the 3 main medal winning sports I mentioned above. He has being following ‘the program’, and through chronic knee pain, he ended up at SSS. Its the usual story, his sporting technical tactic skills are elite, his conditioning for his lactic-aerobic discipline is awesome; his general strength is highly undeveloped since he has essentially ‘NO’ spinal erector strength and was doubled over by a 60kg deadlift. Judging by that revelation you can probably guess which of the 3 sports he is involved in. Rest assured, its being fixed but rather than be an exception, I have found this kind of ‘development’ the rule from our organizing bodies where winning with a superior metabolic and technical tactical playing card seems to be the focus over strength and mobility. My concern is that those medals that we do miss out on, is due to deficiencies in expertise in these other realms.