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World swimming championships are just as important as the Olympic Games

By Chris Lewis - posted Tuesday, 8 August 2017


I disagree with John Bertrand (President Swimming Australia) who suggested on the ABC radio show The Ticket (30 July 2017) that any critical assessment of Australia’s performance at the 2017 World Swimming championships should be downplayed on the basis that the 2020 Olympic Games is the ultimate aim.  

In my opinion, too much is made of the importance of the Olympic Games in an era where increasing importance is given to world championships for a number of reasons. 

With the introduction of prizemoney at the 2007 world swimming championships, Australian swimmers too have added reason to maintain good form for all global championships. After all, Australian swimmers receive a maximum $35,000 of public assistance in one year (as of 2016), less through means testing if they receive commercial sponsorship or live at home.

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While prizemoney was first limited to medalists in 2007 ($US24,000 per event), and then extended to the top six by 2013 ($US39,000 per event), world swimming championships since 2015 now offer $US60,000 prizemoney per event. As of 2017, prizemoney for the top eight placings from 1st to 8th (US dollars) was $20,000, $15,000, $10,000, $5,000, $4,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000.

Further, with Australian taxpayers contributing just under $40 million to fund the Australian swimming program for the four years prior to 2016, the world swimming championships are a crucial indication of Australia’s progress in line with swimming being Australia’s most successful sport with 192 of 497 total Summer Olympic Games medals (64 of 147 golds).  

So how did Australian swimmers perform at the 2017 world championships, and how did the performance compare to more recent global championship results?

According to former swimming star Libby Trickett, the championships were “really hard” to watch within our “expectation that we’ll always be successful, because we have been in the past”. With Australia finishing eighth on the medal table (based on colour of medals), Trickett called on Swimming Australia to look at new ways to keep our swimmers competitive against improving rivals.  This may include “how to retain coaches” and how to give “the athletes more race experience”.

With Australia’s world championship medal of ten the lowest since 1991, the following table confirms that the 2017 performance was the worst of recent performances in terms of medals won (gold medals in brackets) since 2011. While the 2017 medal performance was identical to the 2012 Olympic Games, the 2012 performance was achieved with just 32 events compared to 42 in 2017. The latter event included four mixed gender relays and an extra two events each for individual freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke events.   

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But, given that the above table shows that other mighty sporting nations also have fluctuating global swimming performances in terms of medals won, including China and France, further information is needed to evaluate Australia’s performance.  

The following table breaks down Australia’s recent global swimming championship performance by examining individual performances for each stroke and the number of Australian making finals.   

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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