Australian coach out after Olympic shame

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CHINA, Shanghai : Australia’s swimming coach Leigh Nugent speaks during a press conference given by members of the Australian team during the FINA World Championships at the indoor stadium of the Oriental Sports Centre in Shanghai on July 22, 2011. AFP PHOTO / PETER PARKS

SYDNEY – Australian swimming officials Wednesday said head coach Leigh Nugent will resign after a dismal London Olympic campaign marred by ill-discipline, drug use and drunkenness.

Swimming Australia president Barclay Nettlefold said Nugent no longer wanted to continue in the role, although press reports claimed he was sacked.

“Leigh actually approached us to discuss his future and where he would best fit into the new structure of the High Performance Unit,” Nettlefold said in a statement.

“In those discussions it soon became very clear that while he still wanted to remain involved in the sport, he didn’t want to continue in the position of head coach.”

Nugent has been under pressure after reports into Australia’s disappointing performance in the Olympic pool found drunkenness, misuse of prescription drugs and bullying were among “toxic” incidents at the Games.

So bad was morale, one swimmer described the 2012 London Games as the “lonely Olympics”, one report revealed.

A broader review into the sport’s high performance program also found failings in strategic planning and transparency in decision-making which fuelled disillusionment.

Australia’s swimmers won just one gold medal, six silver and three bronze in London — their lowest tally in the pool since 1992 in Barcelona.

The team also went without an individual gold medal for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Nugent took over as head coach from Alan Thompson in 2009, who stood aside amid allegations of inappropriate behavior of which he was later cleared, and reportedly had an option to extend his contract to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

After members of Australia’s much-vaunted men’s 100m freestyle relay team admitted they took the sleeping drug Stilnox — banned by the Australian Olympic Committee — during a pre-Games bonding session, and knocked on the doors and made prank calls to fellow athletes, Nugent admitted he could have handled the issue differently.

“It was brought to my attention by a coach and an athlete that there had been some prank calls and some doorknocking,” he told ABC radio, adding that he did not know who the culprits were at the time.

“At the time I sort of put it down to childish behavior… it didn’t raise alarm bells to me, but in hindsight it probably should have raised alarm bells. My regret now is I didn’t follow it up.”

Nettlefold said an interim head coach would be appointed in time for the Australian Championships in Adelaide which begin on April 26.

Swimming Australia is undergoing a leadership reshuffle with Mark Anderson from Hockey Australia the “preferred candidate” to become chief executive with the search for a new high performance director ongoing, Nettlefold added.

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