The Carlile Cup Goes to the Man We Name It After: Aussie Pioneer Forbes Carlile
by Craig Lord, SwimVortex
On December 21, SwimVortex announced its Readers’ Awards and on the cusp of revealing the choices of our SwimVortex Editorial Panel, SwimVortex name its Lifetime Achievement Award after the man who receives the prize in 2015: Forbes Carlile. The prize will from this year onwards be the Carlile Cup.
SwimVortex have, of course, said it many times before: FINA has failed singularly to honor many of the biggest contributors to the sport of Swimming. And writing that line evokes memories of 2008 when the centenary dinner was coming up and I asked who would be at the party. Would Shane Gould, Debbie Meyer, Roland Matthes, Dawn Fraser, Mark Spitz and so on be there? No? Perhaps Forbes Carlile, Don Gambril? No? Well, how about Ada Kok and Mary T. Meagher, Matt Biondi? How about the terrific Greta Anderson? No, no, don’t be silly. It’s not about them, of course not. This is about 100 years of blazers, the seats for swimmers and coaches reserved for those who joined “The Family”. Now, there’s achievement for you.
SwimVortex cannot account for the choices of others but can make our own and celebrate them. The Carlile Cup will be a prize SwimVortex grant each year it remains here for those whose contribution is not only deep in decades but delivered leadership and pioneering progress to swimming.
— Forbes Carlile – Australia —
Forbes Carlile was and remains a mover and shaker where it counts: in the pool and in his work with generations of children alongside his wife Ursula. Carlile’s outstanding contribution to the sport of Swimming, from the science, pace clock and interval training he harnessed to the role of conscience he has played at the helm of a movement for the betterment of Swimming, extended to pioneering work as one of the first coaches to go overseas and head a foreign program (The Netherlands in the days of Ada Kok and teammates). Carlile’s career speaks to one of FINA’s key fears: letting those who actually know Swimming and work with it every day of their lives have a say at the top table in how things are run.
This fine memory of Carlile on his 90th birthday in 2011, a tribute to Carlile. Now 94, Forbes Carlile can look back with pride on a life that included roles as graduate physiologist, lecturer at the University of Sydney, pioneer in scientific training and the pace clock, the first swimming author to deal with the concept of tapering, a term originated by Carlile and Professor Frank Cotton.
Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1976, Carlile was Australia’s first Modern Pentathlon Olympic competitor (1952) and youngest Olympic coach (1948); Olympic Coach 1956 (Australia), 1964 (Holland). He was an official coach for Australia at the inaugural World Championships in 1973 and his career sheet includes nine World Record holders, among them one of the all-time greats, Shane Gould. He also organized the Australian Swimming Coaches Association. His pioneer efforts in sports science included interval workouts (1940s), the pace clock (1946), heart-rate tests (1956), training under stress and T-Wave studies. His book, “Forbes Carlile on Swimming” (1963), was the first modern book on competitive Swimming and it is still significant for its consideration of “tapering” and its historical development of the crawl stroke.
Carlile looks back on a life as a globetrotting expert spreading the Swimming word: a regular star guest and “one of us” at the ASCA World Clinic for many years, he also journeyed to clinics with Ursula to mainland China, Japan, USSR in those days, Ethiopia, Puerto Rico, Holland, North and South America and many parts of Europe. In 1971, he got stopped by a wee boy bearing an autograph book. “Would you sign my book, Mr Carlile?” I asked at Crystal Palace, the sights and sounds associated with World Records from Gould and Karen Moras racing yet within me. Mr. Carlile did more than that. He knelt down, asked me how my swimming was going; asked me what I’d most enjoyed about the day; what was it that I learned. Then he signed my book.
Decades later at the breakfast table during the ASCA World Clinic, the same man sat before me, soaking up what you had to say, what the next man had to say, questions un-ending, his thirst for knowledge unquenched. Here was a man to spend hours and hours with, the subjects of his conversation spilling well beyond the pool, though it was there with his toe in water than you might see him wear his passion on his sleeve.
— Teacher, Tutor, Spyglass to Swimming —
The Carlile swimming organization, operating on the North Shore, Sydney, has dozens of full and part-time coaches teaching more than 1,500 lessons a week with sessions for babies right through to those aspiring to be Olympic swimmers. In his prime, Carlile was a color man and expert for ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission), that work spanning more than three decades of Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Nationals, his words serving as a spyglass to the world of Swimming, meaning and context linked to events in a way that brought the swimmer out of the pool and into the consciousness of a wider audience in a nation hooked on water.
He has also produced five feature movies on Swimming, covering some of his big concepts, such as the negative split, the importance of early development skills, mantras such as “better a has-been than a never-was”, “speed through endurance”, and the arm dominated high-tempo two-beat kick on crawl made famous by Gould on her shooting-star trajectory to the World Record books and three gold among five solo-event medals at Munich 1972 that remains a record among women in the fastest waters of all.
— A Man Who Spoke Out & Called Others to Account —
Here is a man whose journey through the world of Swimming is more than pertinent to the debate over the role of coaches when it comes to who has a say in the governance of the sport. The bottom line: coaches have no say. Yes, there are coaches commissions but they never fought the corner in a way that would spark meaningful change at FINA and other international feds that continue to run the show largely in their interests not in the interests of stakeholders.
Trawl back just over 40 years and come to the eve of the FINA World Championships era, the cusp of greater commercial influence but still a time when blazers were king, swimmers, like children, were seen but not heard (and knew to hold their tongues if they knew what was good for them as tours and selections loomed) and coaches were mostly neither seen nor heard when it came to the crunch moment of big race day, let alone when it came to having any say whatsoever in the running of the sport. Some things have changed; some have not. We could look at his coaching, his science, his vision but in the context of current events, we focus on that other aspect of the man that has been outstanding: he has long been a thorn in the side of those who govern Swimming without actually understanding it; without taking into account the views of a great many of the key thinkers and stakeholders in the pool and on the deck.
It is 1971, the year before the Olympic Games in Munich, and Australia sends a squad to the Coca-Cola meet at Crystal Palace in London. Forbes Carlile is there with some of his charges, including World Record holder Karen Moras and a shooting star called Shane Gould, who matches Dawn Fraser’s 100 Free World mark at the start of an incredible record-breaking trajectory that came to rest at three Olympic gold medals, all won in World Record time, a silver, a bronze at the 1972 Olympic Games. That remains the greatest solo haul at a single Games by a woman swimmer.
And for those who live in our times, consider this: Carlile, at the very moment that he had a talent like Shane Gould in his pool, was not deemed worthy enough by Aussie blazers to be on the poolside when his charge was charging like no woman had ever charged before. Don Talbot was chosen by selectors to be coach, not head coach, a title yet to be born in 1971. Forbes’s wife and fellow coach at Ryde, Ursula, was added to the team (some reports from the time refer to her as ‘chaperone’ but officially she served as a coach, something of a breakthrough, for women and coaching) and was there for Gould, 14 and facing a monumental task and in need of being accompanied by someone she knew well and trusted.
Times changed and gradually, the USA leading the way as has so often been the case on a whole swathe of issues, coaches gained rights and respect. Even then, the level of recognition and how that manifests itself, has been relative, even in the nation that has led the way. In 1996, as Atlanta hosted the Olympic Games and as the wives, friends and corporate acquaintances of members of this and that federation and this and the other association sat in prime seats watching the action before floating off to cocktails and more in VIP lounges and other watering holes to which coaches are rarely, if ever, invited, the likes of coaching legends such as Nort Thornton, Don Gambril and then WSCA President Peter Daland (who also celebrated his 90th time round in the same year as Carlile), were to be found working as volunteers just so that they could get in and catch a glimpse of the Games. Incredible as it may sound, Daland, a man who led some of the most successful USA swim teams in history, jumped at the chance of picking up garbage in the stands so that he could watch the prelims.
The rub is easy to see: comfy seats for many who contribute little or nothing at all to Swimming; no access for those who got the kids to the Games in the first place, who worked with children from learn-to-swim through to national team. In Atlanta, those coaches and kids good enough to make team selection complained that they could not see the action at all because the number of seats allocated to them in the stand was less than 30% of what would have been needed. Volunteers Gambril and Daland raised the matter with FINA. Nothing to be done, came back the reply. There is, of course, always something that can be done. It largely depends on whether you want to do it.
One witness from the time was quoted as saying: “We, the coaches and athletes, are not important to these clowns. We just get in the way of their parties, their dinners, their socializing…. If we don’t coach, and the swimmers don’t swim, the damn bureaucrats sit home and count paper clips.” Not words that will have gone down at all well with the bureaucrats, of course. And the fact is that many who were coaching back in 1996 and many who were in power back in 1996 remain in power – and, like elephants, they never forget. The Us and Them of it all prevails, while the arguments of 1971 and 1996 remain as pertinent today.
Take the following by John Leonard, director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, back in 2010 that confirms the deaf-ear syndrome has been a long-term illness at FINA: “We must judge organizations by what they do; what they accomplish, not by what they say, and not by personalities. Personalities change, constitutions and formal documents that structure organizations in certain ways do not. I invited FINA President Larfaoui to our banquet, to present his side of the FINA view… he declined to answer. We are not even worth a phone call or letter. We are nothing in the eyes of FINA. The conclusion I reached after weeks of internal debate is quite simple. FINA is not going to reform itself. The perks, prestige and power to which I have referred are too seductive. They arrogantly believe that ‘they’ are the keeper of the Olympic torch. When in truth, it rests in the hearts and minds of all us coaches and all our athletes at the pool in the early pre-dawn hours, working our way to become Olympian in body and spirit.”
He went on to say: “FINA was founded by amateurs. Coaches and other ‘professionals’ were strictly excluded. One hundred years later, we are still excluded. They don’t want to hear us. They don’t want to see us. They don’t want our ideas. They just want our labors. To sell TV time and tickets for entertainment. They hide behind tinted glass in their hospitality suites and look down on the multitudes in the heat. And they say ‘We’re FINA, we run the sport’. We can’t even get them to appoint one coach and one athlete to the FINA Bureau, to have our voices heard.”
That was 1996 (so no argument based on ‘give it time’ is valid on this particular thorny subject) and just four nations, including the US and Britain, voted in favor of a place for coaches on the Bureau, Leonard’s response: “There is a word for this condition, friends – and it is SLAVERY.”
Carlile has long been on the same song sheet. An award to Daland of late served as a token to a leading light. Largely, FINA continues to shun such people. They do so at their cost and risk. If the likes of Carlile, Shane Gould, Don Gambril, Mark Schubert, Jacco Verhaeren, Eddie Reese and many, many others have, as one leading FINA light once put it, “no platform”, then FINA can be likened to a blighted house.
In comic terms, we can turn for comparison to that fabulous Pythonian moment when Mr. Cleese asks “What did the Romans ever do for us?”, before preceding to list the stunning legacy left by said Romans. Of course such greats of the world of Swimming have a platform – and they always will have – and the media will always wish to listen to them. Long past the moment when FINA ought to have listened to coaches and others.
Recent events, in which FINA completely ignored the warnings of WSCA when it came to the Moscow laboratory now exposed by WADA investigators as having been up to its neck in fraud, and in which the olive branch offered by Bill Sweetenham on behalf of many was entirely ignored, remind us that we’re looking at a particularly poorly leopard, its ailment self-inflicted, that has not only kept its spots but intends to keep them.
I was 28 and assigned to the business desk of The Times in London when a young boy called Lachlan Murdoch was placed on the desk next to mine as work experience. His father happened to own the company, News Corporation, and insisted on his offspring knowing what it was like to work on the core business if they were ever to make it to the boardroom themselves. Murdoch’s top table includes journalists, while journalists are among the right-hand men and women who help run a multi-faceted, multi-platformed business that is built on a foundation of… journalism. Best then to know what that is all about.
It works the same way in Swimming. The work of coaches is part of the very foundation of the sport of Swimming. Leave coaches out and the structure is all the weaker for it. A challenge it would certainly be for some if coaches are called to the top table (and it would be a challenge for coaches too, for with position comes greater responsibility and accountability) – yet FINA, that organization which ought to be bigger than any of the guardians passing through at any point in history, has much to gain too.
FINA gave its “Order”, the federation’s highest honor, to Vladimir Putin. It ought never to have done so. Had it given such honor to Carlile, it would have carried its constituency, held the hearts of the folk it is supposed to govern and protect in equal measure. Bravo Forbes Carlile – SwimVortex salutes you, honors you, recognizes Ursula’s right hand and pledge to keep your work and name aglow.