A HISTORY OF CRAWL STROKE TECHNIQUES TO THE 1960s: AN AUSTRALIAN PERSPECTIVE: SECTION VI
Australia's big move forward in swimming came to a climax with the 1956 Games in Melbourne. The promise of the early 1950s was fulfilled. Australians won every freestyle event and took the first three places in both men's and women's 100 m sprints.
Jon Henricks, Lorraine Crappe, David Theile, Murray Rose, and Dawn Fraser swept all before them, and the world asked -- Why? As one of the coaches to the 1956 Australian team, here is the explanation for the success of our swimmers as I see it.
Basically, I believe that the Australians trained harder and swam with better techniques than their rivals. They were the product of a swimming program well advanced for its time -- but soon to be successfully copied in principle by the Americans and later by many Europeans. Australian coaches and officials encouraged boys and girls to train hard and to race from the early age of eight and even younger.
Since 1900, Australia, with its favorable climate and high standard of living, has had more than its share of top world swimmers . . . except for one lean period during the 1930s, when most coaches were teaching bad imitations of Japanese techniques by concentrating on heavy leg action and glide in the arm action, and officials and swimmers seemed to spend their time lamenting the fact that Australia did not have the indoor swimming facilities enjoyed by the Americans.
Then in the early 1950s a few professional coaches, led by Harry Gallagher and Frank Guthrie, entirely on their own initiative and usually at odds with the Australian Swimming Union, developed a group of swimmers who startled the world.
Swimming outdoors for five months of the year in pools crowded with the public, by 1954 a few Australians were demonstrating that top swimmers could be developed by Australian coaches under local conditions.
Behind the scenes, always coming up with new ideas, was Professor Frank Cotton. Himself once N.S.W. 440-yard and 880-yard champion, he was a Doctor of Science and the Professor of Physiology at the University of Sydney.
For nearly 15 years I had the privilege of working with "Prof" Cotton (who died in 1955) as his right hand man in swimming matters. During this period I was a competitive swimmer, an amateur coach and a lecturer in Physiology at the University. Australia -- indeed all the swimming world owes Professor Cotton a great deal. Many modern training procedures as used in Australia today (and much has now found its way overseas), were pioneered by our group of swimmers at the North Sydney Olympic Pool, including such people as John Davies, Nancy Lyons, and Judy Joy Davies, all Olympic medal winners. As far back as 1947 they studiously kept their log books written up, an idea that has now spread everywhere. Today at North Sydney Olympic Pool you will still find one of the first large minute clocks to be used for the day-by-day training of swimmers. We installed this clock for experimental purposes in 1946. Nowadays, such clocks are used all over the world. We introduced the idea of repeat "efforts," took heart rates to appraise these training swims, put swimmers into hot baths to warm up for races, and used interval training. At the time we met with a fair amount of criticism for our methods as being unnecessary, "scientific hocuspocus," but now most of these things are accepted as commonplace.
However, it was the professional coaches -- Guthrie, Gallagher, and Herford and later Don Talbot with his two Konrad stars -- who showed us just how hard swimmers could be worked in training. It took me a number of years to be convinced that, with certain reservations, swimmers must be driven very hard in their training, almost unmercifully, if world records are to be made. Today this need for very hard training is even more evident, but with the reservations we have already discussed in our considerations of testing, tapering off, and stress and strain.
We saw a preview of what was to follow when Lorraine Crappe set a world record for 880 yards of 11 minutes 0.2 seconds in 1954 while training at Townsville. This was just the start. By 1960 Australians had broken more than 60 world records in all styles.
In addition to the enthusiasm of coaches and swimmers, and of course hard training, I believe that Australian successes at the crawl-stroke during the 1950s were due to the general use of a technique which might well be called the modern-Australian Crawl-stroke.
Of course, not all the Australians swam exactly alike. In fact two in particular, Lorraine Crappe and John Devitt, had quite individual styles, but in general there were many characteristics common in this group of Australians who set the world wondering in the mid-1950s. In the next chapter we shall discuss the freestyle techniques of the modern Australian swimmers.
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