Head coach Rohan Taylor has revealed the crowds for the recent Duel in the Pool in Sydney provided a “wake-up” call for some members of the Australian team, as the sport looks to recapture the glory days of the 1990s and 2000s.
Australia and the USA went head-to-head in August, off the back of Australian swimming’s most successful Olympics ever in Tokyo.
Now the team is preparing for the short course World Championships, to be held in Melbourne from Tuesday.
READ MORE: Wallabies’ shock move to ‘weaponise’ Jones
READ MORE: Aussie sprays crowd after heroic NFL play
READ MORE: Aussies suffer injury blow for Test series opener
It’s a rare chance to compete in a full-scale international meet at home, something that will hopefully become commonplace in the lead-up to the Brisbane Olympics in 2032.
“The Duel in the Pool in Sydney was a bit of a wake-up for some of the team, we had about 8000 people come and watch, people wanting autographs, I had Grant Hackett say to me that it was like the old days,” Taylor told Wide World of Sports.
“These young athletes haven’t experienced that too much.
“That event gave us some momentum and this is a chance to build on that.”
The FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will be broadcast exclusively live and free on Nine and 9Now from December 13-18.
Australian legend, and then-Swimming Australian president, Kieren Perkins, told Wide World of Sports prior to the Tokyo Olympics that he was acutely aware that the current generation didn’t enjoy the same profile that the team did in his era.
He said at the time he hoped the Brisbane Olympics would play a huge role in changing that.
Taylor agreed, noting that Victoria will also host the Commonwealth Games in 2026.
“It’s interesting to see how this all unfolds,” Taylor said.
“What was it about the late 1990s or early 2000s? We had a number of competitions in Australia, obviously the Olympics in 2000 but also the Pan Pacs and the world championships.
“They gave the local community the chance to get to know the athletes, to get to know who they were.
“We can bring that back, but to do that we need them to be competing against each other in front of as many people as possible so we can build that relationship.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
While the majority of the current squad will have retired by the time the Brisbane Olympics come around, Taylor said the next decade will be an exciting time for the sport.
Those that will form the backbone of the Australian squad for Brisbane are currently in their early teens, and Taylor believes that hosting international events like the world titles can only inspire the next generation.
“Hayley Lewis spoke to the team prior to the Commonwealth Games in July,” he said.
“She explained that when she went to the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982 and watched the 800m, she said, ‘I’m going to win that one day.’
“Eight years later she’s a 15-year-old winning it in Auckland.
“We’ve got Brisbane 2032, the Commonwealth Games in 2026, we’ll most likely have some other international meets, it’s something we can build on.
“That 10 year run into Brisbane looks really interesting.”
The Australian team was based in Bendigo for the lead-up to the world championships, a decision that Taylor believes will pay dividends.
”We didn’t need to go regional, we could have come straight to Melbourne, but we thought it would be great to go to a regional town and engage with the communities that don’t get to see athletes of that standard very often,” he explained.
“It was great to know that you’re having a positive impact on the communities around here.
“That was a move that went better than I expected to be honest, they were fantastic.
“I think the swimmers felt that as well,” he added.
“It’s great to see the young kids, that’s what it’s about. At the end of the day, all our swimmers were young kids themselves at some point, they’ve got their own stories about seeing Stephanie Rice or Liesel Jones or Grant Hackett.
“They talk about that, so this was their chance to have the same influence.”
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!
Tokyo Olympics 2021: Australia’s swimming gold medallists at this century’s Games