Laurie Lawrence Takes A Jab At Jacco: Aussie Olympic Tough Cuts Would Have Left Armstrong & Sieben At Home

Laurie Lawrence has never been shy about letting the world of swimming know how he’s feeling, as we came to learn from watching him slap a reporter across the chops several times in the heat of the moment after his Australia charge Duncan Armstrong caused upset with gold in the 200m freestyle at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988.

Now 78, Coach Lawrence is not mellowing with age, it seems: he’s just labelled Swimming Australia’s departing head coach Jacco Verhaeren “a w****r” for implementing what’s been described as a “ruthless” selection policy for the Tokyo 2020ne Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The language is what it is. The point is this: the first two swimmers home inside qualifying time get to represent Australia at the Olympic Games. Usually.

For next year, when the trials will be held late and in the same week as the United States Olympic Trials, there’s a new twist: the top two inside the time cut must also swim inside what could be a sharper target: the time it took to make finals at the 2019 World Championships.

Lawrence tells Julian Linden at the Aussie Telegraph:

“This policy is absolutely ridiculous, it makes me want to spew. It should be first and second and away you go. It’s cutthroat enough to finish first or second at the trials but plenty of swimmers are pure racers that will improve when they get to the Olympics.”

Laurie Lawrence, whose successes include two of the greatest upsets in Olympic racing, Armstrong’s effort couple by Jon Sieben‘s 200m butterfly victory over Micheal “The Albatross” Gross after entering the Games as No25 in the world. Says Lawrence:

“If we have the same policy then, neither Sieben or Armstrong would have even gone to the Olympics so neither would have won gold medals for Australia. The Olympics is about racing, it’s not about what time they swim because times change depending on the situation. You want racers so the trials should be about finding out who are the best two racers, then let them race again at the Olympics.”

Linden notes that, under the higher criteria, 2016 Olympic champion Mack Horton would not have been in the 400m freestyle at the 2019 World Championships had it not been for a let-out clause allowing him access to solo events if he made a relay.

Jacco Verhaeren

Jacco Verhaeren – Photo Courtesy: SwimmingWorld.TV

Verhaeren, of course, also has significant Olympic success under his belt, as does Alex Baumann, the 1984 double Olympic medley champion for Canada and now Swimming Australia high performance boss. Baumann takes a different view to Laurie Lawrence at least for 2021, telling Linden:

“Our philosophy is to win when it matters to inspire a nation. That’s our vision and whether we like it or not, it is about medals. That’s what high performance is all about, you‘ve got to perform when it matters and you have to perform to make the team. Obviously that puts pressure on athletes during the trials but when you get to the Olympics, it’s a pressure cooker and you have to be able to deal with a lot of distractions and perform under those conditions.”

Whether through hearing the concerns off Laurie Lawrence and others or for other reasons, Baumann discussed the possibility of changing the policy with Verhaeren and the man who will take up the head coach reigns, Rohan Taylor.  All agreed the higher bar would stay in place for 2021 Olympic Trials, set for Adelaide from June 12-17, pandemic allowing.

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