The end of the Olympic and Paralympic cycle is traditionally a shaking out period before the start of the next four-year cycle. Leading into the new cycle, athletes and coaches alike are weighing up their options for the future and so are national rowing federations. Some federations have already moved decisively to build on their Rio success or to make changes after, in some cases, disappointing results. Others are still in ongoing reviews and strategic planning on the road to Tokyo 2020.
It is a global merry-go-round. As one coach moves it triggers a domino effect with coaches moving in and out of national team coaching roles and moving countries and continents in the process.
The ripples were recently felt when Australia announced its coaching line-up. It was one of the first rowing countries to do so post Rio, where Australia finished fourth on the rowing medals table after winning one gold and two silver medals. Australian Bernard Savage was appointed the new performance director. Savage comes from triathlon and swimming roles. Australian Olympic silver medallist Jaime Fernandez was confirmed as deputy performance director.
These appointments were promptly followed by the recruitment of New Zealander Ian Wright as men’s head coach and John Keogh (AUS) as women’s head coach. Keogh returns to Australia after six years leading Canada’s women’s programme and before that coaching in Great Britain. Wright comes to Australia from being head coach in Switzerland for the last two years. Prior to Switzerland, Wright worked for Rowing New Zealand. Following these appointments coaches Chris O’Brien and Simon Cox have left their positions.
Wright’s move from Switzerland and also the move of Swiss national coach, Tim Dolphin of Australia, leaves two positions open and with the Swiss Rowing Federation.
Key coaching positions are also yet to be filled in Canada, where the departure of Keogh, who was the women’s coach, is part of an ongoing wider overhaul at Rowing Canada Aviron following the 2016 Olympics. In Rio, Canada was disappointed to win just one silver medal – the lightweight women’s double sculls. Canadian men’s coach, Martin McElroy’s contract has now expired. McElroy comes from Ireland and is yet to announce his next move.
“Sometimes it takes someone new and a new approach to renew the energy. I am okay with that – I made my contribution,” McElroy said to media after the announcement.
“The performance in Rio played both into their decision and our decision,” said Rowing Canada CEO Donna Atkinson to Canadian media. Atkinson will leave her job as CEO at the end of January and she said people can expect more changes at Rowing Canada soon.
While some countries are reviewing their structures following disappointing results, others aim to build on their success. In Ireland, the board of Rowing Ireland announced that it would be deepening the support for high performance rowing athletes over the next Olympic cycle. Ireland won its first Olympic medal in rowing – silver in the lightweight men’s double sculls.
The new Irish structure will see an increase in the number of full time coaches from one to three over the next year. Rowing Ireland high performance lead, Morten Espersen and high performance coach, Dominic Casey have been offered new contracts, while lead coach, Don McLachlan will be pursuing new opportunities in international coaching. Additional high performance coaching positions were advertised in October and have drawn applications from North America, through Europe to Australia with the appointment process ongoing.
In Denmark, big shoes will need to be filled after long time national team coach and coach of the legendary Danish lightweight “Guldfireren” (Golden Four) Bent Fransson announced his retirement at the beginning of October. The 65-year-old, who for the past nine years, was in charge of Denmark’s most successful quartet, will finish at the end of the year.
“It has been very sad to make this decision because it has been a truly superb time, in which I have had the honour of getting close to some great athletes and people. But it also drains a lot to be away on long-term travels. I now want to spend the majority of my time with family,” says Fransson. “Olympics are the highlight of rowing and that is what we all work for. So it has been a tremendous satisfaction that the teams I have been responsible for have accomplished so much at the Olympics.”
Under Fransson’s leadership, the Guldfireren won Olympic gold in 2008, followed by bronze in 2012 and silver in 2016. Further, the crew won World Championship gold in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014, Fransson, a World Champion in the 1981 lightweight eight, won the FISA Coach of the Year Award.
Fransson may continue on a consultant basis to assist the Danish national team in the future. Who will follow Fransson is yet to be seen, as is the case with quite a few other coaching roles around the world.
Further coaching news is expected to follow from Great Britain after the team published invitations for the expression of interests for one or more high performance coaches roles in the Olympic and Paralympic programmes recently. Also Rowing New Zealand advertised the role of women’s head coach.
With more coaching openings expected to come on to the market around the world over the next few months, the coaching merry-go-round will continue spinning for a while longer.