New national head swimming coach, Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren, has been tasked with preparing Australia to knock the Americans off their world No.
Just over a year after the dire London Olympics campaign, 44-year-old Verhaeren became the final piece in the jigsaw to rebuild Australian swimming on Thursday when he became the first foreign head coach.
While he’s been signed up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Swimming Australia has made a clear longer term goal to be the world’s No.1 swimming nation by 2020.
Having guided Dutch swimming for the past seven years, Verhaeren has been hired partly for the technical expertise that also helped greats Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn to gold medals at the Sydney and Athens Olympics.
He’ll continue a rebuilding already well underway – in the coaching ranks and administration – with James Magnussen, Cate Campbell and Christian Sprenger all winning world titles this year after Australia failed to win a single individual gold medal in the pool at the London Games.
“Our vision is to be number one in the world in the future … from the Olympic podium right through to grassroots,” said new Swimming Australia president John Bertrand.
“That’s a huge challenge.
“Jacco is that type of person who’s wanting to challenge the existing way of thinking … such that we are going to get to the next level of expertise faster than the rest of the world.”
Verhaeren, who also helped Dutch sprint sensation Ranomi Kromowidjojo to the women’s sprint double at the London Olympics, was delighted to take on the role in a country with Australia’s great history in the sport.
“Australian swimming is extremely well respected on the international stage and to have the chance to work with the athletes and coaches in this role is humbling,” he said in a statement.
“In the Netherlands we are a small swimming nation that has worked hard technically to maximise every opportunity.
“We’ve had some success working on those technical elements and I hope to bring that focus and drive to this new role in Australia.”
SA’s director of high performance and Verhaeren’s direct boss, Michael Scott, hailed Verhaeren’s coaching experience at five Olympic Games and eight world championships as the key to the team’s success in Rio and beyond.
“The high-performance unit fundamentally is focused on achieving its aspiration of being number one in the world by 2020, and to do that we need to track the best people. Jacco fits that bill,” he said.
Verhaeren resigned as technical director of the Dutch swimming federation this week and will fill the spot left vacant since Leigh Nugent’s March resignation in the wake of the London Games campaign and the fall out over the Stilnox controversy and investigation into the poor team culture and performance.
His signature completes major changes in Swimming Australia positions.
Bertrand took up the presidency in August following the resignation of Barclay Nettlefold after alleged inappropriate behaviour.
In April, former Hockey Australia chief Mark Anderson was confirmed as the new SA CEO while former Australian Institute of Sport director Scott was named as the high-performance director.