The warning for Australian swimming came a few hours after the end of the Beijing Games swimming program.
Then head coach Alan Thompson had to answer questions about the decision by long-time mentor Ken Wood to sell his secrets to China.
While disappointed, Thompson was pragmatic. Coaches have to earn a living. Maybe a few attached to the national program were making good money, most weren’t. There were no calls that Wood was a sporting traitor. He had a right to use his intelligence any way he liked.
“They (China) pay four times more than what I get from my Australian swimmers,” Wood told Seven West Media this week.
“It would frighten you if I told you (the amount).
But Thompson believed it would be better if the local knowledge stayed at home.
Four years later and a wave of swimming coaches are working with the enemy.
Denis Cotterell trains world 1500m freestyle holder Sun Yang on the Gold Coast. It was Cotterell who steered Grant Hackett to gold medals in the same event at the Sydney and Athens Games. He also went to Beijing as a member of the Chinese team.
“Until five years ago, my pay wasn’t over $50,000,” Cotterell told the Gold Coast newspaper last month.
“All the people I went through teacher’s college with were retiring as principals and on a stack, and here you are on something that a second-year teacher would get and you’re supposed to be the best in the world at what you do.”
Michael Bohl not only works with South Korean champion Park Taewhan but also with the country’s national coach Roh Min-sang in Brisbane.
At the same time as the Asian invasion the depth of the Australian talent pool started to get shallower. But the visitors were a sleeping giant of the aquatic scene. They awoke in London.
China finished second on the medal with five golds, two silvers and three bronzes. Australia won a women’s relay gold among the 10 prizes it packed from the UK visit.
Australian swimming is now in its biggest slump since 1992 when Kieren Perkins gave the Dolphins their only top honour from the Barcelona Games. Since then we have been spoilt with Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill, Petria Thomas, Hackett and Leisel Jones.
But as a once-in-a-four-year competition it was becoming more difficult for the country to attract the talent. Fewer wanted to put in the work to a sport that only financially rewards those at the very top. If you’re a 188cm finely-tuned male athlete the football codes want you. And they pay better.
It is significant that an Australian male hasn’t won a gold medal in Olympic competition since Hackett’s success on the final day of the 2004 Games.
Not only do the Asian swimmers want to learn from top coaches they come equipped with plenty of resources, such as dieticians, even their own cooks to make sure they manage their weight.
They have the discipline to want to succeed.
Although it wasn’t confirmed at these Games, it has been suggested some coaches of Chinese talent would get a government bonus of $250,000 if their charges finished first at these Olympics.
That’s a lot of incentives.
And after being the teachers, Australian swimming is now learning that other nations haven’t just caught up in the Olympic lane, in many ways, it’s been overtaken.