While there is plenty of colour coming from the Olympics in Brazil, one piece missing from the games experience for Australian fans is the vibrancy and enthusiasm of supercoach Laurie Lawrence. We take a look back at his coaching career and the lasting legacy left on our proud sporting nation.
While most notably known for his success as a swimming coach, Laurie Lawrence was first an Australian Rugby Union representative, touring New Zealand in 1964. His introduction to swimming came as a recommendation from doctors after suffering bronchiectasis and having a section of his lung removed. This prompted Lawrence’s father, Alan to change jobs and become the manager of the Tobruk Pool, a pool that later became the training venue for swimming greats such as Dawn Fraser through the 1950’s.
Laurence coached the Australian Olympic Swimming Team through Los Angeles in 1984, Seoul in 1988, and Barcelona in 1992. His involvement within the national team then continued through the Unite, Inspire, Motivate and Relax brief in Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008. Over his career, he directly coached swimmers that broke 23 world records, won 10 gold, 11 silver and 12 bronze medals. In the clip below, Lawrence explains his success and coaching philosophy was built around ensuring his athletes knew they were better prepared than their competitors.
Lawrence credits the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, as his favourite games. With the 200m freestyle event holding particular significance; as a Brisbane swimmer named Duncan Armstrong, ranked 47th came up against three world record holders and favourite Matt Bondi from the United States.
In the lead up to the final, Lawrence broke into the AV room and saw that Biondi created a large wake behind him when he swam. With this knowledge, Lawrence gave Duncan instructions to ‘dive in and get over on the lane rope and let him suck you along for three laps and then move to the middle and keep going’. A tactic that became the catalyst for one of Australia’s greatest Olympic triumphs. Relive the race and Laurie’s response below.
Undoubtedly a remarkable coach and motivator, Lawrence has perhaps become most famously known for his ability to smuggle athletes into events without tickets to support fellow Australian competitors. While only haveing 20 tickets, Lawrence snuck 150 athletes into the Australia vs United States basketball game and pulled down portable fences to watch the Men’s hockey final in Athens. It was also Lawerence who had Prime Minister John Howard sit at the front of a convoy of buses to make sure all the athletes saw Cathy Freeman’s famous win in Sydney.
As humorous as this anecdotes from a true larrikin are, they do illustrate the value Lawrence placed athletes understanding their role supporting each beyond their individual events and disciplines to create a united team.
Lawerence’s passion for swimming and improving lives of Australian’s through sport continues through his pool safety campaign ‘ Kids Alive Do The Five’.
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