Don Talbot, Australia’s swimming coaching great, dies at 87

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Don Talbot is being remembered as firm but fair, old-school yet ahead of his time, and widely celebrated as one of Australia’s greatest swimming coaches.

Talbot, the foundation director of the Australian Institute of Sport in the 1980s and a long-time coach of the Australian and Canadian Olympic swim teams, died on the Gold Coast in Queensland state, Swimming Australia said Wednesday. He was 87.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame said Talbot passed away peacefully on Tuesday.

“Don Talbot was at the helm of Australia’s golden swimming era,” Sports Australia Hall of Fame chairman John Bertrand, a former Swimming Australia president, said in a statement. “A coaching magician who returned the Australian national squad to its best results in over 30 years. He changed the way people thought about high performance.

“We have much to thank Don for and his legacy will remain as one of Australia’s most successful swimming coaches and a true inspiration.”

Brooke Hanson, who won gold and silver medals at the 2004 Olympics and was a member of Australia’s swim team for 13 years, remembered Talbot for being a positive influence and “making hundreds of champions.”

“You ruled with an iron fist, it was your way or the highway, your rules were unbending, but it made us all hungry and more disciplined to reach our potential,” Hanson posted in a tribute on Instagram. “Your tough, uncompromising ways empowered me to find the edge.”

Talbot started his coaching career in the 1950s and worked early with John Konrads, reportedly paying his own way to the 1960 Olympics in Rome to watch his star swimmer and multiple world record-holder win gold in the 1,500-meter freestyle.

He was on the coaching staff of Australian Olympic teams from 1964-72 and had stints in Canada and the United States before returning to Australia to take up the role as the inaugural AIS director from 1980-83. He left again to guide Canada’s national squad to Olympic success in 1984 and ’88 before moving back Down Under in 1989.

He guided the national team to unprecedented success at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the world championships in Japan in 2001.

Talbot was widely regarded as a firm but fair disciplinarian with his swimmers, but also described as fiercely loyal and supportive.

With Talbot as head coach, Australia placed second to the United States in the pool in the 2000 Olympics — its best performance in almost four decades — with five gold, nine silver and four bronze medals. The Australians topped the gold-medal standings at the world championships the following year in Fukuoka, beating the American team.

Talbot was also involved in six Australian teams for the Commonwealth Games teams between 1962 to ’98 and was a member of the international swimming hall of fame and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

“Steering Australia to major successes at Olympic, world championships and Commonwealth Games, Talbot’s proudest moment came when Australia was crowned No. 1 on the gold medal count ahead of the United States at the 2001 world championships, achieving a feat not accomplished since the 1956 Melbourne Olympics,” Australia’s Commonwealth Games Federation said.

Australian Sports Commission chairman John Wylie said Talbot was instrumental in establishing a new high-performance culture for Australian sport at the AIS, which opened in 1981.

“Don’s foresight, knowledge and sheer tenacity were essential in those formative years,” Wylie said. “As the inaugural AIS director he was a leader of sporting pioneers, helping to deliver a world-leading AIS that became the blueprint of many international sporting systems we see today.”

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