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Friday, September 22, 2000

We need Baumann

Swim hero could help program


  SYDNEY -- In a few days, the decision-makers at Swim Canada will begin assessing a program that, mostly through federal underfunding, has been exposed as as a one-medal wreck.

 Cheer up, Canada. Sydney may just be the bummer we needed.

 The federal Liberals have more faith in polls than in gravity. If popular opinion demands more competitive elite programs, the Grits will dip into the federal surplus to make it happen.

 And if that happens, finding the money will be easier than finding the right person to spend it.

 The quick answer is to hire back Don Talbot. Talbot was fired as the head coach of the national team in 1988. He is interested in Canada and the glory of a triumphant return is a motive he probably can't resist.

 It would take money and resolve to bring Talbot back. While he has enjoyed an enviable record in Canada and, over the past 12 years, in Australia, gaining and administering more federal funding would require elements of diplomacy that Talbot, for all his successes, has never possessed.

 We need a different kind of saviour, an administrator with the credibility to siphon revenues from the surplus and the business plan to make those newfound monies work. We need instant credibility, a presentable face that inspires new hope.

 We need Alex Baumann.

 Baumann, a double gold-medal winner for Canada at the 1984 Olympics, is the CEO of Queensland Swimming, one of the most important development links in Australia's aquatics program.

 It is a huge body, with pools that dot small Australian towns the way hockey rinks mark small burgs across Canada.

 Baumann has coached in his native Sudbury, but he is above all an administrator who oversees $70 million alone for Queensland Swimming from state-sponsored betting houses.

 And while he says he is committed to Australian swimming, the prospect of returning to Canada to resurrect the swimming program he helped put on the map holds a cachet.

 "I've always said Australia and Canada were the two best countries in the world to live," Baumann said. "I guess there would be a possibility of something like that in Canada, but I do have my roots here and my kids are Australian."

 But here is why, more than anything else, Alex Baumann would help. There remains in him the elements of a competitor who found a natural kinship with the incendiary Victor Davis. "Victor was more outgoing, I was more reserved, but if I did not swim my best, I wanted to know why." Baumann said. "We were never satisfied unless we felt we had swum to the best of our abilities and that meant a gold medal."

 Baumann is careful not to slag Canadian swimming. He does, however, recognize a tendency in other nations to accept a place among the top swimming countries as being good enough.

 "It can go from an individual level to a team level and then a system level," Baumann said. "If a swim doesn't go well, it's everyone's job to analyse and use informed decisions to make sure it doesn't happen again."

 That means, don't be satisfied with finishing anywhere but the podium. Many Canadian swimmers -- including Edmonton native Morgan Knabe, Fredericton's Marianne Limpert and bronze-medal winner Curtis Myden of Calgary -- embody that spirit. But fostering that attitude, from top to bottom and back again, is something Baumann could do beautifully.

 The best way to rival the Australian success in the pool is to borrow and better, just the way Russian hockey officials borrowed from Canadians prior to 1972. And the best man to bring in that expertise and lead that renewal is named Alex Baumann.