Olympic champion Stockwell has pledged to change the culture of Australia’s swim team


SYDNEY, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Three-time U.S. Olympic champion Tracy Stockwell has never ducked a challenge in the pool and is also utterly determined to reform an Australian swim team culture that some swimmers have branded toxic and misogynistic .

Thirty-eight years after winning three gold medals under her maiden name of Caulkins at the Los Angeles Games in 1984, Stockwell has just started her new role as president of Swimming Australia (SA). Read more

“We have great coaches, but like society, sometimes there are a few who don’t do the right thing and we are committed to ensuring that some of those past experiences don’t happen again,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview.

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She was speaking following a recent apology by AS for its treatment of women and girls in national teams, following a report by an independent panel which looked into allegations of sexual misconduct made in last June by two-time Olympic silver medalist Madeline Groves.

Groves has pulled out of Australia’s trials for the Tokyo Olympics, saying her withdrawal should be a lesson to the “perverts…and their creeps” who exploit, body-shame and “medically gaslight” young women and girls.

Another swimmer, Jenny McMahon, also criticized the sport as suffering from a “toxic and dysfunctional” culture.

Stockwell moved to Australia after marrying fellow swimmer Mark Stockwell and has dual citizenship. She is well aware that times have changed and that comments and actions that might have been considered normal in the not so distant past are no longer so.

She says she enjoyed her competitive swimming experience and that even in a more sensitive modern era, coaches still need some leeway to get the most out of elite athletes.

“High performance is a challenge because sometimes coaches have to be tough, but there’s a right way to do it,” she said. “Every athlete is different. You know which ones you can give a little bit of service to and maybe there are some you need to take it a little easier on.

“While I had very tough coaches who said things they couldn’t say these days, I had a very positive experience but I recognize that there are people who have had experiences negative and some of them had a long-term impact.

“I think it’s improved a lot and society is different from what it was 20 or 30 years ago. What people considered acceptable then is not acceptable now.”

The independent panel listed 46 recommendations for SA to adopt to improve its culture, including a “handful” that Stockwell says has already been completed.

She said the organization would post the recommendations on its website shortly and then release progress reports for each.

“We want to show action, not just words about it,” she said.

“The report’s findings provide us with a roadmap to do better and…make our sport safe for everyone, from young people to people competing on the world stage, to everyone else, so they have the opportunity to have a positive experience.”


Another concern for Stockwell is to increase the number of participants in the swim.

“We have this decade of opportunity leading up to the Olympics on home soil (Brisbane in 2032),” she said.

“I was inspired by the 1972 Olympics when I was nine and saw Mark Spitz and Shane Gould.

“I had only been competing for about a year, but then (becoming an Olympian) became a dream of mine.”

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Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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