Dean Boxall’s Brisbane-Based Paris Games Simulation Goes Swimmingly for Aussies

Article by Robert Craddock courtesy of the Geelong Advertiser

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Bells rang, anthems roared, books sailed into a grandstand and a generation of old Olympians got goosebumps as Paris came to the Pilly today.

Inventive swim coach Dean Boxall, likely to have up to 10 swimmers at July’s Games including superstars Ariarne Titmus and Mollie O’Callaghan, created a Paris-themed Olympic environment to condition his squad for the stresses ahead in a day with a difference at St Peter’s Western Swim Club in Brisbane’s Indooroopilly.

The detail for the day, attended by a crowd of 400 including billionaire benefactor Gina Rinehart, was as forensic as if it were prepared for a movie set as 26 people worked tirelessly the day before.

“That music is giving me goosebumps because I’ve been listening to it since I was 12 and there are so many memories – I feel I can see Jonno Sieben getting his gold medal in LA – it’s Field of Dreams stuff,’’ said 1988 Olympic gold medallist Duncan Armstrong as he listened to the Olympic anthem played over the loud speakers as the swimmers were coming on deck.

“Swimming is normally boring. This isn’t. It’s great.’’

Fellow Olympian champion Susie O’Neill also felt an “electric’’ current through her senses as the music played.

But the playing of the French and Australian national anthems and the welcoming of the athletes by a lady with a French accent (Justine, who works in St Peters) was just part of it.

The swimmers waiting room had 24 seats in it – just like Paris – with a television on the wall showing the pool action – just like Paris.

Swimmers were ushered through a deliberately claustrophobic, dark tunnel to the pool deck – passing by a picture of the five Olympic rings – because that is what awaits them in July.

Though the session was essentially glorified training Boxall gave it a spicy edge by bringing in a miniature Eiffel Tower with a bell under it which swimmers were allowed to ring if they were on a specific time he set for them be at the end of their workouts which were 50m shorter than their traditional race lengths.

“We achieved a lot today – not everything went perfectly but I wanted to do something that made them nervous and give them that Olympic experience that is either going to enhance you or pull you back,’’ said Boxall, who prowled the pool deck with the relentless energy his mother in the grandstand noted had been his trademark since he was four years old.

Even the moments when swimmers failed to earn the right to ring the bell had their own sense of occasion including one time when Boxall, amid fans calling for the bell, once theatrically announced “NO BELL.’’

If the swimmers did outstanding times Boxall rang the bell himself and spruiked their efforts over the microphone. Kai Taylor, Elijah Winnington and O’Callaghan were the standouts and the day ended with a relay blitz which featured exceptional times.

Boxall was at his most animated when he grabbed the pool microphone to announce that O’Callaghan had smashed her sectionals from the world championships in Fukuoka.

Former zany Olympic coach Laurie Lawrence wore Superman socks and the colourful shirt he had donned when his protégé Armstrong won Olympic gold in 1988.

The 82-year-old passed around a torch used at the Sydney Olympics and opened the day on a typically eccentric note by tossing copies of his (signed) autobiography into the grandstand.

“This is unbelievable,’’ Lawrence said. “This is a once in a life-time experience. This outdoes anything I have ever done. It takes swimming to a new level.’’

The little grandstand where bells were ringing and voices were chanting was shrouded in giant blankets of black plastic (bought from Bunnings) to insulate the venue and enhance the fervour.

“I could hear the crowd when I was swimming and we are not used to them being so close so we are going to have that little bit of extra experience (going to Paris) and really appreciate the efforts of everyone who helped put it on,’’ Titmus said.

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