Denmark's Going To Try it With Some Danes Now

Yesterday was a pretty big day in Danish Swimming. A chaotic summer began with a public television documentary exposing abusive practices by two successive National Team coaches. What followed was worse- the entire coaching staff of the National Training Center (NTC) got fired/quit with just weeks to go before the World Championships.

Oh and Danish Swimming Director Pia Holmen, an avid reader of this blog, has been sidelined while the government investigates Danish Swimming.

Gwangju went very poorly for the Danes. One can hardly blame the swimmers as their preparation for the meet was the opposite of ideal. It was therefore fairly important, less than a year out from the next Olympics, that they quickly regroup with a plan for Tokyo success.

They’re going to try it with some Danes. For those that don’t read Danish, let me explain and give some context to this decision. I’m in a unique position to do so as someone who has coached, succeeded greatly and failed mightily in the land of Denmark. As a Dane who is often not considered a Dane depending on context, and who knows some of the players involved but not too well to feel a tremendous amount of bias. Where I still have some, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Building from Without

Depending on how you look at it, the National Training Center of Denmark has never really been lead by a Dane. Prior to the arrival of Mark Regan, there was something centralized happening, but from what I can understand it was simply a vehicle for supporting the coach (Jens Glavind) of Denmark’s foremost swimmer in the 2000-2004 cycle, 200 butterfly specialist Mette Jacobsen.

The decision to more formally designate a “center” and build some meager infrastructure around it came with Regan. A greedy, corrupt mayor in the sleepy suburb of Farum, some 13 miles north of Copenhagen, fought to have a six lane 50m pool in that town designated as the National Training Center. The timeline of the above is probably a little mixed and someone Danish will correct what I’ve gotten wrong.

As a student of history, the chronology of events is often not as important as the context. Danish swimming set a new course following Glavind, one that put heavy resources into foreign “expert” coaches coming into the country and showing everyone “how it was done”.

Regan arrived like an atomic bomb. Not only was he genuinely awful to many of the people he coached, but he also rejoiced in belittling the Danish coaches. Even if I can’t find myself agreeing with anything about Mark Regan, as an outsider in Denmark you often feel as if the whole country is simultaneously politely or impolitely reminding you that your way of doing things are wrong. I can only imagine that this animus towards other coaches was at least partially due to that sensation.

Anyway, Regan was followed up by a Dutch/Spanish coach, Paulus Wildeboer. Wildeboer continued the wonderful tradition of weighing swimmers, belittling their appearance, and telling Danish Swim coaches they were idiots.

Wildeboer was followed by an Australian, Shannon Rollason. Here’s where I admit my bias- I thought Shannon was fantastic and always wanted to be around him. There’s even a photo of me somewhere on facebook following him around at a swim meet like some sort of lemming.

For all that went well for Shannon he hardly ever seemed happy to be in Denmark. Nor did his “boss” Nick Juba, a Brit who had been brought on as the National Team Coach and National Training Center coach bifurcated.

Juba brought a great tradition of gathering nearly every full time club head coach in the country once a month. That tradition ended when he decided to base one of the meetings around a lecture on what it meant to be an elite coach, and how none of us in the room were.

Juba gave way to Canadian Dean Boles, who is already back in Canada, and Stefan Hansen, who was Rollason’s assistant coach and essentially got thrust into the fire of the 2016 leadup,

Meanwhile, at the NTC until very recently had employed Martin Truijens, a top Dutch coach. And you know how that ended.

The existence of an NTC and the constant shuffling of foreign “elite” coaches had a fairly demotivating effect on Danish coaching on the whole. The idea that you could do good work “in country” but never aspire to the top coaching position within the country was disheartening. Well, all that has changed now.

Jon and Mick

Now the Danish National Training center will be lead by two established Danish club coaches. One I know much better than the other, so I’ll start with him.

Jon Langberg has been coaching at A6, a team weirdly named for the motorway that takes you to the kinda sorta fringe greater Copenhagen area where they are located. He is best known for being the coach of Julie Kepp Jensen, a 19 year old sprinter who has to fend off American college recruitment since her first year of high school.

I introduced Jon to Belgian beer while on a training camp together in Croatia, and based on that criteria I think he’ll do a great job. All jokes aside, Jon has an inquisitive mind and hasn’t been afraid to learn on the job while navigating a young swimmer up to the international level.

The other coach will be Mick Steen Nielsen, a man who vaguely resembles a retired World’s Strongest man contestant. Mick was shy about speaking English when I lived in Denmark and I am always shy about speaking Danish, so we didn’t talk much while I was there. He is well regarded by his peers and was also known as being the highest paid swimming coach in the country.

So there you have it. The part of me that felt rejected for most of my time in Denmark definitely wants this project to fail, but most of me, the part that feels nostalgia for Danmark, wants it to succeed. Perhaps the original sin of Danish swimming was simultaneous to putting some real resources into the coaching of elite swimming in Denmark, they locked domestic coaches out of the job.

Lets see how it goes.