When Tracey Menzies talks publicly about the time she was in the middle of Ian Thorpe’s quest to win gold in the 400 metres freestyle in Athens, you sense that she is just keeping it together emotionally.
The pressure was immense with plenty of outside noise questioning whether Thorpe had made the right decision in leaving long-time coach Doug Frost to join Tracey, who was Frost’s assistant coach at Sutherland.
Tracey had risen from a ‘learn to swim’ coach to take on arguably one of the biggest challenges in world sport. You can imagine the conversations involving long-time old-school male coaches casting doubt on her ability to keep Australia’s greatest Olympic athlete on track.
There was plenty of drama adding to the pressure of the moment with Thorpe being disqualified after losing balance and tumbling into the water in the 400 metres at the trials. Not before an ensuring media circus, training partner, Craig Stevens, willingly handed over his spot to Thorpe.
History will show that Tracey kept Thorpe on track emotionally and physically to win the 400 freestyle at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. The relief for both swimmer and coach was palpable.
The Athens Olympics must seem like an absolute lifetime ago as she puts young Canberra swimmers through their paces each morning at the AIS High Performance Pool.
Tracey has been combining this community role with her role as head coach of Swimming Australia’s National Training Centre ‘Transition Program’. The aim of the Transition Program is to develop young swimmers in a high-performance environment.
Who better to coach young swimmers, transitioning from juniors to be competitive in the senior ranks, than Tracey?
But the program will come to an end within the month with Swimming Australia deciding to axe the concept.
Swimming Australia says it will look at finding other programs for Tracey. Just what that means remains to be seen.
As a community we should be doing all we can to keep Tracey Menzies in Canberra, coaching our juniors.
I have witnessed first hand her holistic style of coaching, which revolves around responding to each individual, not just as a swimmer, but also as a growing, developing person with competing commitments and needs. The swimmers respond to her positive personality with a sense of loyalty, foreign to many teenagers. The connection is obvious. Her ability to educate, mentor and coach, all in one, is carried out without fuss or fanfare.
Given there is a push to establish pathways for more women to be involved in sports coaching and administration, we need the likes of Tracey Menzies to remain involved at the top level.
Rarely do you come across a coach with such a strong track record, whilst still maintaining an obvious passion for her sport and those in her orbit.
I have no doubt she has the ability to motivate a generation of kids looking to be inspired.