'Magician': The legacy 'visionary' Don Talbot left on Aussie sport

Australian Associated Press
·4-min read
Seen here, Don Talbot was regarded as one of Australia's greatest swimming coaches.
Don Talbot is being remembered as a visionary figure in Australian sporting history. Pic: Getty

Don Talbot is being remembered as a "coaching magician" who transformed Australia's high performance mentality after the legendary swimming coach passed away, aged 87.

Australian swimming was left rocked by the news of Talbot’s death on Wednesday, with tributes pouring in for the iconic former mentor.

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The International Swimming Hall of Fame member first took charge of Australia's swim team in the 1960s, enjoyed stints with both Canada and the United States and was named the inaugural director of the Australian Institute of Sport in 1980.

The master strategist returned as Australian swimming's head coach in 1989, overseeing a resurgence that culminated in 18 medals - five of them gold - at Sydney's 2000 Olympics.

Australia then topped the medal count at Japan's 2001 world championships, the Fukuoka meet marking the country's first defeat of the Americans in the pool since Melbourne's 1956 Games.

Former Australian coach and friend Bill Sweetenham remembered Talbot as "an irascible giant" who was tough but empathetic of his athletes.

Don Talbot is pictured here at the FINA World Cup of Swimming in 2000.
Don Talbot at the FINA World Cup of Swimming in 2000. (AAP PHOTO/Dean Lewins)

"He was a fighter without equal, and his vision included actually beating the USA in international competition, which inspired a generation of Aussies," he said.

"He felt we could always get an edge in the area of science and at the AIS he was always keen to provide finances and people in the science area.

"His strength as a leader was that he was visionary ... Heaven is more interesting today than this mortal world, that is so much more dull without Don."

Talbot ‘raised the bar for swimming in Australia’

Talbot coached gun American Tracey Caulkins before she won triple gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Now married to Australian Olympian Mark Stockwell, himself a triple medallist at the 1984 Games, she sits on the Swimming Australia board as deputy chairperson.

"He raised the bar for swimming in Australia and everyone lifted and rose to those standards and they have put Australia in the position we are in today, as one of the strongest swimming nations in the world," she said.

"That is a huge and proud legacy to leave behind."

Talbot was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1990, current chairman John Bertrand on Wednesday remembering a "fiercely loyal and supportive ... coaching magician".

"Don Talbot was at the helm of Australia's golden swimming era ... he changed the way people thought about high performance," he said.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said Talbot "demanded a lot of his charges, but he returned the favour with loyalty and commitment".

"The net result was success ... he cared about Australian sport and he was a good bloke. We will miss him," he said.

Originally a teacher, Talbot made his name as a swimming coach by steering Latvian-born siblings John and Ilsa Konrads from beginners to world record-holders in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle.

He passed away peacefully on the Gold Coast on Tuesday afternoon, succumbing to the complications of dementia, and is survived by five children and a nephew he raised.

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