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Australia getting 'soft' says swim coach

By Madison Park, CNN
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
  • Swim coach says Australian athletes are too busy socializing and getting "soft"
  • Ken Wood also trained China's double gold winner Ye Shiwen
  • Other athletes say Australia's performance in the Olympics has different factors

(CNN) -- An Australian swim coach has tough love for his compatriots in the Olympics this year: "We're getting too soft. Our work ethic has dropped down."

Ken Wood, the swim coach who helped train China's double gold winner Ye Shiwen, one of the Olympic surprises this year, said the Australians "cannot afford to be soft" to compete with Chinese swimmers.

Wood, a three-time Olympic coach with 40 years of experience, questioned the work ethic of Aussie athletes, saying those in London seemed to be more interested in socializing.

"They're running their mobile phones, Twittering and Facebook and everything else," Wood said. "It was more of a carnival atmosphere."

Australia, usually a swimming powerhouse, is grappling with a disappointing showing in the London Games this year, compared with its Beijing performance in 2008.

Wood has coached swimmers and record breakers such as Australia's Leisel Jones and Geoff Huegill. He first started coaching Ye when she was 14 years old. China has a system that identifies promising young talent between the ages of seven and 12, he said.

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He called the unfounded allegations of doping surrounding Ye as "absolute rubbish."

"A lot of the credit has to go to Ye Shiwen's Chinese coach. He's done a great job with her," Wood said.

And the rising Chinese dominance in swimming is unlikely to fade, he added.

"It's not a matter of if China is going to be No. 1 in swimming nation, it's just when they will be," Wood said.

As of Thursday, Australia is 11th in the medal rankings, with 5 golds, 12 silvers and 9 bronze. Australia had finished the Beijing games with 14 gold medals and in 6th place in the medal rankings.

Australian media has bemoaned the country's performance, and the fact that the swimming nation has won one gold in the pool this Olympics. It has inspired a review of Australia's swimming program, headed by former national head coach Bill Sweetenham and Olympian Suzie O'Neill.

Swimming legend Ian Thorpe has suggested that less funding for sports could be one of the factors contributing to the country's lacklustre showing.

"I think it would be great if we actually have a debate about this in Australia and actually talk about what the next 20 years of sport will look like. Sport needs to be included in the health budget," said the five-time gold medal winner.

London Olympics: Where is Australia?

Some Australian athletes have been pushing back on the criticism about their lack of gold medals in London.

"It's bloody hard to make an Olympics final, let alone get a medal," said Sally Pearson, who won silver in Beijing and also set a new Olympic record in a gold-winning performance in the 100m hurdles on Wednesday.

"I think it's quite silly saying silver and bronze don't get counted in a medal tally, because it feels like they're not worth anything and they certainly are."

She said she was "disappointed" by the response back home.

"To say that silver's not good enough -- it's rubbish," Pearson said.

Addressing the criticism of the Aussie team, she said: "We've come together as a really strong team. We're like a little family. I don't think anyone really feels we've done so badly, because we're so proud of everyone."

Journalist Monica Attard contributed to this article.

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