Aquatics Blog

Trainer speaks of the ‘Phelps performance legacy’ for aquatic sports

Michael Phelps’ personal athletic trainer believes the American swimmer’s scintillating performances in the pool have helped to transform aquatics forever.

Keenan Robinson has been credited with being part of the team that helped to mould Phelps into the greatest swimmer of all time

Robinson, who has helped to oversee Phelps’ development at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, believes the 18-time Olympic gold medal-winner has raised the performance levels of swimmers for years to come, even though the star is retiring from competitive action after becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time.

“Without a doubt Mike accomplished what he initially set out to do – he changed the sport of swimming,” Robinson said.

“I could write a book on the various ways he changed swimming. He demonstrated that there are no limits on what swimmers can do in performance, both in practice and in meets.

“He made swimmers household names by attracting media outlets and television coverage for more than just the Olympic Games.

“Through his foundation, he is bringing swimming as a sport to people that had previously never had that opportunity, like the Boys’ and Girls’ Club.

“I think what Mike and [Phelps’ coach] Bob Bowman have done in terms of training philosophies, long-term planning for success, how to have peak performances at the biggest meet, has improved swimming internationally.”

Phelps was not the only Team USA star in the pool at the London Olympics, though, with numerous established performers and newcomers taking the world by storm.

So what is the secret of the seemingly never-ending conveyer belt of talent? For Robinson, the answer is simple.

“Work,” he said. “Hands down, you look at the seasoned veterans who won medals – Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Tyler Clary, Rebecca Soni, Allison Schmitt, Dana Vollmer and others – and what they did in their developmental years and continued through to this point and time in their career, and parallel that to what Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin are doing now, and odds are its something similar in terms of work capacity and work ethic.

“I think the country should be head over heels ecstatic with the swimmers’ performances, especially when you look at the relay performances and take into consideration how many of those swimmers were first-timers. This team performed at the highest level possible.”

Robinson is also glowing in his praise of his coaching colleagues at USA Swimming.

“I think USA Swimming is in an excellent place,” he added. “Women's swimming coach Teri McKeever and Gregg Troy, head coach of the US men’s team, did an impeccable, Hall Of Fame-worthy job of guiding this team; a blueprint for success, so to speak.

“I think it will be sad to see a legendary coach like Jon Urbanchek retire – 10 Olympics and I believe a gold medallist in every one – but he has done such an unbelievable job of passing his coaching philosophy down to so many coaches. The USA will continue to develop and reach new levels in terms of times and performances.

“That being said, the retirement of Michael Phelps closes a book on the ‘greatest ever’, hands down. His ability to raise the talent around him to another level will be tough to replace.”

With more countries than ever before claiming medals in aquatic sports at the London 2012 Games, Robinson is also aware that the rest of the world is determined to improve its performance levels to challenge in the pool.

The issue of global performance development will be a key talking point at this year’s FINA World Aquatics Convention, which will take place in Moscow from October 29 to November 1.

“There has been a noticeable improvement [around the world] and I commend so many coaches from those countries for working hard at their trade and reaping the benefits of those long hours of developing, training and planning,” Robinson continued.

“I think Bob Bowman and Jon Urbanchek said it to me best towards the end of this year’s Olympic Games over breakfast as they reviewed and began planning for the future. They said that the competition level has improved dramatically.

“Even in Athens at the 2004 Games it did not tax the swimmers’ energy systems as much in preliminaries and semi-finals because the talent level was nowhere near what the US swimmers could produce.

“Eight years’ later, and we even saw this at our own trials, you have to go near your best time or better right from prelims if you want to make the US team and then medal.

“I absolutely see this trend continuing. All US colleges are training the best international talent which improves foreign performances, and I wouldn't be surprised to see other US coaches following the Dennis Cottrel model for training professional international groups.”

Cottrel is an Australian coach who helped China's Sun Yang to gold medals in the 400m freestyle and 1,500m freestyle at London 2012.

As Robinson, and aquatics trainers across the world will appreciate, high-performance training now has a truly global outlook.

As Published By FINA

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