Stephanie Rice interview: Swimming legend speaks about starting an academy in India, blueprint for success in the pool and more
In Mumbai to announce the launch of the Stephanie Rice Swim Academy in India, Stephanie Rice spoke to Firstpost about leaving a lasting legacy, the blueprint for achieving success in swimming and more.
Three-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time World Record holder Stephanie Rice announced her plans to open an academy in India.
The venue for the academy is not yet finalised and Rice is slated to meet sponsors and partners over the next week.
Rice has been to India multiple times in 2016 as an expert analyst during the Rio Olympics, and in 2018 as a presenter during the Pro Kabaddi League.
The day Stephanie Rice hung up her swim goggles in April 2014, she spoke of having found a new passion: proving herself outside the pool.
On Tuesday, the three-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time World Record holder made her boldest splash in that direction: by announcing her decision to open the Stephanie Rice Swim Academy in India. The venue for the academy is not yet finalised and the Australian is slated to meet sponsors and partners over the next week, but the project will see the former Australian swimmer spend three to four months in India, the country she brands her second home. She has after all been here multiple times — in 2016 as an expert analyst during the Rio Olympics, in 2017 as the ambassador for the TCS World 10K event in Bengaluru and in 2018 as a presenter during the Pro Kabaddi League. This time around, she’s in India for something more lasting: to leave her legacy by honing the next generation of swimmers.
At an event to announce the launch of the Stephanie Rice Swimming Academy in Mumbai, the 31-year-old spoke to Firstpost about her reason for opening an academy in India, the blueprint for achieving success in swimming, not missing her pre-race routine and more.
Excerpts from an interview:
You came to India as an analyst for the Rio Olympics in 2016 and even did kabaddi commentary a year ago. Now you're here to launch your academy. Has India become a second home to you?
Most definitely! I love India and I think my love for the country has grown (over the years). Coming over just before the Olympics and then doing the Olympics coverage for two weeks and then when I was a Pro Kabaddi League presenter for which I was here for four months, I just fell in love in India. So yes, it is definitely a second home. When I was living here for months, I was feeling like an Indian, and it was so much fun. Getting to different states, (experiencing) the food and the culture, I loved it.
You were slated to start an academy in Bengaluru. What sort of time commitment do you have to make? How many days or months will you be spending in India for this project?
Right now, I'm not basing the academy in Bengaluru. What we are doing now is launching the academy itself — the Stephanie Rice Swimming Academy. We are hoping on the back of this event to show India that I'm ready and committed with my team of coaches and experts to come in to a facility that has the capacity to have an elite level squad. So we are not committed to any location right now, but we are hoping to go to quite a few top locations and partner with a location that has same vision and same goal as us. Once we lock in on the location, I plan on spending three or four months a year in India. It would really depend on the year. If it's an Olympic year, then it will be more. I want athletes to have a personal connection with me: to know me, have my phone number, because a big part of what we are doing is to have an Indian swimmer in the podium in four to eight years.
You mentioned in a previous interview about how Indian swimmers lag behind because they have to go to USA or Australia to train, which is not financially feasible for everyone. But will young kids be able to afford training at your academy?
When I look at the current market of swimming in India, I would say that the most investment the sport needs is in coaching. I feel that a lot of coaches go to countries where swimming is one of the top sports. So they will go to the USA or China or Australia, and in that instance unless you are a coach who has gone to America and has done time and training under another coach, you just don't have same expertise other high-level coaches have. Infrastructure-wise, I have been quite impressed what's there (in the country). It's definitely enough to perform at the elite level. For me, that's where I see we could have the biggest impact — bringing in a great coaching team together.
Swimming is an elite sport, it's expensive, you need access to a pool. So, what we are planning to do with the academy is to first and foremost focus on the elite level. But over the space of four years, we would love to have junior squads and build our grassroots. And we would like to sponsor or offer coaching as part of community program or at a discounted price. A big passion for me is also swim safety and learning to swim and those types of skills as well. In Australia, it's free. It's very important for every kid to learn swimming.
Is that also the secret of Australia's success in swimming?
I don't know. A part of it is because we are an island so we all have to learn how to swim and we are given lessons from school. But the way it works in my opinion, if you have an athlete who does really well at an Olympic level, every kid goes, 'I want to be like that!' You look at what happened with PV Sindhu at the last Olympics. Girls now want to be a badminton player like Sindhu. So it only takes one person to create this huge surge of passion to take up a sport and that's where we would love to get to.
For the last two Olympics, Australia's swimmers have had indifferent results, with London 2012 fetching only one gold while there were just three gold medals at Rio 2016. Have you been approached by Swimming Australia to mentor or help the swimmers?
I'm definitely doing some stuff in Australia related to high performance. It really comes from mentoring and not coaching. If I have to talk about Australia, what happens is top athletes go through an Olympic cycle and you'll notice that a big chunk of them stop after the cycle because it's four years to the next event. Every athlete is focused on making the Olympics. For example, after Beijing, a lot of top swimmers retired and you had a lot of youth swimmers coming through. So there's always a period of transition where you're not getting the exact same results, unlike China or the USA where there is so much depth. Yeah, we haven't done that well in the past two Olympics, but I think come Tokyo 2020, we will have a pretty strong team.
When you retired, you said to wanted to make an impact outside of the pool. The work you're doing with the high performance in Australia and the work you want to do with your academy in India, is that how you want to make an impact outside the pool?
Yes, definitely. The work I want to do with the academy is my way of giving something back to the sport. I hope when we look back after 10 to 15 years, there are two or three Indian athletes on the podium, many kids know how to swim and there's love and passion for swimming in the country. I think that would be such a huge legacy to leave.
Have you had the chance to talk to the Swimming Federation of India or Sports Authority of India about starting this high performance academy?
No, but I'm quite familiar with the process. I don't see there's much involvement with them right now. Because we need to have athletes in the coaching program, those who are sort of on their way to become Olympic athletes. I don't see (involvement with SFI and SAI) is a necessary component right now.
What is your opinion about Indian swimmers like Srihari Nataraj, Sajan Prakash and Virdhawal Khade?
I think they are doing a pretty amazing job. I have been quite familiar with some of them on Instagram and had a couple of conversations with them. I think (their performances) gives me a kind of mental belief that what we are trying to achieve with the Stephanie Rice Academy is 100 percent possible.
Before you retired, your pre-race routine was eight arm swings, four goggle touches and four cap touches. Do you still miss that?
That was my OCD! (laughs). No, I am kind of glad that part is over. But yeah, I noticed that a lot of top athletes do that kind of routine, just in different ways. It's a habitual thing. Doing a routine like that actually allows me to relax. It just looks weird.
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