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Where it went wrong for Leigh Nugent

March 21, 2013
Leigh Nugent

Leigh Nugent

From dizzying heights to the lowest of lows.

Leigh Nugent’s fall from the pinnacle of Australian swimming has been as swift and brutal as his rise was stunning.

Recruited from his role with Australia‘s top youth swimmers to lead the Aussie pool charge in Athens, Nugent was the man with the magic wand, overseeing the best Aussie swimming performance in almost 50 years.

Not since the 1956 Melbourne Games had Australia raked in medals like it did in Athens, as the team rode an Ian Thorpe-led wave of success to an incredible seven gold medals, five silver and three bronze.

Stepping down and returning to coaching young talent post-Athens, Nugent was again called on to head the national program in 2009 when then-coach Alan Thompson was stood down as allegations of misconduct were investigated.

 Eventually he took on the role permanently and began plotting Australia’s course to London, via the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where Australia dominated as expected, winning 22 of the 44 gold medals on offer in the pool.

But that’s where the story soured.

Australia managed just two gold medals – one to James Magnussen and the other to Magnussen’s 4x100m relay team – at the 2011 World Championships in the first sign that all was not well within the Aussie camp.

There was no dressing up the London performance that followed. Magnussen and Co. bombed spectacularly and our attention quickly turned to finding out what went wrong.

Later, stories emerged of the men’s 4x100m relay team harassing female team members in the middle of the night and taking prescription drug Stilnox in a pre-Games bonding session.

Just shy of two years later, the sport is rebuilding its tattered reputation in a country that has struggled to accept anything less than gold as success.

Nugent, without friend or favour at Swimming Australia after two damning reports into the culture of the swim team he oversaw in London, is now the London swim team’s highest profile casualty.


2004 – Leads swimming team at Athens Olympics after being thrust into top job at the last minute.

2004 – Swim team wins seven gold, five silver and three bronze – Australia’s second best haul in history, bettered only by the 1956 Games.

2005 – Resigns after Olympics and returns to his previous job as Australia’s top youth coach.

2009 – Takes up job as Swimming Australia’s acting head coach after Alan Thompson is stood down.

2010 – Takes the reigns permanently and begins building for 2012 London Games.

2012 – Oversees pre-Olympic training program that sees athletes scattered across the globe to prepare individually.

2012 – Leads Australian swim team to worst ever Olympic result of one gold medal and seventh place on the swimming medal table.

2013 – Two separate reviews into London performance condemn the culture within the Australian swim team.

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