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Chris McCormack tribute to coach Dick Caine

I will never forget the day I walked into the pool at Carss Park to be confronted with Dick for the first time. My best friend Sean Maroney had swam with Dick for years, and I had for the previous few years been living on the Gold Coast and swimming with Triathlon Specialist Coach Col Stewart, who had taken me from young promising junior to one of the best athletes in the world. I will admit I was sacred to walk into the pool at Carrss Park. The stories of killer training sessions, and a crazy coach had kept me swimming at other locations in my early years.

I am going to surprise people here, but I vividly remember the date. It was August 28, 1997. I had onlyjust returned hOme from Europe as my girlfriend at the time had run off with my Olympic training team mate and broken my heart. We had just raced an event in Budapest Hungary, and I had found out. I had fled the Australian Training base in France, and decided to come home to Australia to prepare for World Championships away from the pain of break up. I moved back in with my parents in the Shire and opted to prepare specifically for The World Championships which were scheduled for November of that year.

Sean had said to me “If you want to win World Championships you have to swim with Craig Walton (the guy who ran off with my girlfriend) and the only way you will do that is if you swim with Dick Caine. We have to go down and see "Dick”

Growing up in the Shire, everybody had heard the training stories of Dick Caine. They were legendary. The best surf and pool swimmers in the world came out of that pool, and I always never saw myself as worthy of being able to swim laps in the pool of such fish. I was most certainly a land mammal. Spending most of my youthful years running around athletics tracks as opposed to smashing out laps with the super swimmers of the world. Triathlon is a sport of swim, bike and run. The biking and running component I had mastered and was at the top of the world. My swim, was a vulnerability. Winning world championships you have to close those gaps and not leave anything to chance. We turned up and parked in the parking lot. Sean walked straight through the front gate, said hi to Jenny... .' “Jenny this is my friend Chris, we are going to speak to Dick” She gave her always approving smile and nod and in we walked. That meeting would change my life!

I shook Dicks hand and introduced myself. “I need to swim better Dick and was praying you would let me swim here with you. I am a triathlete and I want to win the World Championships which are exactly 17 weeks away.”

He looked at me, was wearing purple speedos with a white shirt and holding a pull buoy and a set of fins. At the same time he was listening he would yell at the kids in lane 8. “I am not god, this is not a church and I can’t do miracles, so praying is not going to help you much at all". I loved his humour and his wit and the respect he commanded as a coach. I looked at him and didn’t know if this was a yes or a no.

He was wonderful and friendly and told me to jump in the pool that afternoon and start the training. I was ecstatic. Over the next few months Dick became my mentor, my coach and my friend. I swam 6 days a week, more than 50km a week up and down those lanes. Friday morning sessions of 16 x 400metres which I originally thought as impossible, become the staple sets in what was in my opinion at that time, the most epic training group in the country. Olympic Medalists, Commonwealth Games Gold medalists, Australian Surf swimming champions, Marathon swimming champions, junior stars, that pool boiled every morning with a depth of talent you just don’t see anymore.

Dick gave me the belief in knowing that with hard work and belief you can take on the world. The friendly taunts and the motivating pushes at ~ time were mixed with well deserved shouting and discipline I had never known up to this point in my career. Over the next 4 months we locked ” out one of the most perfect training camps in an incredible environment that would shape my world forever. I had the impossible task of winning the World Championships against the greatest competitor of my generation (Simon Lessing from the UK) and as a 22 year old kid, it was considered almost impossible. I was a young athlete at the beginning of my professional sporting career, and belief, self doubt and confidence are things that need to be worked on and developed. They can make and break any athlete. Dick had a fun yet serious way of reading any situation and pushing and encouraging at just the right times, to help mature everything you need as an athlete at the perfect time.

He knew about my break up with my girlfriend, and I think he liked that this drove my motivation to turn up to training every day and push myself with the squad in the pursuit of a World Championship victory, a race that was to be raced on November 18, 1997. He would often remind me of my ex girlfriend having a great time with her new boy friend, and that all girls loved a champion and maybe, just maybe she saw more in him than she did in me. It was friendly yet direct banter that got the result he was looking for. I would put my head down every day thinking every stroke | took/was one step closer to my chance at being the top of the tree.

As I was about to fly out with the Australian Team, and had my last test set in the pool. I swam a set of 200m intervals in PB times, breaking my previous personal best on each interval I swam. I had never been so efficient or so aerobically conditioned in the water in my life. As I jumped out of the pool, Dick pulled me aside.

I was beaming on the inside and so excited at where l was athletically on the eve of the biggest Championship race in my sport. . In his amazingly blunt, sensible and incredibly caring way he said the following.

“Chris, you have worked hard and I know your young girlfriend has run off with your friend and is probably having a great time with him and will continue to, but all of this will mean nothing after next week. Girls will come and go as will many things in your life, but what will last forever is what you have the opportunity to do next week. You have opportunities in your life that you don’t even see as opportunity until your old and realize you were too stupid to take them, or too caught up in worrying about stupid shit, that you missed your chance. Right now this is one of those for you. Everyone of your team mates in this pool has gone above and beyond for you. You think of every single one of them when you are on that start line. Forget all the bullshit in your head that clouds it all. Go and do what you have trained to do. The difference between a champion and a promising talent is results. All I have heard since you got here is how much of a’talent you are. How promising of an athlete you are. I hate talent. Talented is what‘they call people who haven’t won anything. Come back here next week a Champion. It has a better ring to it, and that is something no one can ever take of you. Good luck.”

I almost cried. I was nervous, excited, apprehensive and proud. I . thanked Dick and shook his hand. It was probably the nicest and most ' comforting thing he had said to me in 4 months, and in his typical way with words you don’t know at times whether to laugh, cry, be angry, insulted or replay-it again in your head. Dick has always had a way with words.

As I was drying off, he yelled one more thing. “Oh yeah Chris, and when you get back you better get yourself a manager.” I thought wow, he really thinks I am going to win this. That is so awesome. I replied “Thanks Dick, I will”. “Yeah with your team mate off with your ex girlfriend, you have to stop Handling yourself”! He let out his laugh and disappeared into the office happy with himself.

I went on to win my first World title 8 days later and attribute all of that to the work I did in the pool with Dick Caine. It is more than the training. It is the culture and the honesty that comes out of that pool. The anything ‘ is possible attitude that has been the catalyst for so many champions. It was the greatest moment in my life at that point and still something I remember like it was yesterday. That entire period of my life goes so ' quick but moments like this somehow stay in slow motion and you never forget.

Dick you have been an amazing influence on my career. I know when I met you, you told me you were not god and couldn’t do miracles, but really, in my life you did just that. You took a normal suburban kid, from the Sutherland shire, all the way to the top of the world. The sport of Triathlon gave me my life, and after 20 years and 5 World Championships later, it changed my life forever. Everything I have in my life I attribute to Triathlon, and moments in a career shape everything. Those forks in the road that you take, the sliding doors, that shape everything. Had I not turned up to your pool with Sean Maroney in 1997, my life may have been very very different.

I am old and retired now with kids of my own, and I often. reflect on the lessons I learned as a man not just an athlete at your pool, under your guidance. We worked hard, we laughed and we cried. I left Australia in 2000 and have lived abroad all these years now, but those 5 years we worked together were such an influential and motivating time in my life, I thank you from the bottom of my 'heart. You are amazing. Enjoy retirement and I do hope to see you when I am home.

Chris McCormack.