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Swimming Australia Coach Quits After ‘Toxic’ Culture Furor

Leigh Nugent, Australian swimming coach. Photographer: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Leigh Nugent, Australian swimming coach. Photographer: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- Swimming Australia said Leigh Nugent will quit his post as national team head coach, a month after the release of two reviews that criticized the squad’s culture and leadership.

The governing body said in a statement today that Nugent indicated last week that he no longer wanted the job. The organization will appoint an interim head coach to be in place for the Australian Championships beginning April 26 in Adelaide.

“Leigh actually approached us to discuss his future and where he would best fit into the new structure of the high performance unit,” said Swimming Australia President Barclay Nettlefold. “In those discussions it soon became very clear that while he still wanted to remain involved in the sport, he didn’t want to continue in the position of head coach.”

The reviews, one of which concluded that Australia’s 2012 London Olympics swimming team was beset by “culturally toxic incidents” including misuse of prescription drugs and bullying, followed the nation’s worst performance in the Olympic pool in two decades. Australians won one gold medal, six silver and three bronze in London -- their lowest tally since 1992.

The men’s 400-meter relay squad, which won the 2011 world title, said at a Feb. 22 news conference that they’d behaved inappropriately at a pre-games training camp. Five of the six admitted to taking a prescription sedative that was banned by the Australian Olympic Committee as part of a bonding exercise.

Nugent, who also was head coach at the 2004 Athens games, will take an extended break before returning in a youth development and coach mentoring role, Swimming Australia said.

“The role of head coach is both physically and mentally demanding and has evolved so much since I first took over the reins in 2003,” Nugent, 61, said in a statement. “The time is right for me to step aside and let someone else take over.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Baynes in Sydney at dbaynes@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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