After the disappointment of the Rio 2016 Olympics, Israeli swimming is about to embark on arguably its biggest change in over two decades.
The official announcement has been delayed time and again, but top American coach David Marsh is set to be put in charge of Israeli swimming’s preparations for Tokyo 2020, overseeing the training of the blue-and-white’s elite swimmers.
The Israel Swimming Association announced last week that Leonid Kaufman will not continue in his role as the head coach of Israel’s national swimming team, a job he had held since 2007, as well as during much of the 1990’s.
“Following discussions in recent weeks between ISA chairman Simon Davidson and Kaufman, with whom Israeli swimming reached unprecedented records, and with the ISA’s decision to hire the services of David Marsh, it was decided that Kaufman will be named as the head of field development and will not continue in his role as national team coach,” an ISA press release read.
While Marsh’s upcoming appointment was mentioned only once, and in passing, it was in fact the most important part of the ISA’s 500-word statement.
Marsh, who was the head coach of the US women’s team at the Rio Olympics and served as a men’s assistant coach for the 2012, 2000 and 1996 US Olympic teams, will bring with him a completely different approach than the one implemented by Kaufman, who learned his trade in the USSR.
Marsh, who has also served as Team USA’s head coach at the FINA World Championships, has worked since 2007 as the CEO/Director of Coaching at SwimMAC in Carolina where he guided among others Olympic gold medalists Ryan Lochte, Cullen Jones and Tyler Clary.
Marsh, who has coached nearly 50 Olympians throughout his career, will continue in his role at SwimMAC, coming to Israel every couple of months for two weeks to inspect the implementation of his training methods, with his assistant Kayo Kagevich to work on a more personal basis with the swimmers and travel with them to competitions abroad.
In addition, a group of 12 of Israel’s top swimmers earmarked for Tokyo 2020 will attend four three-week training camps a year with Marsh at Swim- MAC Carolina in Charlotte.
“We decided to go in a different professional course and Leonid, in impressive and remarkable honesty, sat with me to decide about his future and the future of Israeli swimming,” said ISA chairman Davidson.
“We came together to the conclusion that we want to change coaching methods and our thinking, and after 20 years together, to implement a different professional system.”
Davidson insisted that he was determined to retain Kaufman’s services in a different capacity. “I’m unwilling to relinquish Leonid’s massive knowledge and his passion to give of his knowledge to Israeli swimming and therefore we decided to put him in charge of field development,” he explained.
“Leonid will be out in the field at the different clubs and with the coaches, overseeing the development of the swimmers. I admire Leonid and I thank him for his attitude, investment and devotion and his uncompromising professionalism, as well as all that he has done for Israeli swimming.”
Kaufman began coaching at the Wingate Institute in Netanya shortly after his arrival in Israel in 1991 and took charge of the national team for the first time three years later. Israeli swimming made countless breakthroughs under his guidance.
Israel’s medley relay team reached the final at the Olympics for the first time in Atlanta in 1996, while Eitan Urbach became the first of his countrymen to make an individual Olympic final in the 100-meter backstroke in Sydney 2000.
Kaufman also guided Israel’s next Olympic finalist, with Yakov Toumarkin finishing seventh in the 200m back in London 2012, the best-ever finish for an Israeli at the Olympics.
Israel’s swimmers also reached finals at the World Championships for the first time during his tenure, while winning medals at numerous European Championships.
However, the swimming team’s performance in Rio this past summer, which came on the back of a frustrating World Championships the previous year, showed that a change was needed.
Israel sent seven swimmers to Rio, but only Toumarkin progressed past the heats, and every single member, including Toumarkin, failed to set personal best times. Toumarkin’s qualification for the semis of the 200m back was also considered a disappointment as he didn’t come close to reaching the final.
Every member of the team simply didn’t peak at the right time, raising questions regarding their preparations for the Games. While in other sports your result also depends on your opponent, in swimming it is basically the athlete competing against the clock.
Kaufman conceded that a change was inevitable.
“I’m in favor of change in Israeli swimming and in favor of change in the way Israel’s top swimmers train,” he said. “This is a joint decision made with Simon Davidson. In order to thoroughly check if the system we used for many years worked well we need to try a different system. The new system is based on training methods according to the modern philosophy of American swimming. The association made a brave decision, and together with my professional consent, we decided to make a change.
“Like in every other sport, you need to try different things in order to progress, and this change has been made with that goal,” he added.
“Only Swiss banks guarantee results, and even that isn’t 100 percent certain.
I’m remaining in Israeli swimming and will continue to give from my knowledge and experience, but will be doing so in different ways, nurturing clubs, coaches and swimmers in the field.”
One of the reasons Marsh’s appointment has yet to be made official is the financing required to complete the deal. The ISA can’t afford to pay him itself, with the Olympic Committee of Israel and the Ministry of Culture and Sport’s Sports Authority to provide around two-thirds of the funding.
Marsh is expected to be in Israel for next month’s national championships when he may also be finally unveiled.
His hiring marks a dramatic change in direction for Israeli swimming.
We will have to wait until the summer of 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics to determine if it was a success.[email protected]