INTERESTING COLUMN BY TRIPLE OLYMPIC SPRINT SILVER MEDALLIST RAELENE BOYLE ON THE SVENGALI OF AUSSIE ATHS COACHES, NIC BIDEAU.
Bideau’s methods are make or break
By Raelene Boyle
March 22, 2006
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Photo: Joe Armao
He’s a ruthless coach and he doesn’t care who he offends.
NIC Bideau is the biggest name in athletics coaching in Australia and he will not leave a stone unturned to achieve success. He is so driven, so absolutely ruthless in the way he approaches his athletes, and he truly doesn’t care who he offends in the process.
I still believe there is a nicer way to have success with young talented people.
Nic has an all-consuming passion to produce champions, but I believe he has dismantled as many athletes as he has produced.
A lot of Nic’s reputation is built upon Cathy Freeman and he ran her life, the way he insists on running the lives of all his athletes. But let’s remember he wasn’t coaching Cathy when she won her Olympic gold medal, and wasn’t for a reasonable amount of time before that.
Craig Mottram, who won a Commonwealth Games silver medal for Australia in the 5000 metres on Monday night, has helped build Nic’s reputation.
It was a sensational run by Craig at the MCG. The crowd screamed and yelled like they were at an Olympic Games and what they were watching were performances the equivalent of a world championship.
Had it been a world championship, I believe Craig still would have taken the silver medal. There would have been no Americans or Europeans who could have challenged the Kenyans the way Craig did.
Nic has done a good job with him and Craig is obviously a very tough character who can withstand Nic’s methods. Nic’s methods include controlling pretty much an athlete’s whole life. He oversees his athletes’ travel, the selection of races, their diet, where they live and he thinks for them.
It’s Nic’s way or the highway. He’s god and they are his flock and he’s got the door locked and thrown away the key.
This doesn’t work for everyone. It didn’t work for Georgie Clarke, for example. He’s got an abrupt manner, bordering on rude, and some athletes just can’t take his approach. Some of them end up on the scrapheap and that is a problem.
I could never have flourished with Nic as a coach. I wanted to have some input into my career and I needed to feel I was in control of my life. In reality it’s lovely to win but you don’t need to lose yourself in the process.
I was nurtured and brought along by a mentor who gave my life more than one dimension. As much as I was consumed by running, I had a life, too. I had things to say.
Certainly I’m not having a go at any of his people or their characters. Benita Johnson is another great athlete but what has concerned me about Benita in the past is that often in the lead-up to a big event she has come down with an injury or an illness or some sort of iron deficiency. I question that.
I think I saw Nic in Athens and I last saw him at a meeting last year and said hello, but that is about as far as our relationship would go now. Nic would be in no doubt about my feelings regarding his relationship with Cathy Freeman, but I find it hard to talk to Nic.
He talks around in circles and I usually end up dissatisfied with what I’m hearing — as if he hasn’t addressed the question.
Maybe that’s part of his obsession and maybe that’s good. Maybe that is what makes some great coaches — that they are great manipulators. Nic is also very good at getting his athletes into the paper and he is great at creating images for them and giving them exposure.
He certainly did that with Cathy when he was still the athletics writer for the Herald Sun. Right from the start I had concerns about their relationship. She was a young Aboriginal woman coming to Melbourne to move in with Nic as his lover while he was also trying to make her the world’s best 400-metre runner.
He drove Cathy and I was part of that relationship because Cathy and I had a friendship of some depth. To his credit the guy knew I didn’t have a lot of time for him but he was still prepared to sit down and talk to me about Cathy. Which we often did over a cup of coffee.
I’m still not sure of his motives. Either he saw me as a potential stumbling block or maybe he just needed me to stay in contact with Cathy. I was able to tell her that she was good, really good and she believed me. I didn’t push her the way he did.
Nic would ring me if there was a problem with Cathy and he knew I was interested in her well-being.
I didn’t always get a lot out of her, she is not always free-flowing about what is bugging her but maybe she just accepted that that was the way it had to be. That the journey had to be miserable at times.
I knew Nic had set her up financially but I was worried about her psychological well-being and that is where the extra dimension comes in. I felt Cathy needed more stimulation and maybe had she studied as well as trained it would have helped her.
I’m not sure whether Australian athletics needs Nic Bideau — maybe we do — but you are always going to have a Nic Bideau somewhere in your sport.
Looking back, his model is not dissimilar to Franz Stampfl. But Franz had the masses behind him — everyone from Ralph Doubell to the little fat lady from Caulfield whom he would take around Como Park and convince her she could do anything.
Neither Nic nor Franz would have worked for me and I couldn’t have trained under them. In an athlete-coach relationship the athlete should be the most important one and the coach should be the quiet calm one. Not the dominant one. Not in the way I’ve been talking about.