Forbes Carlile has passed away, aged 95. He was Australia’s oldest Olympian and was called Australia’s first sports scientist due to his methodical approach to swimming technique development, although it may be more accurate to say he was the first coach to successfully apply sports science.
As well as the inestimable value he added to Australia’s competitive swimming stocks, he ran a network of profitable and successful swim schools. He coached Shane Gould from the age of 13 and was one of the first to advocate swimming for babies, based on his extensive research of Scandavian and other programs.
Shane Gould said on Radio 702 that he was known to ruffle some official feathers because of his advocacy for the ordinary person and the young swimmers, as evidenced by his insistence that children could compete in simple “bathers” instead of requiring expensive swimwear.
He gained a masters degree in science, specialising in human physiology, from the University of Sydney, after studying under sports science pioneer Professor Frank Cotton.
He first coached the Australian team at the 1948 Games in London. As well as three-times Olympic champion Gould, other Olympians to benefit from his skill and expertise included Helsinki 100m breaststroke champion John Davies, Tokyo 200m breaststroke gold medallist Ian O’Brien, the Konrad “twins” and legendary champions Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose.
He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Australian Sports Hall of Fame 12 years later.
He pioneered the monitoring of heart rates and keeping accurate log books, developed the concept of “tapering” down before a big race, and was a world authority on stroke technique. He wrote several essential texts on swimming technique and history, including the first modern book on competitive swimming, Forbes Carlile on Swimming, which included the study of tapering and the historical development of the Australian crawl, as well as A History of Crawl Stroke Techniques.
A native of Armadale in Victoria, Carlile was born two days after former fencer Helen Joy Hardon, Australia’s previous oldest living Olympian, who died in late July at the age of 95.
The Australian Swim Coaches and Teachers Association (ASCTA) said that for many years, Forbes Carlile was an integral member of the ASCTA Conference and was always seated in the front row beside his wife Ursula.
ASCTA said his pioneering work on elite athlete training methods included interval workouts, pace clocks and log books, heart-rate tests, training under stress and T Wave studies of the ventricles, as well as techniques such as even-paced swimming and the use of two-beat kicks for long-distance events.
He represented Australia in modern pentathlon at the 1952 Helsinki Games and is the only Australian to have coached at an Olympics before later competing in the Games as an athlete.
A favourite saying of his was: “To swim well is an asset for life.”
He is survived by his wife Ursula, with whom he had been married for six decades.