Coach & Athlete - Russian Roulette

04 July 2019
James Magnussen

For episode three of our Coach & Athlete series, 'Russian Roulette', we caught up with recently retired, James Magnussen and his former coach Brant Best.

Best coached Magnussen from 17 years-of-age when he moved from Port Macquarie. This coach and athlete partnership was quite remarkable, not just for the results they achieved together, but for the journey and hurdles they overcame on the pathway to success.

"When I first met Brant he told me and my parents that he thought I could swim at an Olympic Games and no one had ever said that to us before," said Magnussen.

"I was more excited by his potential than what he physically showed, there was plenty of room for improvement," recalled Best. "Swimming's a family sport. Parents are handing their kids over to you almost, and you've got a responsibility. Sometimes you see their kids more than they do, so you just develop a bond."

Reflecting on the training, Magnussen initially found it really hard because it was different. "As a coach, the amount of time he spent analysing my stroke and my races was something that I'd never experienced before so I found it really refreshing," said Magnussen "I feel like we were training smarter than everyone else and that's why we got to where we did."

In 2011, six weeks from the World Championships, Magnussen had been diagnosed with pneumonia and doctors declared him unfit for travel. It was touch and go as to whether he would compete. When they did make the decision to go to China, it was only one week from competition that Magnussen recommenced pool training.

"First day back in the water, at one week out, 400 metres was it, and the next day we get just shy of a kilometre," recollects Best. "At four to five days out, we still didn't know if he was going to swim."

His first event was the Men's 4 x 100m relay. "I was still pretty low on energy to the point where everyone said he can't swim a heat of the relay he hasn't got it in him, we'll just stick him straight in the final and see how he goes," recalls Magnussen. After much debate it was decided that we would swim the first leg in the final. 

James Magnussen

Best confirmed how sick Magnussen was, describing his appearance as death warmed up, very pale and with sunken eyes. His race talk before the final to Magnussen, "Mate, don't get carried away on the first lap, cos I don't know if you're going to make it back."

"Sitting in the marshalling room, I was minding my own business when one of the Russians came and stood in front of me," said Magnussen. What followed was a heated exchange which was enough to fire Magnussen up for the swim of his life. With his team mates having his back, they refocussed Magnussen on the race. From that point in the meet, Magnussen couldn't put a foot wrong, riding the wave of confidence. 

What happened next is now history.


"They probably picked the wrong bloke to stir up, cos with a football background and knowing that he's got to fire up, and that it means more than just a swim, it was perfect for James' mentality and the way that he approaches his swimming" said Best.

Watch the interview in full above

For Magnussen, it's one of the fondest memories he has, knowing his Australian team mates had his back.

For more World Championship stories, follow the Australian Dolphins Swim Team journey to the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju this 21 to 28 July in news.

Stay tuned for our next Coach & Athlete episode featuring the 'Super Fish', Stephen Holland and the legendary Laurie Lawrence.

Watch Past Episodes

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