Dean Woods responds to Charlie Walsh Criticism

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Off the back of the World Track Championships in Colombia last week, I asked Scott McGrory to write some anecdotes about his time under former AIS track coach Charlie Walsh. I’ve heard many stories from that era that have never seen the light of day, but what I didn’t anticipate was the enormous response the piece received from readers and former athletes who got stuck into the discussion. Dean Woods was one of Charlie’s former athletes who had a very different experience under Charlie Walsh. Dean asked me if we’d publish his views.

We suggest you read Scott McGrory’s original peice and the follow-up as background to Dean Woods’ response below.

Dear Scott,

An old team mate of mine emailed me your most recent article for Cycling Tips and I must admit you had me laughing my head off, not for your content but for your ‘lack of’.

Time and space will limit my response to your article so I will stick to fact and not personal cynicism as you have tried so hard to belittle Charlie.

Personalities will always clash in every field of endeavour and everyone will have a different idea of how to do things better however in any working environment a structure must be put in, and remain in place.

I’m sure you don’t tell your sports producers how to do their job!

Thank you for saving not only Charlie from embarrassment at the Sydney Olympics but the whole cycling fraternity, pity you didn’t pull on the shoes for the Beijing Olympics. The worst result for Australian cycling since the 1980 (just a quick 29yrs) Olympic Games in Moscow, saved by a solitary Silver medal through Anna Mears and not under Charlie’s guidance, just for the record.

Once again Scott, only fact here;
You state “HAD THE PLANETS ALIGN FOR AN AUSTRALIAN VICTORY” giving me the impression that the victory was a fluke because of Eastern Block boycott and human error from the American team, only fact here Scott!

In your words, “let me first paint the picture” Australia’s performance leading up to the Los Angeles Olympics.

Australian team pursuit 4th place world championships in Zurich 83’ the year before, the world champions from Zurich was West Germany…who were present and we beat in LA!

World Champions the following year in 85’ was Italy…who we beat in LA!

12 months before LA, Michael Grenda lays in a hospital bed in Zurich in a coma for 4 days after an accident in competition and is a starter in LA, Michael Tutur breaks his wrist 3 weeks before competition begins…is a starter in LA, Kevin Nichols regarded as “too old” is a starter in LA, Dean Woods is regarded as too young…is a starter in LA.

Australian Team Pursuit wins European Championships in pre games competition 6 weeks before games begin, beating Eastern Bloc Countries that boycotted the Olympic Games and all national teams competing at LA.

But wait there is more!

One could say that our equipment was far from ideal, not having aerospace grade aluminium, disc wheels and a $5mil budget that the American team had access to and just to raise the bar a little higher against us, the American track endurance group had participated in a well documented blood doping program!

So I will allow the ‘3 riders against 4’ scenario in the final as a partial leveller.

Scott, would you allow any rider to line up at the Olympics nowadays with standard spoke wheels and steel frames and expect to have any chance of winning? Of course not, however it did happen back then! AND WE STILL WON!!

Some fact of your involvement in the Olympic Team in 88’, as you may recall there were 5 of us in the team pursuit team, Brett Dutton, Wayne McCarney and Steve McGlede, you and myself.

You may also recall that Wayne was carrying a groin injury and Charlie assessed that he had 2 good rides in him without aggravating the injury further, so to qualify for a medal should we have won, each rider must complete a minimum of two rides so you were important to ensure that Wayne was able to alternate with you as the competition progressed.

Scott, you were a last resort as there was no one else left and even though you were not fully ready to compete at this level, Charlie had no other option but to ensure you were capable of contributing to the success of the team pursuit.

Just in case you don’t remember, The Australian Cycling Team at the Seoul Olympics was the most successful of any Australian Sport at those games!

Furthermore, if David Solari had not relinquished his Australian passport the year before and rode for Australia and not Italy, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity you were given.

So at the 88’ Olympics in Seoul you were not a last resort, you were a ‘no other option resort’. One could say YOUR planets were aligned for this competition.

You grossly underestimate the intelligence of Gary Lyon; his comments don’t come from cycling but from within the ALF itself through Neil Craig. Neil is one of the most respected coaches by his peers, players and the media so when Gary refers to Charlie Walsh as a “Super Coach” it is not a ‘throw-away-line’ unlike most of the content in your article.

Sounds to me Scott that maybe you have more of a problem with yourself and not Charlie and unfortunately you didn’t ever have the capacity to realise the opportunities you were given by people around you at the time.

You must have a lot to offer if you suggest there are “way too many stories and a book is in order” regarding Charlie!! Maybe the ‘Scott McGrory Story’ would be more therapeutic for you, but maybe not!

Some more facts for you Scott, you highlight the performance of Charlie as a coach or ‘lack of,’ you should have done your research.

Limited funding, $14,000 to prepare entire track team for World Championships in 83’ Zurich, yes not the budget cycling enjoys now and limited riders to select from. Limited knowledge and resources to draw on but somehow still making it work with a 4th placing.

CA seems to have more personnel than athletes nowadays so a quick analysis of cost to results ratio will tell the real success of the current program.

Coaching programs were sourced from various people within the former East Germany and not just Heiko, as he wasn’t always willing to give too much away so he was either keeping his cards close to his chest or did not know.

There was limited information sources from the Russian camp so the “carbon copy’ training program you suggest was far from reality, the real test for Charlie was making sense of all the information of what we could use for the talent we had.

Even though most of the information was from East Germany, there was no way we could handle their training load without additional help as you mentioned so Charlie decided to go down the path of the Russian training system that was more high RPM rather than lower RPM on massive gears. (massive for our the time)

So Scott, you remember all those high frequency training sessions with a huge portion of the training being a test and measure exercise, not an exact program as we did not have the knowledge or resources to play with, as exists today.

The 80’s were the biggest turn around for Australian Cycling EVER in terms of training structure and Government funding through results!!

I remember vividly doing 3 maximal heart rate tests for Neil Craig on three consecutive days just to analyse the results on three different gear ratios to see what affect the effort had on blood lactate and Vo2 values, no joy there!

I was the human guinea pig for the cause to produce physiological data to improve training programs that didn’t exist at that point in time, today the local punter that rides on any weekend throughout the world not only has a lighter and stronger road bike but has access to measuring equipment and training programs that are far more advanced and detailed than existed in the first 10 years of Charlie’s time as head coach.

In response to your reference to Robbie McEwen, yes his results on the road are without question, however you state Charlie said “you will never make a cyclist” is once again lacking in detail.

I remember quite vividly when I returned to the National Team for the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada a lengthy conversation regarding Robbie and his short time in the program.

He was strongly recommended by the then Queensland Academy coach Peter Day as an above average prospect for the track program so as the purpose of the State Academy structure was to be a feeder of talent to the National High Performance program.

While in Mexico, Charlie was quick to realise that the attributes Robbie possessed for the track program were well short of the mark for a TRACK CYCLIST and NOT as a CYCLIST in general!

I do wonder if Robbie has more of a problem with the word ‘no’ or being rejected by authority and he has mentioned that he likes to prove people wrong. Maybe if Robbie spent more energy proving himself right rather than people wrong, he may not end up so bitter.

Darren Hill also came from a BMX background and proved compatible with the track sprint program through his physiological attributes required for this event.

Don’t forget it was Charlies role to put the best riders into competition and not a sideshow “every kid wins a prize’ attitude “If we can’t be competitive at a major competition we don’t line up”! Charlie would often state if the training or attitude was not adequate to be competitive at a world level.

Since retiring from racing in 1997 Scott I have on three occasions applied for a coaching roll within CA and on three occasions I have been told that I “don’t have enough experience”. One of those positions was 5 years ago as a Talent ID Officer based in Adelaide, not exactly brain surgery.

So after 8 years in Australian’s Elite cycling program, 3 years as a road professional in the early 90’s and 7 seasons riding 6-Days to be told “not enough experience” was bewildering to say the least.

What have I done since? I certainly didn’t crouch in the corner, rock back & forth with my thumb in my mouth!

What I HAVE done is what is commonly called, retraining and up skilling, being involved in various private enterprises over the years and study which a lot of people that have been through the Track program, which is evident, have no idea what this is!

I have this question for you Scott, if Charlie Walsh did not exist as a coach where do you think Australian Track Cycling would be today and what level of funding would it receive?

The legacy that Charlie Walsh has left for the current Australian Cycling personnel is far greater than you could ever dream of or willing to admit.

At anytime in your life Scott that you happen to employ people in a business and one of your employees is good but not great, then you come across someone that you know will make you money and will do everything required of them and more, a business decision has to be made, it’s not ever a personal.

In recent times we have seen the emotional instability of some of our greatest athletes in the swimming arena post competition. The easy path for them would be to blame the coaching fraternity but the true element of a champion is not to blame others but take stock of oneself.

Scott McGrory’s response

I thought it was fair to give Scott the right of response since the piece above is largely about him.

In response to a letter that was sent to Cycling Tips by my former teammate Dean Woods. Upon reading the letter, which was a response to my article written for Cycling Tips dated March 2nd, it appeared to me that it read as a response to both my article, and a follow up article written by a separate author which included statements by several former riders.

Dean Woods was a phenomenal track cyclist that I looked up to as a young athlete striving to achieve my goals. As a Junior World Champion to ride and win an Olympic Games is truly an amazing feat.

With all due respect to Dean, for some reason his response focuses largely on discrediting others to defend Charlie Walsh instead of simply telling his more positive experiences with him. While I don’t doubt that Dean had a special relationship with Charlie that I wasn’t privileged with, I don’t feel the need to get into a tit for tat. We both have our versions of the truth and that’s never going to change.

That said, upon reflection after Dean pointed it out, I’d like to address my comments about the Team Pursuit squad leading up to their Gold Medal performance at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to Dean, Mike Turtur, Michael Grenda, and Kevin Nichols, along with any other riders involved in that result during the build up to the Games. Any offence that was taken by those riders was not deliberate and, it was not, is not, my intention to ‘water down’ that historic Australian sporting achievement.

Life is certainly full of hurdles, and as I matured I was able to deal with them far better and had much greater hurdles in my life to deal with than being coached by Charlie.

My reflection of a bygone era that certainly was the blue print to our modern Cycling Australia Track infrastructure is simply, a reflection. I stand by my article, and the overwhelming support that I have received from riders from that period has been encouraging.

Yours in cycling,

Scott McGrory OAM

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