As the weather warms up and we start to find our bathers (and our waist lines!) in preparation for the pool or the beach, The Wombat Post talked to Daylesford’s swimming Olympian, Tim Bach.

Where did you grow up and what was your place in your family? What kind of a family was it? Was your family supportive?

I grew up in Calgary, Canada. It’s a prairie town with temperatures often 30 to 40 below in winter – not the best place to nurture a passion for swimming. I was the oldest of eight children. The range of sports and interests that my brothers and sisters developed was enormous and I’m still astounded at how my parents were able to support all of us to go in our separate directions. My father, who couldn’t swim a stroke, was the president of my swimming club!

Which Olympics did you compete in? Was it fun?

Tim Bach (left) with swimming team mates, Dean Buckborough, David Brumwell and Anne Marie McCaffrey on return from the 1972 Olympic Games. (Photo: Calgary Herald, 15/9/1972.)

I swam in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. I wasn’t a star – I was one of the hundreds of Olympic athletes who make up the numbers. I swam heats and finals of the 4 x 100 Free relay placing 5th, still the best Olympic result for a Canadian sprint relay team. We beat the Australians which, at the time, was the next best thing to winning a medal! Canada and Australia were very competitive in swimming through the 60s and 70s. Canada dropped away for a few years but they seem to be having a resurgence now.

Was it fun? The Olympic Games is a life changing experience. It was fun and exciting and challenging and intimidating. The pressure was intense. I swam well and our swimming team was very successful so we all took pride in our accomplishments.

But the fun stopped on the last night of swimming when Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group, attacked the Olympic Village.  They killed two Israelis in the Village and took nine more athletes and coaches hostage. We were returning from a team dinner to celebrate the end of swimming and were chatting in the middle of the Village when the shooting started about 100 metres away from us. We were forced to shelter in our rooms for all of the following day because our building access was in the line of fire of the room where the terrorists were holding the Israelis. The next night, German police tried to ambush the terrorists during a hostage exchange at a nearby airport but they made a complete mess of the operation. All of the Israelis, one policeman and five of the eight terrorists died in the exchange of fire.

Until then, the Olympic Village was like a huge, non-stop party but after the attack, the party stopped. Most of the athletes kept to their rooms except when they were at their events. I went to a few events but tended to spend my time away from the Village when I could.

How old were you when you took up swimming? Were you instantly good at it?

I started competitive swimming at the age of 14. I had tried a number of other sports but I was really quite clumsy out of the water. Every time I tried out for a school sport team, I was cut. In swimming I progressed quickly. At 15 I qualified for provincial championships and at 16 I went to my first senior national championships. When I was 17, I made finals at the nationals and was offered an athletic scholarship at Simon Fraser University which had the most successful university swimming program in Canada. I found myself in a team with four swimmers who had just returned from the 1970 Commonwealth Games. I really blossomed in the high performance, competitive, university atmosphere. In 1971, at the age of 18, I made my first national team and the following year I was selected in the Olympic Games squad.

What strokes were you best at? Were you a specialist or an all-rounder?

At national championships, I swam all of the freestyle events from 100 to 1500 metres, both the 200 and 400 individual medley and the 100 Fly. Internationally I swam 100, 200 and 400 Free and the 200 IM. But my best event was the 50 Free. In university, we competed mostly against colleges and universities in the United States and I was our 50 yard Freestyle specialist – a big event in the US collegiate circuit. Unfortunately, there was no 50 in international competition at that time so I had to extend myself to the 100m and 200m events.

Was there a significant coach in your swimming career?

I was just lucky that a new YMCA opened within walking distance of my home in Calgary when I was about 12. It had a 4-lane 25 yard pool – just a puddle, really. But it also had a great coach, Doug Crarer, who had started the swimming club there when the pool opened. Doug was well recognised nationally and had produced quite a number of Canadian age-group record holders. He was my first coach and I felt privileged that he was appointed coach of the 1971 Pan-American Games and the 1972 Olympic Games teams. Two other swimmers from my Calgary club also made the Olympic team in 1972 thanks to Doug.

What made you persevere through all those years of training?

I loved swimming and I still love it. I had goals and I persevered in an effort to achieve them. I wanted to swim in the Olympic Games and that goal was worth some sacrifices.

My university years were certainly challenging. I was training three to four hours a day and carrying a full course load. You either develop some good time management skills or you collapse in a heap. I was lucky to have financial support from the SFU Athletics Department and Sport Canada so I didn’t have to work.

People think of swimming as a solitary sport but there is a very intense comradery that develops with your team mates. My team mates supported me and I supported them. And exercise is addictive. To some extent, I think people keep doing it, despite the pain, for the endorphin rush they get from it.

Do you still swim to keep fit?

I try to swim three or four times a week even though it means a drive to Kyneton or Ballarat. In summer, I swim regularly in the Lake, often with a group of friends. I’ve tried swimming in the Daylesford pool but it’s terrible and it’s hardly ever open. The Lake is always open and it’s usually warmer than the pool.

I hope we can get a year-round aquatics centre in Daylesford. The town is big enough to support it and it would do so much to improve the health and fitness of our community and enhance the sporting opportunities for our young people.

And I would love to have an opportunity to help coach a swimming club in Daylesford or Hepburn. There are swimming families in Daylesford and the president of the Ballarat Swim Club is from Glenlyon. There’s expertise in our community that could form the basis of a good swimming club.

Somewhere out there, there are 40 or 50 young kids who will represent Australia in swimming at the Brisbane Olympics. One or more could be from our area. I was just  lucky that I grew up close to a pool with a world class coach. The next Thorpie or the next Dawn could be going to Hepburn Primary or Daylesford Secondary right now but we need to get them into a pool, and soon!

Looking back, would you do it all again?

I’d do it again in the blink of an eye.


Tim Bach is a Daylesford resident. He is the Secretary of the Daylesford Indoor Aquatic Centre (DIAC), a co-editor of The Wombat Post, and the editor of the quarterly newsletter of the Great Dividing Trail Association, GDTA POST.