6 Aug 2021

'I did not hump that railing' - swimming coach Dean Boxall recalls Titmus' win

From Checkpoint, 6:07 pm on 6 August 2021

His swimmers broke records, but he almost broke the internet with a personal best for freestyle celebrations.

Dean Boxall coached our own Eve Thomas and several Australian Olympic swimmers, including powerhouse Ariarne Titmus, who won two golds, a silver and a bronze in Tokyo.

When Titmus beat USA superstar Katie Ledecky in the women's 400m freestyle, Boxall almost self-combusted. No words really do it justice.

"It's a blur," Boxall told Checkpoint.

"I'm watching the Olympics now on TV, I'm going, 'was I there?' It's unbelievable, surreal."

Boxall's amazing reaction to Titmus' win gained him global fame but he does not think it would be considered breaking the internet.

"I was off the phone… basically locked down in my mind just making sure we were getting everything right, so I had no idea what was going on from the outside. Had a few messages come through."

But he did not believe his shot to meme stardom was true.

"Someone said 'here', they sent me like GIFs. And then I checked on YouTube. I saw one thing was like 13,000 people. That's not breaking the internet… Seems like a bit of hoo-ha."

Despite a display that could easily earn Boxall the title of most enthusiastic coach of all time, he told Checkpoint he was holding back when Titmus won gold.

"I was actually timid. I did lose it there for a fraction, but I pulled myself back. If I really was my true self I would have run down and dived in the water and fished her out and given her a hug.

"That's probably what I wanted to do. I mean that was five years in the making, that there was a carefully planned operation of basically to try and take out the [greatest of all time].

"That wasn't a click of the fingers and 'let's see what happens'.

"I was calm through, and I just saw how things were unfolding and it was always going to come down, for me, to that last 150 metres, particularly the last 100, and we just had to make sure we positioned ourselves for the last 50m.

"So when I saw that unfolding I had a little bit of adrenaline getting shot through me. It was a bit like that Pulp Fiction scene when Uma Thurman got that needle in the chest. 

"I basically was like my normal self for training and just unleashed for that little moment, that little moment. And then I calmed."

Boxall said that he was channeling his favourite wrestler rather than humping the railing.

"I did not hump that railing. That is not true at all," Boxall said.

"My favourite wrestler is the Ultimate Warrior. A lot of people probably don't know him. He died when he was 54, in 2014. But he was intense with energy.

"My brother Ryan, about four years older than me, was incredibly creative and we used to wrestle and put all the beds down and he'd make up the music.

"And I was The Ultimate Warrior and he was Brett Hart. And basically we'd wrestle. I'd come in and do the moves and so forth. And it actually just came out of me.

"I didn't do it on purpose, it just came out. He grabs the ring ropes and he shakes them."

In the excitement of the moment Boxall said that's just what came out for him.

"I grabbed the railing but it didn't move," he said with a laugh. "That wasn't me humping the railing, I was meant to shake the railing. Lucky I didn't break it.

"I'll have that moment with me. I can remember that moment clearly now because I've had to relive it."

One of the most interesting elements to the moment is Boxall was not expecting it to be a race where he would have cameras on him.

"We were training for the 200m freestyle, we were the favourite in the 200m but we weren't the favourite in the 400."

Boxall asked to be able to watch from the opposite side of the pool so he could enjoy seeing Titmus win.

"I knew how hard it was going to be, but I didn't want any cameras on me. 

"That's just me. If you ask all my swimmers, I just run up and down the pool. I get excited. I jump. 

"And I wanted to get away. I didn't want anybody to see it. But I couldn't. They're going to find you. So I sat with the team and I normally try and move away, and I actually couldn't enjoy the moment.

"One of my swimmers, Elijah Winnington, he was standing up … saying Dean she's moving in, she's got this.

"Then Leigh Nugent, our mentor coach there, who was the head coach in 2012, just looked at me and said: "Go boy, go."

"And that's when I ran.

"I felt like a caged animal. And I don't like that."

The result of years of hard work, belief and confidence

It has been a big journey for Boxall and Titmus to beat her idol Katie Ledecky.

"When Arnie came to me five years ago she was 16 seconds behind Katie Ledecky. Now that is a huge amount of time," Boxall told Checkpoint.

"So we weren't even in the picture, we didn't have that dream yet. But then, in 2017, we made a really big shift. We headed into 2018 Commonwealth Games and Arnie really did a great job and made this position of 4.09 which getting into around about 4.4 seconds off her.

"Then we went head to head at the [Pan Pacific Swimming Championships] in 2018 in Tokyo… and she cracked 4 minutes. Then we started to believe and dream. 

"So basically I had to go away and try and create this programme that Arnie was going to execute.

"So the reason of that excitement was because that was this daily fight and battle of dreaming and believing that we could possibly get there.

"And I saw things taking place in training that was moving very well, but then we had to come through this really dramatic and dark time together when she had this injury. So the dream was basically a bit a bit foggy. 

"Once we got through the injury and we got to trials, the belief came back and confidence met hard work. And it met the dream. 

"Confidence was the big part here. We had to have belief and confidence and hard work come together.

"And they met all together. It all met on that final day."

And in the moment of exuberance, Boxall said he did not realise the young Japanese official was behind him.

"I've watched the video back. This poor lovely innocent Japanese girl. They're the most beautiful people in the world. They conform and they are gentle. And you can see her half clapping but half wanting to restrain me."

He later went to find her, but could not.

"But what a beautiful soul. Trying to do her job when she had this lunatic running around."