Business & invest,

Meet the Gold Coast coaches of Australia’s swimming champions

Jess Bowen and Natalie O’Driscoll | July 25, 2022

Michael Bohl chats to an Australian Swimmer. Photo by Delly Carr.

Just ahead of Australia’s bid to dominate the pool at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, we check in with elite, Gold Coast-based Australian swimming coaches Michael Bohl OAM and Janelle Pallister OLY.

In the world of Australian swimming, the names Michael ‘Bohly’ Bohl and Janelle Pallister evince instant respect.

Both of these acclaimed squad coaches have carved out illustrious careers for themselves in the world of Australian sports, with their decades of work considered a critical component in the success of many high-profile swimmers.

Michael Bohl’s record speaks for itself. Having coached Australian swimmers to the podium at every summer Olympics between the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2020 Summer Olympics, he also received the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2010.

Interestingly, Michael’s career in coaching wasn’t something he had planned for.

“I was nearing the end of my Physical Education degree in 1987 when I received a call from my old swimming coach Cheryl Humphries,” he says.

“Cheryl and her husband had the lease of the pool at the University of Queensland. She was looking to phase out of coaching, and she asked me to come in for a couple of sessions. I got hooked in with the kids that were in the program and the athletes there.

“Then in 1988 I went to my first Olympic trials where I had a swimmer miss the team by just one spot. That was the hook that really got me into coaching – not having instant success and just missing out made me really determined to try and get someone on the team for 1992.”

Since then, Michael has had an extremely successful career, coaching the likes of Australia’s most decorated Olympian Emma McKeon and triple gold medallist Stephanie Rice.

“The winning point of difference for me has been having access to athletes who are technically very good swimmers, great competitors, and thrive under pressure.

“No matter how good we think we are as coaches, if you haven’t got the good cattle in your program it’s very difficult to achieve that Olympic success. You’ve got to try and provide the environment in your home training pool but having the really good athletes is the key point of difference.”

In 2017, Michael made the decision to relocate his high performance squad to Griffith University on the Gold Coast.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. All of my previous positions were fairly long ones, and I wanted a new challenge. I’ve also always wanted to coach in a coastal area as I love the beach,” he tells us.

“I wanted access to great facilities which I get through both Griffith Uni and the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre.

“I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of pools and the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre is one of the best in the world. The way it’s set up with the gym, the pilates room, the swimming pool, access to sports science, and meeting rooms make it very conducive to high performance.

“Likewise, at Griffith there’s an awesome gym, a brand new 50-metre pool, good blocks and great staff.

“The support services on the Gold Coast are second to none as well. We’re very lucky to have both the facilities and support here. This stuff doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s sets you up for success if the coach and the athlete do their jobs.

“When I got the opportunity to go to the Gold Coast it was very hard leaving a successful club in St Peters, but I think the facilities part was the gamechanger for me. Having access to great facilities and the support of the staff at the centre to ensure we had what we needed was a magnet.

“I have no regrets about moving down at all – it’s been great,” he concludes.

Michael and Janelle now work together as co-coaches for the Griffith High Performance Swim Club.

Michael ‘Bohly’ Bohl. Photo by Delly Carr.

Janelle Pallister with Gold Coast swimmer Moesha Johnson.

Janelle, currently in France ahead of the pre-Games camp for the Australian swim team, reflects on the highlights of her 20-year career.

“I think my favourite things about being a coach is helping someone achieve their goals and their dreams,” she says.

“Teaching life lessons along the way that will stay with them forever. Dealing with adversity and being able to keep getting up after having a hard knock. Seeing the positive side of life and things that happen. Very often society will dwell on the negative.

“It’s never about me or achievements for me. It’s always been about the athlete.”

In fact, some of those athletes include Janelle’s own children, swimmers Owen and Lani.

“Coaching my own children is rewarding and challenging at the same time,” she acknowledges.

“Rewarding because I helped and am still helping my kids achieve their dreams. I get to be close to Lani now when I’m on teams with her. My son I was able to be around all the time for him.

“You share in the elation and you share in the disappointments. You know what needs to be done, you know how hard the journey is. You have to challenge the athlete. As a mum it tugs on the heart strings at times.

“I’m extremely fortunate to have been this close to my children. Plus, I learnt very early that my nerves are my nerves and I don’t ever pass them on to my children. I’ve learnt to internalise them.”

Having worked separately for the entirety of their careers, Michael and Janine have now combined their talents into one unstoppable coaching juggernaut. Janine recalls the moment that Michael first reached out to her.

“In November or December 2019 Michael Bohl rang me and asked if I would consider coming to Gold Coast to coach with him. My husband had just retired from Police Service… I was a little unsettled in myself with coaching and was looking at maybe having a change of career after 2020 Olympics.

“It’s very rare you receive a phone call from one of the best coaches in the world asking you to come work with him. It took a lot of conversations with my family. Lani was happy about it as she was doing short stints with Michael’s squad. My son Owen was very supportive of it. He said I had given so much to them (family) it was time to do something for me. And my husband has always been extremely supportive.

“It took a massive leap of faith to move. I had a great squad in the Sunny Coast with some really good people. I knew it was going to hurt them me leaving. But it was something that I wanted to do.”

Janelle definitely does not regret her decision.

“Working with Bohly is a lesson every session” she tells us.

“It’s not the writing of the sessions. It’s the planning, the communication, the eye he has, and what he sees. It’s the interaction with the athletes and support staff. He is very calm in his nature. Doesn’t let people get to him. Doesn’t allow anything to influence him. It’s not about him it’s about the athletes.

He is a true professional in every way.”

And of course, Gold Coast’s enviable lifestyle and top shelf sporting facilities play a role in making Janelle feel right at home.

“I am enjoying the Gold Coast,” she says. “I enjoy going for a walk along the beach with my husband and dog.

“The Gold Coast has a lot to offer. The facilities are world-class, the weather is a great environment. And when you have world-class coaches then yes it’s a great place to be for athletes!”

Keep up to date with all things Gold Coast and subscribe here.