Chris Fydler wasn’t always a sales manager in the IT industry. Before settling down to a “regular” job he was one of four men who won one of the most famous swimming races in Olympic history.
It was the America’s Cup yacht race all over again when the final of the men’s 4x100 metre freestyle relay came around during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It was an event the Americans had never lost, and they went in the hottest favourites.
What happened next was a true moment of sporting history for both Australia and the Olympics as a whole.
Michael Klim kicked things off for Australia and ended up well and truly in front of the pack. At the end of the first 50 meters turn Klim was on pace for the world record with a time of 22.83. He reached the end of his 100 meters half a body length in front. Chris Fydler hit the water second. The American swimmer he was matched against, Neil Walker, did a great job catching up, and by then it was a two horse race. Fydler finished superbly though to retain Australia’s lead.
Ashley Callus was able to keep the Australians just in front at the end of the third leg, touching the wall about an arm’s length ahead of the American Jason Lezak. The stage was set for the final show down: Ian Thorpe against the champion US sprinter and personality, Gary Hall Jr. Every Australian knows how that one ended; Thorpe overtook Hall in the dying stages and the Australians set a new world record for the event: 3:13.67.
It was a spectacular finish to Chris Fydler’s career in Olympic swimming that spanned three meets: 1992, 1996 and 2000. It was his only Gold medal, but by no means his only achievement: he was a finalist in the 100 metres freestyle in the Sydney Olympics, 13th in the 100 metres freestyle at Atlanta and 14th in the 100 metres freestyle at Barcelona. He was also a reliable performer in the 50 metres freestyle, representing Australia in that format twice, and a multiple Commonwealth Games champion.
Though he is now retired from competitive swimming, Fydler remains very active with the Australian Olympic team. He is one of the team’s Deputy Chef de Mission, working with fellow Deputy Chef, Kitty Chiller (11 times Australian pentathlete champion), and under Chef de Mission, Nick Green (one of the Oarsome Foursome rowing squad), to manage and support the 700 strong team of athletes and support personnel Australia is sending to London this year.
In this role, Fydler will be handling the logistics of getting horses, javelins and guns to and from London, managing accreditation and accommodation, making sure everyone has uniforms and overseeing the qualifying process to determine who gets to compete in the Olympics in the first place. He’ll then travel with the team to London to act in a support role to the administrators, medical officers and athletes as one of the executives for team management.
“I’ve got some understanding partners,” Fydler said of his new dual responsibilities between the Olympics and his ‘day job’ at Oriel, where he is one of the business partners and sales manager. “I explained to the guys before I accepted the role what I was looking at and what it meant to me and they were good enough to enable me to do that as well.
“I’ve been involved in sports administration for a while, even when I was swimming I was members of finance and audit type committees, and I was a member of the Australian swimming board for about five years as well in more recent times.”
Fydler is part of an Australian team with a big task ahead of it. There’s a reliance on the swimming team to perform to meet Australia’s medal expectations (watersports account for 40 per cent of Australia’s medal count), and though the trials event in Adelaide was promising and throwing up potential new heroes like James “The Missile” Magnussen there are some very strong teams to compete with this year, from the usual suspects in the US and China through to the homeground advantage that the UK is hell-bent on capitalising on.
“Certainly we have our work cut out,” Fydler said. “We have a goal to be in the top five nations at the Olympic Games, which for a country of 20 million people is a big goal. We need to get over the top of countries like France, Japan and be competitive on some level with the Germans for an overall medal count.
“I see benchmarking regularly. In Sydney, for example ,we medalled in 20 of the 26 sports. Of last year’s benchmarking statistics, we would have only medalled in nine. And that would have sat us fifth on a gold medal and eight on an overall medal count. So we need to continue that diversity of sports if we’re serious about competing at the Olympic Games.”
Australia has always punched above its weight when it comes to the Olympics. Taken on a medals per population basis, the last Olympics (Beijing) placed Australia fifth in medal count, behind Bahamas, Jamaica, Iceland and Slovenia but well ahead of the USA and China, who were the “winners” with the most medals in a raw tally.
At the Sydney Olympics, Australia was fourth using the same medals per population formula, behind Bahamas, Barbados and Iceland, but the latter two countries earned just one bronze medal each. In other words, per person, Australia is very nearly the greatest athletic nation in the world.
Fydler believes that the perception that Australia has a small population, and is therefore the ‘underdog’ in these global events is what inspires the nation to succeed. “Part of the Australian psyche is this understanding that we can be good of whatever we do and there isn’t that fear of bigger nations,” he said.
Fydler never did feel the itch to return to the pool and stage an Ian Thorpe-style comeback to the sport. With the Gold medal he felt he had achieved everything the sport could offer, and it was time to start a long-term career.
“For me it was enough to move on. I was a lawyer by profession and I just wanted to do different things. It’s a tough sport to stick around in. Hard on the body and hard psychologically, and generally there’s not a lot of money in the sport either,” he said.
“I was fortunate to be able to see that I needed to work and learn and not just sit and train in the morning, sleep all day and then train again in the afternoon so I’m thankful for the guidance I’ve received from various people to enable me to have something at the end of that. Now I get great satisfaction from building a business like Oriel. I’ve been here for eight years. I’m the sales director and one of the partners and being able to build that culture of achievement here has been great fun.”
The training of an Olympic athlete has applied to Fydler’s IT sales career. After moving from a law firm to the telco industry, and from there to become a partner to Jake Wynn’s Oriel business, Fydler has worked hard to bring the same philosophies and determination from the pool to the office environment.
“Any sporting career is peppered with successes and failures,” Fydler said. “As you saw with Ian Thorpe recently, even the greatest people sometimes don’t get what they need. Sales is like that. You can have a fantastic proposal on paper. Being able to review your performance on any event, improve on that and then really try harder the next time to deliver something better so next time you do win is one of the things I think I bring to sales.
“I have brought that determination to not give up on things and continue to work hard right to the finishing line rather than giving up on the way through. I’ve also learned to surround myself with good people. I was able to win that gold medal because I had three other really good swimmers with me and we try to bring that into Oriel so we can all perform well as a team.”
It’s that team support that has allowed for Fydler to remain so invested in the success of the Olympic team. This year’s London Olympics should be an incredible event. The history and tradition behind the venues will provide a spectacular backdrop for Australia’s athletes to perform on.
“London is looking great,” Fydler said. “I’ve had the opportunity to be across there four or five times in the last two years. Each time, I’m more impressed. The main venues are all complete, ready and had their test events. The town itself is going to be spectacular. Events like archery being held at Lords and the tennis at Wimbledon; they’ve got some great backdrops and should make some great scenes for the Olympic Games.”