Between You and Me: Sam Williamson and Jono Wallace-Smith

World Champion swimmer Sam Williamson and his VIS Physical Preparation Coach, Jono Wallace-Smith have an undoubtedly unique friendship. Dive into their quirky conversations, bromance moments and how they're gearing up for Paris qualification.

Sam Williamson, 26, is the world 50m breaststroke champion. On his way to gold at the recent World Swimming Championships in Qatar he twice broke the Australian record and swam the fourth fastest 50m time in history. He is aiming to swim the 100m breaststroke at the Paris Olympic Games later this year. 

Jono Wallace-Smith is the Victorian Institute of Sport Assistant Manager of Physical Preparation and a member, as Strength and Conditioning coach, of the support team aiming to see Sam qualify for Paris.



“I first met Jono in January of 2021 when I joined the VIS and the high-performance program.

I’d never seen such a large human. My initial thought was …..I was intimidated by his physical stature. He didn’t look like someone you could casually approach or talk to.

Then I looked down, saw he didn’t have shoes on, and thought he can’t be that much of a beast. It turned out that he is a Teddy Bear.

He looks like a meat fridge, or something you might find hanging in a Greek deli, but first impressions are never accurate. He is a very physically imposing man but he’s a Caramello Koala, soft and gooey, when you get to know him.

He is one of the Big Five, as Craig (coach Craig Jackson, Williamson’s swim coach) calls the crew. I have a very good relationship with all five of my support team. We’re interdependent. Like the parts of a clock. Take one out and the clock stops.

But I see Jono four or five times a week. More often than some of the others. We have a very funny way of communicating, depending on what we have to get across. There is a lot of Simpsons in our chats. We have a shared love of the Simpsons and Dolph Lundgren, circa Rocky IV. I think it’s the 80s mullet.

I quickly realised that if I went above and beyond for Jono, he would do the same for me.

Like Craig, he subscribes to the theory that you can only lead a horse to water but if you drown the horse you have to walk home. He’s only going to buy into the program as much as you do. If you don’t give Jono as much as you have, he will do his job but he won’t go above and beyond.

Initially, he had more faith in me than I had in myself. When I joined the program I was definitely a small fish in a very big pond with some incredibly successful athletes swimming about. I had to prove that I belonged.

Jono was very much the ‘Good Cop’ to Craig’s ‘Bad Cop’ in the early days. Whether that was through a shared love of bicep curls or a shared love of coffee and steak, I’m not sure. The bromance blossomed early.

When I came into the program, it was full of round holes and I was a square peg. I saw myself as a sprinter and the program was based on volume and endurance. There was 12 months of trying to force my square edges through a round hole.

We’ve refined the program but I look back and attribute some of whatever success I have had to the sheer amount of work I was asked to endure in that first year or so. I was fortunate that Craig wasn’t willing to bend a knee then.

We’ve found what we need to swim fast. Churchill said ‘to improve is to change but to perfect is to change often’. That resonates with me. I’m improving but so is everyone else. I just have to improve faster than everyone else.

After I won in Doha, Jono’s congratulatory message to me was quite literally two words: ‘Very Sexy’.

I wrote back: ‘More 1080’. I was saying let’s get back to work, let’s get sexier.

Jono is on good terms with his athletes. He isn’t an ogre. He has an enormous amount of knowledge beyond S&C. His approach can vary as much as the personalities of his athletes varies. That is a skill. I think he enjoys finding ways to connect with people, finding emotional terrain to meet on, rather than imposing himself or a particular way on them.

There’s never really been a moment of extreme tension. There will be things he’s written into my program that I will grit my teeth over but at the end of the day I know he has a good reason for doing it. I don’t believe he has ever made me do something for the sake of it. There is always a deeper meaning or reason.”



“I started working with Sam in 2021. Mack Horton was our main athlete for that prep. Attention within the squad was heavily focussed on Mack.

Then the squad changed significantly and Sam became more of a focus. Craig shifted his aerobically-driven program to suit a sprinter. It’s been interesting to seem them both evolve and adapt.

Sam never showed his lack of confidence at that time in the way he carried himself. The first time I saw him he was walking along a pool deck with a Spiderman lunchbox. He’s got a bit of dag about him. Something goofy. He’s got a Thomas the Tank Engine lunchbox and a Transformers one. He likes being a touch quirky.

All swimmers are weird but be enjoys being weird.

He’s naturally happy and jovial. If you watch him behind the blocks before a race, he will be looking around and smiling. But it’s not a tactic or strategy to cope with nervousness. That’s him. A classic extrovert wanting and unafraid of attention.

Because he really loves the gym it’s really easy for me. We can look at the program and I will tell him that in a certain week it is going to be brutal. It will hurt and he will be tired. But it is for this or that reason. That’s usually enough for Sam.

The bigger challenge is that he loves the gym and I’m quite partial to it myself. It’s the place where we can tap into our inner meathead. The gym feeds into his psychology and belief. Probably not as much now that he has world championship gold. But it did. Physicality is one of his biggest strengths and he has seen it as that. The challenge now is convincing him that at certain times the gym isn’t what he needs or needs less of. That a brutal gym block is required over there but over here we need a fast-swimming block.

His attitude to work was written into his text to me after winning gold in Doha. It was: ‘More 1080’, which is our resistance swimming device and my baby here. In one of his finest moments he was saying ‘Let’s get back to work’.

More people congratulating him and sending him love is motivating for him. Success is not a distraction. He’s a big, extroverted kid who thrives on the energy of people around him. More people around him, giving him time and energy feeds the beast, so to speak.

Sam might be the only swimmer from Victoria to make it on to the Olympic team, which is significant. It makes him important out of the pool. We had a lot of top end talent leave and it means an awful lot to still have him perform out of Victoria. That’s not lost on him.

It means a lot to the VIS swimming support team, too, because it validates the amount of time the team invests not only in him but in all of the squad. It reminds people that it can be done.

We’ve been together, as his team, for three years. Which is one of the reasons why Doha was so special. He’s come so far.”

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