By Tom Degun in the Gold Coast

Mike_Wenden_head_and_shouldersJune 24 - A number of senior figures in Australia, including Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke and President of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Olympic Council Robin Poke, have reacted angrily as one of the country's greatest ever swimmers Mike Wenden faces eviction from the pool in the Gold Coast he has managed for 34 years.

The Gold Coast City Council has recommended that the large pool management company Belgravia Leisure take over the Palm Beach Aquatic Centre, which Wenden and his wife Narelle have managed successfully for more than three decades.

The move is a huge blow to the 61-year who became a national icon when he defeated Mark Spitz for the 100 metre and 200 metre freestyle gold medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Wenden, who also won nine Commonwealth Games gold medals, and his wife have since put 36,000 children through learn-to-swim classes in the previous financial year, with his lease up on July 1, but the high profile figures and local community are already mobilising to oppose the proposal.

"To me it's a straight nonsense - they haven't weighted anything on the reputation of the man," said Clarke, a former Olympic and Commonwealth Games teammate of Wenden.

"This is about maintaining services to the community."

The row could not have come at a worse time for the Gold Coast as it has coincided with the visit of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) Evaluation Commission, who are inspecting the city's bid for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. 

"Please add my name to those who think the decision being taken by the Council is short-sighted in the extreme," said Poke.

"Poor reward indeed to a great contributor to not only his local community but also the national and global Olympic Movement.

"Mike Wenden is not simply an Olympian, he's one of Australia's greatest ever.

"Add to that his remarkable humility and dedicated service and you have a role model beyond compare.

"He's not alone and we're all barracking for him."

Wenden's fate will be decided when the recommendation is voted on by the Council's Finance Committee and the full Council later this month, and he is worried that a big commercial operation would raise prices and prioritise more lucrative services.

"We are concerned that the evaluation came down to money and we just can't compete with the big places on that basis," Wenden said.

"In terms of a difference between a large operation and us, we are there on the ground every day.

"We interact with the community every day and we know them and that's why we can do a better job."

Swimming Australia became so concerned last year about the push into council pool management by large commercial operators, who did notvalue high-performance training as part of their business model, that it appointed a full-time advocate to plead its case with councils and operators.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]