Swimming Australia described coach Ursula Carlile as a "national treasure" ©Carlile Foundation

Swimming Australia has described Ursula Carlile, the pioneering female coach who helped inspire Shane Gould to three gold medals at the Munich 1972 Olympics, as a "national treasure".

Carlile, who has died at the age of 86, spent a lifetime dedicated to the sport and became the first female coach of the Australian swimming team.

"At a time when our sport was dominated by highly conservative thinking and practices, overt officialdom and very limited opportunities for female coaches, she blazed a trail to be the first female coach," Commonwealth Games silver medallist Tim Ford, who later became director of the Carlile Foundation, said.

"She was a pioneer and a leader in her own right and amazing achievement despite the obstacles."

She met her husband Forbes when he taught her to swim.

Together they developed a scientific approach to swimming and both became renowned coaches. 

Forbes was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1976 although Ursula was not admitted until 2022, becoming the only husband and wife so honoured.

They had converted their house to build a pool and give swimming lessons.

Later came the first indoor learn to swim centre which grew as part of a business that now gives over 1.5 million swimming lessons each year.

"He was the scientist, he was the innovator, the one who brought scientific concepts not just to swimming, but between us we did have something special going on," Carlile recalled.

The pair helped prepare the Australian team for the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff where Australia dominated in the newly built Empire Pool at the heart of the city. 

They also had a stint coaching the Dutch team around the time of the 1964 Olympics where their charges included 200 metres butterfly gold medallist Ada Van der Linden, then known as Ada Kok.

"Two great people who were way ahead in their knowledge of how to coach top swimmers, they changed their conservative thinking of the Dutch coaches completely," Van der Linden told Stateofswimming.com

The Carliles also went to China to coach but the Australian authorities were furious as China was not then integrated into the international sports community.

As a result of the trip, Carlile was banned for three years but Forbes was permitted to continue coaching.

The pair later worked with Gould as she shot to prominence at the Munich 1972 Olympics at only 15 years of age.

"We really did get to know each other quite well, she was just so gifted," Carlile recalled.

"That really was an incredible time. Shane was just so good, but I did feel Forbes deserved more of the credit."

Carlile went on to take charge of the Australian team at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand and again at the 1975 World Aquatic Championships in Cali, Colombia.

The pair continued to coach and innovate.

Her husband Forbes died during the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Carlile is understood to have passed away peacefully at her home in Ryde, the city where she had been head coach of the swimming club for over a quarter of a century.