By Royal Appointment

January 19th, 2019

 The Punch Bowl in Windsor Great Park

Many readers will have seen the news that the 97 year old Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a car accident. It looked quite serious. The Duke’s Land Rover was hit by another car and flipped on to its side. The Duke was a bit bumped and bruised but fortunately escaped without major injury. He has been admitted to hospital but the news says it’s just for observation.

The incident was of particular interest because Alison and I happen to know the Duke of Edinburgh. I admit “know” may be an exaggeration. Let me explain and you can decide.

When Alison was running for New Zealand we were living in England. Our home was in Windsor, on Kings Road, and backed on to the 5000 acre royal estate known as Windsor Great Park. Alison ran up to 100 miles a week in the Queen’s park, around what must be the best training ground in the world. Up the Long Walk, past the Queen Mother’s Royal Lodge, down Rhododendron Walk, past the Totem Pole, around Virginia Water, across Smith’s Lawn, through the Dip, past the Game Keeper’s Lodge, back around to the top of the Long Walk and home, ten traffic-free miles of grass, flowers, trees and fresh air.

Alison usually took our black Labrador, Tweed, along on her runs. Actually Tweed had a royal connection. We bought her from the Game Keeper at Floors Castle, home of the Duke of Roxburghe. I went to his estate to buy cattle for the Galashiels’ meat plant and ended up with a Labrador puppy, a sad but probably accurate reflection of my career as a livestock buyer. I was told that a male puppy from the same litter as Tweed was bought by the Queen and lived in Windsor.

Running through Windsor Park twice a day meant that Alison occasionally came across members of the royal family. Princess Anne used Smith’s Lawn to practice her eventing skills. On one occasion our Labrador, Tweed, had just gone on heat. Princess Anne’s male Labrador found this too much to resist and came bounding across for a closer inspection. Princess Anne rode up alongside the two Labradors and in her sternest royal tones asked, “Sasha, are you quite mad?”

We never met Prince Charles but did watch him practicing night-time helicopter landings on Smith’s Lawn. It was an eerie sight. There are no lights on Smith’s Lawn. It was pitch black with just the huge bulk of the royal helicopter landing and lifting off over and over again. My respect for royalty increased. I’d seen Prince Charles play polo on the same lawn and here he was piloting a helicopter.

We did see the Queen quite often. She was frequently out riding as we ran through her backyard. She always had what obviously were security officers riding with her and on one occasion Princess Margaret. I especially remember that occasion because as the royal party rode by the Queen said a friendly, “Good morning.” Clearly she recognised us as regular users. Alison replied with her own, “Good morning.” Wow, we were mates of the Queen.

However the royal family member we encountered most was the Duke of Edinburgh. He was frequently out training for his horse and carriage competitions. Alison came across him far more frequently than me. The Duke’s morning training coincided with the time Alison was doing her morning run. It seems that both the Duke and Alison realised that passing each other every morning without saying anything was a bit silly. The Duke initiated contact with a wave and a greeting. Alison replied and it became a regular feature of their daily contact.

The occasion I remember best was on a very wet Saturday morning. There were deep puddles of surface water everywhere. Halfway up the Long Walk a Range Rover approached from the opposite direction. As it drew alongside we could see the Duke was driving. We were about to wave when the Duke took both his hands off the wheel and began to make breaststroke movements with his arms. Clearly the man has a sense of humour.

I am not a rabid royalist. Far from it. But in my fleeting contact with the Queen and her family and with three years of Political Science study, I am firmly of the view that the people involved and the means of rule they represent are first class. Would I prefer them to the individuals involved in any presidential system I can think of?

Are you kidding me? Queen Elizabeth or Donald Trump? Queen Elizabeth or Vladimir Putin? Not much doubt about the correct choice there. Besides consider this advantage. The Queen’s family know how to swim breaststroke.

I Agree With Him

January 18th, 2019

Almost everything I dislike in a human being comes in one, gift-wrapped parcel, called Michael Noel James Hosking IV. The New Zealand broadcaster is way too right-wing for my taste. New Zealand can do without his reactionary opinions. In my view he is arrogant and self-important. His constant need to appear on the pages of doctor’s surgery cheap magazines and his spikey hair style are objectionable and cheap. I even signed the petition to have TV1 remove him from the Leaders Debate before the last New Zealand general election. I read articles written by him to reinforce my opinion that this must not be the country we ever become.

You can imagine therefore my shock when I read the Hosking column in this today’s NZ Herald and found myself agreeing with his every word. Shock is barely adequate to describe my reaction. Astonishment mixed with horror is a better description. So what caused this visceral reaction? Here is a much abridged summary of what Hosking had to say.

From hockey to football to cycling .. many a claim was made by aggrieved upset and angry players towards management and coaches over the way they were treated.The complaints ranged from the specific to. in the case of Hager and women’s hockey, the particularly vague.

All sports though, partly because of the day and age we live in, and the growing fear that telling it like it is may offend, responded with the obligatory review.

Jobs were lost, shortcomings were highlighted and promises of a better tomorrow were made.

But – and here is why all sports fans should be worried – just what exactly have the Black Sticks achieved?

The culture wasn’t broken, it was just that the team had a bunch of people who didn’t like the way they were treated. And instead of the old approach of “if you don’t like it you know where the changing room is” we now need inquiries.

Because nowadays every upset is serious, every tear needs wiping, every grievance needs an inquiry.

But as hockey, like cycling and football, spent lord knows how much energy and money investigating the numerous agitations, what was so dangerously forgotten was the very reason these teams exist.

To win.

Elite sport is not about fun and giving it a go, it’s about winning.

So the upshot here, is those that couldn’t hack it, whined, got listened to, and as a result they’ve lost their coach.

And where has that coach gone? England – the current Olympic champions.

How will New Zealand hockey explain their approach and attitude when we next meet England (which isn’t far off) and get spanked because they’re a side that likes winning more than we do – and likes to hire the talent that can drive that philosophy.

Will they be happy to say, ‘we may have lost, but at least all our players felt included?’

In bending over to accommodate the world’s current fascination with touchy-feely political correctness. We run the risk of forgetting how to win, or worse, even wanting to.

Regular Swimwatch readers will notice an unnerving similarity between this Hosking article and several Swimwatch posts. Probably my only negative thought about what Hosking has to say is his opinion that, “Elite sport is not about fun and giving it a go, it’s about winning.” In my experience it is perfectly possible “to have fun and give it a go” and win at the same time. The most severe coaches, me included, do occasionally smile.

What Hosking does not do – probably because he has limited practical involvement in sport and does not know – is shoot the blame for New Zealand’s sporting malaise at the guilty individual. That is the guy at the top, Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of Sport NZ. Miskimmin created the bureaucratic environment where all that “touchy-feely” stuff prospers. And Reviews are a staple item in the Miskimmin business diet. In swimming Miskimmin ordered three Reviews before he got the one he wanted. The problems Hosking rightly identifies are not going to change without New Zealand sport getting rid of Peter Miskimmin. It may take a while but eventually even Hosking will come around to seeing that’s true.

I can’t imagine Hosking was ever a serious participant in competitive sport. That hair cut is way too expensive to get wet in a pool or messed up in the bottom of a rugby ruck. My guess is he was probably a library monitor while the rest of us were out running the school cross country. His Wikipedia page says only that, “Hosking attended Linwood College” in the period when sporting or academic triumphs were likely. Besides Hosking has never seemed to me to be the sort of person who would fail to mention sporting successes if they did exist.

However, in this NZ Herald article, Hosking has identified a genuine problem. Elite sport is a tough world. It can be fun but it can’t be easy. It is not for babies. One of the serious short-comings in Miskimmin’s world is the power he has given to trendy bureaucrats. Just look at Cotterill, Johns and Francis in swimming. In my opinion, they are trendy, opinionated and ill-informed. They know nothing about the coalface of the sport; nothing about digging for coal, so they emphasise stuff at the fringes of sport, things like feelings and political correctness. They know nothing about swimming 100×100 on 1.25 so they focus on the fringe matters where everyone is an expert.

So thank you Michael Noel James Hosking IV. Your article does nothing to make me like you anymore but you sure got the measure of the problems in sport in New Zealand just now and have hopefully made it better by bringing it to public attention.

New Zealand Open Water Results

January 16th, 2019

It has long been my view that the inhabitants of Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) Antares Place offices are destroying the sport. Like some terminal disease the deterioration is relentless, membership and results are irresistibly slipping away. An occasional flicker of life is merely a temporary glimmer of hope. While those responsible for the care of swimming remain, nothing can change the sport’s fatal descent into oblivion.

It will come as no surprise to hear that in my view blame for swimming’s problems lies with its administration; not the coaches, not the swimmers and not the officials. Antares Place inmates are wrecking a good sport.

The most recent measure of the creeping decline came last weekend at the SNZ Open Water Championship in Lake Taupo. New Zealand swimming took a significant and serious step backwards. The incompetence of Cotterill, Johns and Francis was once more cruelly exposed.

The following four tables show what I mean. The first table shows the time swum by the winner of the men’s 2019 10k event – 2.03.07. Further down the table the winning times for previous years and the average of the previous year’s swims are shown. What do the figures tell us?

  1. The 2019 swim (2.03.07) is the slowest winning time in seven years
  2. The 2019 swim is 4.54 minutes behind the average winning time (1.58.53) of the past seven years.
  3. The winner of the 2019 race would be about 500 meters behind the average winner of the race in the past seven years.


2019 2.03.07
2018 1.59.47
2017 2.00.21
2016 1.56.14
2015 1.58.39
2014 NA
2013 1.58.45
2013/18 AVERAGE 1.58.53
2019 MIN BEHIND 4.54
2019 MTRS BEHIND 500

Now let’s look at the same data for the women’s 10k race. This information is shown in the next table. Sadly the women’s story is very similar to the men.

  1. The 2019 swim is the slowest winning time (2.12.17) in seven years
  2. The 2019 swim is 3.08 minutes behind the average winning time (2.09.09) of the past seven years.
  3. The winner of the 2019 race would be about 250 meters behind the average winner of the race in the past seven years.


2019 2.12.17
2018 2.11.59
2017 2.10.18
2016 2.09.30
2015 2.10.03
2014 NA
2013 2.04.32
2013/18 AVERAGE 2.09.09
2019 MIN BEHIND 3.08
2019 MTRS BEHIND 250

It seems clear – for both men and women the 2019 winning time is significantly slower. Winning the national open water New Zealand title was not as tough in 2019 as it was in the seven previous years. But while winning the race in 2019 was easier what about the quality of the open water competition. The 2019 winner was slower but was the winner pushed harder by those who ended up second and third? What do the times say about the depth of the field? Or did the second and third placed swimmers in 2019 also swim slower than in previous years.

The next table below attempts to answer that question. The table shows the times of the first three place-getters in the 2019 men’s race and for previous years back to 2013. The three times for each year are then averaged to show the average time swum by the first three swimmers. What does this data tell us about the quality of New Zealand open water swimming?

  1. The average time of the first three place getters in 2019 (2.03.48) was the slowest in seven years.
  2. The 2019 place-getters were on average 4.02 minutes behind their equivalent place-getters who averaged 1.59.48 in the previous seven years.
  3. The 2019 place-getters were on average 350 metres behind their equivalent place-getters in the previous seven years.


2019 2.03.07 2.03.36 2.04.02 2.03.48
2018 1.59.47 2.00.22 2.03.06 2.00.92
2017 2.00.21 2.00.27 2.0028 2.00.25
2016 1.56.14 1.56.19 2.02.42 1.58.25
2015 1.58.39 1.58.44 1.58.44 1.58.42
2014 NA NA NA NA
2013 1.58.45 1.58.48 2.01.53 1.59.48
2013/18 AVERAGE       1.59.46
2019 MIN BEHIND       4.02
2019 MTRS BEHIND       350

Now let’s look at the same data for the women’s race. This information is shown in the next table. On this occasion the results for women are better than for men. However they are still not good.

  1. The average time of the first three place getters in 2019 (2.14.65) was the third slowest in seven years. The three place-getters in 2019 were faster than the three place-getters in 2015 and 2017.
  2. The 2019 place-getters were on average 2.57 minutes slower than their equivalent place-getters who averaged 2.12.08 in the previous seven years.
  3. The 2019 place-getters were on average 230 metres behind their equivalent place-getters in the previous seven years.


2019 2.12.17 2.12.26 2.19.53 2.14.65
2018 2.11.59 2.11.59 2.12.08 2.11.75
2017 2.10.18 2.19.48 2.20.34 2.16.66
2016 2.09.30 2.13.20 2.14.19 2.12.23
2015 2.10.03 2.15.08 2.21.17 2.15.42
2014 NA NA NA NA
2013 2.04.32 2.04.36 2.04.41 2.04.36
2013/18 AVERAGE       2.12.08
2019 MIN BEHIND 2.57
2019 MTRS BEHIND 230

The standard of open water swimming in New Zealand has declined. Of course I accept that water conditions, weather and the placement of buoys can make a big difference to open water times. I have no doubt SNZ defenders will claim that conditions in the Taupo event make this post theoretical nonsense. However the universally bad result of almost every comparison is significant. Conditions in Taupo this year cannot excuse the poor performance compared to previous years. The huge gap of several minutes and several hundred meters between 2019 and previous year’s results suggests the general conclusion of a serious SNZ open water problem is pretty accurate.

Congratulations Cotterill, Francis and Johns. Another year has gone by and it sure looks like your contribution to New Zealand’s open water swimming has been a disaster. Overall this 2019 open water result represents a backward step of about 3%. And that disaster is again the fault of Antares Place incompetence. What on earth are we paying you for?


January 15th, 2019


Warwick Bleakley presents me with my Private Pilot’s Licence

As a teenager there were two things I had to do. I had to win a New Zealand breaststroke swimming championship and I had to learn to fly an aeroplane. I never did manage the swimming ambition, although I have coached two swimmers to that particular success. Perhaps that counts.

I don’t know what began the flying goal. However I certainly remember the event that fixed it as a lifelong obsession. When I was seventeen my parents agreed to fund a trial flight with the flying school at Hamilton airport. Partway through the flight the instructor asked if I’d like to fly inverted. I wasn’t sure what inverted meant but agreed. Seconds later we were upside down. It was fantastic. Then something really amazing happened. I looked up and above me was a cow grazing on a green Waikato field. From then on I knew this flying business was for me.

Shortly after the first flight I accepted a scholarship to study in the United States. My flight training had to be put on hold. It was not until many years later that the chance to start again came my way, this time at Palmerston North airport. The Head Instructor was, well known aviation personality, Warrick Bleakley; a truly exceptional instructor.

I feel certain that Bleakley knew I was not one of those gifted pilots who don’t get into an aeroplane but strap the plane to themselves and fly. But he recognised my love for flight and taught me to be careful and proficient. I was never going to be a top-gun but became a cautious and safe pilot.

After seven hours of tuition on May 16 1982 Bleakley climbed out of the PA 38 cockpit and said, “Ok, why don’t you do a circuit on your own?” They say no pilot ever forgets their first solo. That was true in my case. I wasn’t afraid. No, the emotion I felt most was an overwhelming sense of freedom as the wheels left the ground – alone, me, an aeroplane and the sky; awesome.  The rest of the circuit was pretty standard stuff – climb to 500 feet, turn right, continue to 1000 feet, turn right again, complete the downwind landing checks, begin the descent, obtain clearance to land, turn onto finals, slow the aeroplane, pull on full flaps, hold it off the ground, hold it off, touch down and roll to a stop. I was back on the ground alive.  Control towers are not known for their general chit-chat. But, as I taxied back to the aero-club, the radio said, “Echo, Quebec, Mike – congratulations, you are now a pilot..”

“Wow,” I thought, “That’s right, I really am.” What did Warwick Bleakley know? I wasn’t just a pilot. I was a top-gun. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Alison about my new status.

Actually Warwick knew quite a bit about flying. Patiently he took me through the curriculum required to earn a private pilot’s licence (PPL). When I screwed up some exercise he was brilliant at sitting, not touching the controls, while I sorted out the problem. Lesser instructors would have taken over long ago. He could be tough though. When I was practicing forced landings, I was making a mess of selecting somewhere to land. I had a bad habit of always looking for a better paddock.

Warwick said, “David; if you keep doing that, we will die. Make a decision and stick to it.” His “we will die” was so certain my forced landings improved immediately. Several years later I was flying from Auckland to Wellington on my own when an oil pipe burst in the engine. Shortly afterwards the engine stopped. This time the forced landing was for real. I looked around for a paddock and found two. Which one should I choose? They both looked good, but which one was best? Then I heard a voice saying, “David; if you keep doing that, we will die, Make a choice and stick to it.” I chose one of the paddocks and put EKR down in what turned out to be a pretty good landing.

Alison and Jane were in Wellington Hospital when that happened. Jane had just been born and she still had a father. So thank you Warwick.

Armed with my PPL I began flying all over the country visiting our company’s offices. My flying hours quickly increased until I was well over 1000 hours. I had flown in New Zealand, the United States and the UK. But there was a problem. My license was restricted to Visual Flight Rules (VFR) which meant in bad weather or at night I couldn’t fly. I was forever leaving aeroplanes all over the country. I needed an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) rating.

The Motueka Flying School was the answer. I enrolled in their IFR program and spent a holiday month with Alison and Jane doing tourist things and learning how to fly without looking out the windows.

My hours continued to accumulate as I flew all over New Zealand. My log book tells me I’ve visited the airfields at Dunedin, Tairei, Wanaka, Cromwell, Alexandra, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Ashburton, Timaru, Christchurch, Kaikoua, Blenheim, Nelson, Motueka, Wellington, Paraparaumu, Masterton, Palmerston North, Fielding, Wanganui, New Plymouth, Hawera, Stratford, Taihape, Taumaranui, Taupo, Rotorua, Hamilton, Auckland, Ardmore, Whangamata, Napier, Wairoa, Gisborne, Bridge Pa and Waipukurau. It is a privilege to fly around a country like New Zealand. For such a small place the scenery is spectacularly diverse. Everyone knows about the Southern Alps and the Queenstown and Wanaka lakes. But forgotten areas like the coastal strip between New Plymouth and Auckland are also surprisingly and stunningly different.

Many years ago I sat in the cockpit of a 747 flying between London and Anchorage, Alaska. I wanted to talk about the finer points of flying a jumbo jet. The captain however was more interested in the thrill of flying a Piper Arrow around New Zealand. He said, he’d heard New Zealand had some of the best flying in the world. He may well be right.

Sadly I can’t pass the medical test to fly any more but wouldn’t have missed any of the 2000 hours for the world. So thank you Warwick, thank you Motueka Flying School, thank you for introducing me to a world that never grew old, that never ceased to amaze.


Miskimmin’s Malise

January 13th, 2019

Many New Zealanders will have noticed the strange sequence of disasters that have struck New Zealand sport. Is that just bad luck or is there a common cause? Before discussing the answer to that question let’s consider the nature of the infection. Named after its founder I have called the disease the “Miskimmin Malaise”.

Swimming was infected first. That suspect honour was the result of Jan Cameron’s open acceptance of Peter Miskimmin’s centralised training regime. The policy was never going to work. It failed for many reasons, too many to discuss in detail here. However the leading problem was the impossibility of a centralised training program accommodating the different coaching needs of different swimmers. The training Bowman gave to Phelps was very different from Salo’s Peirsol program. That diversity is America’s strength. The lack of choice was New Zealand’s downfall.

The twenty year failure of anyone at Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) to realise that simple truth resulted in the failures and problems that have come to be linked to the “Miskimmin Malaise”.  Foremost among the problems is an inability to hold on to coaches. It will not surprise anyone to learn that no one coach can be all things to all people. Lauren Boyle is said to have got on very well with Mark Regan but couldn’t stand David Lyles. Two or three swimmers justifiably complain about a coach they don’t like and the bureaucrats replace the coach with another coaching wonder. Then that coach suffers the same fate. How no one in SNZ had the IQ to work out that it was the policy that was wrong, not the coach or the swimmers, t have no idea. The fact it took them 20 years to figure it out shows the stupidity of the inmates of the Antares Place offices.

In the end SNZ went through eight Head Coaches in ten years. Inevitably SNZ failed, the program failed and the swimmers failed. Sport NZ blamed SNZ. SNZ blamed poor coaching. The coaches blamed the swimmers. The whole thing was and still is the mess we have come to know as the “Miskimmin Malaise”.

Swimming led the way but, as the disease spread, it has been followed by other sports. Cycling has the same problems but the disease is not as advanced. Give it time – that is where Cycling is heading.

The first signs of a fever began to show when Miskimmin centralised all cycling training in Cambridge. Suddenly a very good cycling coach, Justin Grace, wasn’t good enough anymore. He was far too common for Miskimmin’s liking. An Australian Anthony Peden was brought in to save the day. Eventually two or three athletes fell out with him and he was replaced by another import – this time a German, René Wolff.

There was nothing wrong with either Justin Grace or Anthony Peden. They were both very good coaches. The problem was the policy that came with their employment. The better the coach the more impossible it was to live within the confinements imposed by Miskimmin’s centralised regime. In fact Grace and Peden have gone on to have successful coaching careers in the UK and China. Surely that should cause New Zealand sport some concern. The whole world, it seems, is out of step except Peter Miskimmin.

I’m sure René Wolff is good enough as well. But he will not survive. How do we know – because we have seen it in swimming. Whether a coach is good or bad does not make any difference. No one survives the “Miskimmin’s Malaise”.

The next sport to show signs of a high temperature was women’s hockey. They had a very good coach, Mark Hager. He led New Zealand women’s hockey from eleventh or twelfth in the world to number three. He also helped the team win their first Commonwealth Games Gold medal. He was a tough, straight shooting sort of guy – a bit like swimming’s Mark Regan. Eventually a couple of hockey wall-flowers complained. One of them, the team’s goal keeper, should be ashamed of herself. I hope she is humiliated by the way things have turned out. Miskimmin ordered one of his Reviews. Hager couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of it all and resigned to take up the job of Head Coach of the world number one team, England.

Does any of that sound familiar? Of course it does. It is a copy of what happened in swimming and cycling. It is the “Miskimmin’s Malaise”. I was delighted to see the Captain and Vice-Captain of the hockey team speak so highly of Hager after his resignation. Sadly their support was too little, too late. That is not their fault. It always will be when a sport contracts the “Miskimmin Malaise”.

The next New Zealand sporting casualty of the disease was rowing. Now they had a superb coach. Dick Tonks was old-school brilliant. By a strange coincidence he had a similar gruff personality to swimming’s Regan and hockey’s Hager. He is famously quoted as saying about the world’s best rowers “I’m their coach, not their friend.” I always thought that personality was not what Miskimmin wanted. The younger, foreign, jargon experts are more to Miskimmin’s liking. No one could do much about Tonks, of course, because he was so blindingly successful. But Miskimmin bureaucrats bide their time. They don’t mind waiting.

Eventually they spotted a weakness and pounced. In a copy of what swimming did to Regan, rowing imposed rules and conditions that made it impossible for Tonks to continue and he resigned.  A few months later Rowing Canada confirmed that Tonks, who had guided New Zealand crews to over 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, would lead their high performance team through to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

You have to give Miskimmin credit. He has done a superb job of supplying world sport with some of the best New Zealand trained coaches. Sadly, of course, every coach that leaves New Zealand for a plum foreign job is a savage loss to New Zealand sport. History will look back on Miskimmin’s period as CEO of Sport NZ as a time of lost financial and human resources. That, after all, is the nature of the “Miskimmin Malaise”.