Archive for January, 2007

Peak Power

Monday, January 29th, 2007

By David

I’ve just read the sports column in the January 27 edition of the New Zealand Listener. It’s written by someone called Paul Lewis and is the best account I’ve read of the malaise than characterizes sport in that country. Lewis argues that “being fit and strong isn’t enough to reach the top. Sport long ago realized that talent and opportunity are not enough.”

He goes on to extol the virtues of “single-minded-focus, a new mentoring scheme for top athletes.” We are told the concept is to teach athletes “to manage their life. Experts are called in from various fields – among them sponsorship and marketing, media management, financial management, competitive analysis, counseling for coping with family, friends and relationships and career planning.” Unbelievably Lewis says, “Many of us lose sight of such basics.”

I’d bet a thousand dollars the previous author of the Listener column, a guy called Joseph Romanos would have had nothing to do with such a mindless litany of snake oil and pap. Joseph was a supporter of New Zealand’s best coach, Arthur Lydiard. So am I and Lydiard believed, talent, opportunity, fitness and strength were enough. It is relevant that his first book on coaching was called “Run to the Top.” My first book on swimming coaching was called, “Swim to the Top” because of its Lydiard origins.

We didn’t call the books think and manage and cope. We didn’t include chapters on how to treat your wife or mother or pay the power bill. We did however tell you to run the 24 mile Waitakeres every Sunday or swim 100×100 every Saturday if you want to win a decent track or swimming race. That’s why we called them “run” and “swim” to the top.

You see, the problem is that schemes like “single-minded-focus” actually make getting to the top more difficult. They convince some poor bugger out there, trying to win an Olympic swimming race, that he, or she, needs help to talk to their mother, or buy groceries or live with their spouse. The end conclusion can only be, “God, this is really difficult.” According to the article New Zealand’s best swimmer, Moss Burmester is convinced. He says, “They are helping us with things outside sport.” Moss, if you’ve got time to do all that stuff go swim another thousand meters. It’s better for you.

“Coping with family and fiends” are not basics. They are schemes designed to earn their founders a living and are a distraction from the simple, enjoyable and constructive activity of swimming or running a good practice. For the talented out there, being fit and strong is enough.

Lydiard spent his life making the winning of Olympic medals simple. Dozens of Kenyan, Ethiopian and Moroccan athletes beat the living daylights out of ours and have never been anywhere near, “single-minded-focus”. Do you know why? They run a lot.

I have to go to practice now to help two or three swimmers who hope to swim in Beijing. It’s a Sunday so we’ll just be doing a few thousand meters of aerobic swimming; the way it should be.

Non-Swimming Related Awesomeness

Thursday, January 25th, 2007
By Jane

Yep, it’s been a while, and we apologise. We promise that there’s a new, swimming related post coming this evening, but in the mean time, check this beauty out. It’s about as nerdtastic as they come, but one of our author’s websites has collated every MythBusters myth onto one page. JavaScript and the MythBusters: what could be geekier?

Identity Theft

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

By David

All this has gone too far. I’ve just read Timed Finals’ report of the fun being poked at Ian Thorpe on some Australian lamb commercial. The report discusses the distractions Thorpe faced during his time in Hollywood and includes the following two sentences.

“Is there anything more un-Australian than those gold medal-hungry Yanks who tried to poison a big-hearted Aussie champion with the lure of Hollywood just to stop him racing? It’s like Phar Lap all over again.”

If you then click on the Phar Lap button you read this:

He triumphed during the Great Depression of the early 1930s, when a hero was most needed by the people of Australia. He conquered the local racing scene—36 wins from his last 41 starts—and then won North America’s richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap, in 1932.

Now, I don’t blame Timed Finals for this injustice, this miscarriage of all that’s fair and decent, this travesty of a thousand years of western civilization (oh, the passion of “inter-national” rivalry!) but, Phar Lap was not a bloody Australian horse. Te was born in Timaru, New Zealand in 1926 and lived there until he was sold for 160 guineas as a colt to an Australian trainer. That makes him a bloody New Zealand horse.

Those Australians have been claiming Phar Lap and many of our other finest and best since those two countries began. New Zealand’s best known swimmer and part time actor, Russell Crowe, used to compete for the Roskill Swim Club in Auckland, is always being called an Australian when, in fact, he really isn’t. He lives in Australia now but his heritage is of finer stuff.

New Zealand’s best known sportsman, Sir Edmund Hillary, was once listed by some Australian newspaper as one of Australia’s ten best sportsmen. He’d have never climbed Everest first if he’d been born in that country. The closest thing they’ve got to a mountain is Ayres Rock. A pair of sneakers will get you to the top of that thing. I’ve heard another testing Australian climb is the ascent of Sydney’s Harbor Bridge.

Every list of famous Australians includes their best author Ruth Park, eye surgeon Dr Fred Hollows, classical singer Dame Joan Hammond, country and country singer Keith Urban (yep, Whangarei-born!) and the Queensland premier Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. All New Zealanders trying to bring culture, health and prosperity to the poor souls who live in Australia.

We probably should not be surprised at this identity theft. Australia did begin life as a UK penal colony. I’m told a New Zealand Maori entering Australia recently was asked by an immigration official, “Do you have a criminal record?” Without the slightest smile he replied, “I didn’t realize you still needed one to get in here.”

Mind you, the Australians do get their own back. Not so long ago I was in Canet, France at the Mare Nostrum swim meet. A very well known international Australian swimming coach asked me if I knew why New Zealand and Australian swimmers resembled the sheep of their countries. Australia’s sheep, he said, were skinny and brown and so were their swimmers. New Zealand sheep were fat and white. We knew we’d come across some humor that we couldn’t beat with that!

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Sir Robert Muldoon was asked if he had any comment to make on the New Zealanders that were leaving to live in Australia. He replied that those leaving would likely raise the average IQ in both countries. The fact that they’re still claiming Phar Lap proves he was probably bloody right.

Jane’s Editorial Note: SwimWatch actually loves Australians and those of us who haven’t been to Oz since 2001 (damnit!) would love to go back there soon. However, not handing out some bovine excrement in the direction of the green and gold would be unpatriotic on the part of our New Zealand contributors. And Phar Lap really was ours :)

Good Sport’s Bad Sport

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Dan Wetzel is a sport’s journalist and shouldn’t be. His biography begins with two wonderful facts;

“The closest Dan Wetzel ever came to major-league sports was hawking popcorn as a 14-year-old at Fenway Park. The main sport then was conning Yuppies out of their change.”

All that needs to be said to that is; and it shows. I’ve just read his account of the Florida, Ohio State Championship football game. It is a nasty, mean, bitter little piece that demeans Wetzel and his profession. He uses literary tricks to put down and humiliate Florida’s win. I just hope he never reports the efforts of any swimmer I’ve got anything to do with at a national championship or Olympic Games. His form of reporting has little to do with the values good competitors hold important.

I think it was Kennedy who said, “You will never make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak.” Obviously that uplifting thought has never occurred to Wetzel. In his first seven lines he promotes Boise three times – the “Peoples Champion”, “America’s Team” (note the incorrect use of capitals in an effort to formalize his opinion) and “full of national respectability”. In the same seven lines he delivers four insults to the Florida game, “lowest-rated”, “buzz-less”, “America would rather have seen” and “that took place too far after the other bowl games”.

As if the first seven lines weren’t bad enough he begins the next paragraph with the classic put down; “No offence to Florida”. Anyone who uses that phrase is as offensive as their writing. He says Florida’s win will be “instantly forgotten”. No it won’t Mr. Wetzel. Forever and a day Florida will be the 2006 National Champions; not Boise or Ohio but Florida. As they say about an Olympic championship, no one can ever take that away. If someone didn’t turn up or didn’t make it through their trials or got injured, it is of no concern. On the championship day against the competition that was there, you were supreme.

I’m not sure whether Wetzel’s motive is to find anyone – and Boise will do – who’s better than Florida or he actually believes Boise could beat Florida. Either way he reminds me of those critics who used to argue some African tribesman could have won the 1500 track championship at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games or the 5000 in Melbourne in 1956. Subsequent events have proven Africa can produce magnificent runners. That in no way diminishes or alters the value of Lovelock or Kuts who did win those two events.

Boise may have had potential but Florida had reality and that is all that matters. Wetzel says Florida’s coach Urban Meyer laughed in relief at the suggestion Boise should play Florida. No he didn’t; he laughed at the idiot asking the question. What do you want Florida to do Wetzel, go on playing pretenders to the throne until they are beaten and you can say, “See, I told you they’re no good.”

He concludes his article the way he began, with insults and invective. The suggestion is made that Florida only won because Ohio State had 51 days off and because the game was played in a non-traditional campus and in the desert and in an architecturally disastrous building; for bad losers any excuse will do. Oh, to make him self look good Wetzel throws in a few lines praising Florida’s speed and execution. That’s only done because he wants his real point to appear more valid; a sort of, believe me because I write a balanced opinion. All it does is make his writing even more dishonest. After the other stuff I doubt anyone believes him anyway.

Wetzel, you are wrong. The debate will not rage. No questions will remain; Florida has nothing to prove. The best game – the championship game – was last night. Florida, like Jack Lovelock and Vladimir Kuts, are Champions.

Your writing and your person would be the better if you had simply recognized and applauded that fact. I do hope your employers keep you away from Beijing in 2008. God knows how you will describe the unusual lattice-maze architecture of the Olympic Pool if your pick of a winner happens to have a bad swim.


Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

We have a world class master’s swimmer on our team. She trains in lane three with some very good age group swimmers. Lanes one and two are reserved for an Olympic gold medalist, a Florida State Champion, a US National Finals qualifier and several Florida State finalists. Darcy, that’s the name of the master’s swimmer, is hugely impressive. How’s this for a resume?

She’s in the 50 to 54 years age group. She swims around 70kms (42miles) per week. Three times a week she bakes oatmeal and chocolate cookies for the whole team. She was recently flown to New York by the prestigious Harpers Bazaar magazine to represent her generation in one of those glamour make over shoots. She has a successful real estate practice, drives a sporty Mercedes, has a son who’s about to graduate from Duke; oh and by the way, in both the last two years she won the US National Master’s Open Water Championship. In “down under” vernacular, Darcy is bloody remarkable.

She’s one of those gifted few that can comfortably move from concluding a Palm Beach real estate deal to selling Judith Leiber handbags at a Lady in Red Gala to dining with Harpers Bazaar at Masa in New York and can still mix it at practice every day with any competitive swimmer one third her age.

I have occasionally wondered whether some event in Darcy’s past led to her life long attachment to swimming. Was there a memory that kindled her joy and ambition? This week I may have found the answer.

Thirty four years ago Darcy graduated from high school. She convinced her mother that the maturing effect of travel was important before beginning the grind of earning a college degree. The Greek island of Mykonos was carefully chosen and Darcy and a high school friend set off for three weeks in one of the world’s leading millionaires playgrounds. You see, Mykonos is not just any old island; this is a place of legend and dreams; a place of history; a place that has changed the course of human life for nine thousand years. On this island Hercules and Poseidon destroyed some of the Giants that opposed the God Zeus. Even the island’s name honors the Greek God Apollo’s grandson, Mykons.

It is not surprising that in her first week Darcy met Andrew. I understand Andrew’s birth certificate says he is the son of a Greek/British shipping magnate. To Darcy however he was a direct descendant of the union between Hercules and Euboea. I am told Darcy and Andrew spent idyllic days on the beach and nights at a Mediterranean disco. I like to think their first kiss, at the water’s edge, was just like the one made famous by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach in “From Here to Eternity”. Certainly from here to eternity well describes the importance of this moment.

After three weeks Darcy’s high school friend left for home. Darcy rang home asking for more money and three more weeks. Both requests were granted. Sadly and inevitably Darcy’s stay came to an end. Andrew stood on the wharf as the ferry pulled away taking Darcy back to Athens; to her Pan Am flight across the Atlantic and her degree course at the University of Miami. For three years Andrew recognized every anniversary with flowers.

Darcy joined the University’s swim team and came into contact with David Wilkie, another mortal God. Without any doubt the tall, quiet Scot was the world’s most charming and best looking swimmer. His soft highland accent could charm the birds out of the trees. He was also good at his sport and won the 200m breaststroke at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games in 2:15.11.

So there you have it. At life’s most impressionable age Darcy had fallen in love beside the sea with a Greek God and swum with a Scottish one. Is it any wonder she formed a life long relationship with the water. At least that’s my theory. Whether it’s true or not, only Darcy knows. I tell you one thing though; it’s certainly produced one hell of an athlete.