Archive for February, 2007

Missouri Grand Prix Recap

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

By David

Didn’t I tell you that woman in Missouri, Dana, would run a good meet. Everything she did before the meet smacked of quiet professionalism. She should have had a thousand late entries. She’d have coped, no problem.

We had our moments though, from me forgetting that cell phones set off airport security and being body searched while the team laughed their shoes back on and filmed my embarrassment, to having our effort to escape from the Avis parking lot stopped by an angry barrier arm dropping on to the hood of our new rental van. Three of us got sick. I took my temperature on Saturday and it was 102. I was disappointed. The way I felt it should have been much higher. And it was bloody cold; but perhaps that’s just because we come from Florida.

I’m not sure Dana could have done much about any of that. Next time I’m going to ask though. The things she did take care of, all the swimming stuff, worked really well. And what a meet it was. The standard of swimming in the US still excites and inspires. I still like to compare performances in these sorts of meets with what I was used to as the best in New Zealand. I do it only to aid the process of lifting my own sights to the reality of what’s going on around here.

Here is a table I’ve prepared that compares the winning times in Missouri with the current New Zealand National records. If I’ve missed any new records, apologies. I took the most recent table of records that I could find:

I do hope no one is rushing into print with the claim that this is a fantastic result for New Zealand; only 23 of the nation’s records were broken. Remember Missouri was a local warm up meet for much more important stuff later in the season; things like the World Championships. Although I did notice one New Zealand swimmer, Dean Kent, tried to convince the sporting world that the Commonwealth Games were far more important to him that some minor meet that began with the word “World”; that’s probably why three of his national records would not have survived the Missouri Meet.

I think that probably clarifies whether the standard of swimming at Dana’s meet was up to scratch. Did anything else happen?

Also, I met Mark Schubert. I’m sure I won’t always agree with everything he says, but as I’ve done with other good coaches – Lydiard, Anderson, Jelley and Lincoln Hurring – I will listen and respect his input. This weekend we discussed living arrangements and diet and things like that. I hope he gets into the actual training we do. I’ve always thought coaches of the nation’s better swimmers should be prepared to justify what they do in a swimming pool as well as in the dining room.

I also met Jonty Skinner. All through the meet he diligently produced data on time, stroke counts, size and tempo. He also had the history of swimmers’ best swims and willingly produced that data to the newcomer. My impression is, they have a bloody good team up there in Colorado.

For the first time I saw Phelps, Hoff, Weir, Jones, Hansen, Coughlin, Kirk and a few others up close, going about their trade. I enjoyed their unaffected friendliness. They signed autographs and indulged admiring fans without affectation or pretence. Phelps world record was impressive. Like a lot of top athletes, the Moroccan runners do it well, he kills the competition with unrelenting even pressure, lap after lap, stroke after stroke. Thorpe did the same thing. If you want to beat him you’re going to have to be strong enough to stay with that unrelenting pace and still sprint the final 25. And that takes huge aerobic fitness. But take heart; in 2000 a very good Dutchman did just that to Ian Thorpe. From what I saw in Missouri, the same thing is possible with Phelps, but whoever you are, you’re going to have to be very good indeed.

So, thank you Dana for a great meet. We’d love to come again. Before I go, there is one moment I must tell you about. On the first night a little old lady came in the door of the pool just ahead of me and asked the smart young usher, “How many lanes are there dear?” The usher seemed a little confused but looked out at Missouri’s full size Olympic Pool and exclaimed, “Six.” It was a lovely moment; makes a place human.

Ten Things to Know About Training in America (Before You Fly There)

Saturday, February 17th, 2007
By Jane

You cannot mess around in the heats of big meets any more. In most countries, the top five or six swimmers don’t need to try particularly hard in the morning preliminaries in order to advance to the night’s finals. If a national championship includes semi-finals, this is even more true. Scoring a lane somewhere in between lanes two and six is incredibly easy.

The same is not true in NCAA competition, especially if you’ve chosen a school in a competitive conference, such as the Pac 10 or S.E.C. Even the better swimmers have to race hard in the mornings in order to get through to the finals.

While I was always encouraged to give my all in the heats and semi-finals even when I was assured a place in the top eight, there is simply no room for mistakes in NCAA competition. Fart around in the heats, and you’ll be poolside for the finals.

The opposite of the above can be true for some dual meets. Quite often, you’ll need ever last shred of energy for dual meets and if you’ve spent it all in your first two races, your last three are going to suffer terribly. If you know you can win the two-hundred breaststroke and swim seven seconds slower than your best time, then swim seven seconds slower than your best time. It’s better than winning by the length of the pool and then being beating to a pulp in the four-hundred I.M. an hour later.

Of course, if your competition is tough, then you have to be tough as well. However, killing yourself unnecessarily is a sure-fire way to make sure your body is completely broken by the end of the season. You’ll need to race hard against your arch rival universities, but you don’t need to against a significantly weaker competitor. Conserve your energy when you can, because the NCAA dual meet schedule can and will kill you if you let it.

The audience that attends your dual meets isn’t that which turns up at the Wellington Champs. The stands aren’t filled with mothers and little sisters, touting ham sandwiches and flasks of cocoa. These are college kids, and if you’re racing a school that’s deemed a rival, be prepared for your audience to be a bit rowdy. People will turn up simply because you’re a swim team and they’ve heard that they can watch forty girls walk about in swim suits for two hours. About half of your dual meets will take place on a Friday at six p.m. Be prepared for your audience to be drunk.

I heard a great story once about a Princeton versus Cornell dual meet where the Cornell students thought it would be fun to create a virtual riot during the competition. People brought hard liquor into the stands and the referees had to delay the start of a few races due to the noise. I’ve heard of swimmers at rival schools having things thrown at them from the stadium.

Regarding rival colleges, your school will have at least one university that you are required to hate. If you go to California, your hatred should be directed at Stanford. In my case, the University of Washington was meant to incite a rage within. Now, (post graduation), I work two blocks from the UW and half of the staff at my workplace are UW graduates. It’s hard to vehemently hate someone and something that you see every day. Purple “W”s don’t even register on my radar any more. However, during my time at Washington State University, I was meant to loathe everyone and everything that UW ever produced. It’s ridiculous – all rival colleges obviously share the name nationality and usually are situated in the same state. Some are even located in the same town as each other. It makes no sense, but it’s part of the culture of NCAA sport.

NCAA sport is a business. You may not have to pay a dime to attend school, but a lot of money is going into you personally, and the sports department at your school owes you nothing. Most coaches will forgive a few bad races, and some will forgive an entire bad year. However, these aren’t your club coaches who nurtured you through age group competition. They can cut you loose, either by kicking you off the team or cutting your scholarship money, and there are literally thousands of swimmers who are chomping at the bit to take your place. When I began swimming at WSU, seven other Freshman began swimming there with me. By the time we graduated, there were only three of us left. Kudos to you, Andrea and Karen!

Relays have never been more important. You’ll recall the relays at local and even national meets; the only time anyone really cared about them was when a relay team could possibly qualify for an international meet. In the U.S., the points scored by winning a relay are usually double what an individual scores upon winning. Thus, relays are a goldmine of points and you’re generally expected to care more about your relays than you are about your individual races. Victory in the 2006’s women’s NCAA championships was decided in the last relay and while Georgia looked like they were going to take home the championship, the results of the race gave the win to Auburn. Let me reiterate: Relays have never been more important.

Football and basketball are the kings of the college. You know that the swimmers train harder, compete harder, get up earlier and get better grades in school than the members of both these teams. Don’t bitch about it. You won’t change the fact that these guys consider themselves to be the pinnacles of sporting excellence.

There will be a school newspaper. Accept that there is only one breed of journalist stupider than the guy who wrote about swimming for your local paper at home, and that’s the guy who writes about it for the student newspaper at school. He’ll report that your name is Lindsay Copland and that you swim the two-hundred butterfly (I promise that none of you want to see that). He’ll get the time wrong. The picture of the person swimming next to your (misspelled) name will not be you. Just be pleased that they found room amongst the basketball results for a piece about the NCAA swim champs.

Check out the college before you fly to the United States to live there. I didn’t actually do this, and although I still would have gone to WSU if I’d checked it out beforehand, I wouldn’t recommend my method of, “Oh, hey, wanna go live in America?!” to anyone else. I could have been making a huge mistake and I wouldn’t have known it. Being so far away from home, you’re really, really screwed if you arrive on campus and discover that you don’t like where you’ve ended up. You can’t just jump in your car and drive home to have a heart-to-heart with your parents about it. While you’re free to leave at any time, and visiting a college on a “recruiting trip” before you sign doesn’t guarantee that you’ll like it, a once-over is highly recommended.

Get the most out of your experience. I feel so sorry for the people who said to me, “I’d be way too scared to go live in another country.” It was the best decision I ever made and while it wasn’t easy, it was more than worthwhile. You just have to keep your wits about you, and swimming in the United State collegiate system will be a fantastic experience.

Missouri Grand Prix

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

By David

Lists of names are as boring as dust but just look at this one; Phelps, Coughlin, Jeffrey, Peirsol, Hansen, Crocker, Hoff, Jones, Walker, Keller, Weir, Sandeno and Lochte. Well, this weekend they are all coming out to play in Columbia, Missouri. For many, it will be their last competition before the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

We’ll be in Missouri with a team of seven swimmers. Next week, Swimwatch will report on the meet and how our guys swam. Just now though, we wanted to tell you about the stir the meet has already created over the entries.

This morning the meet organizer, a lady called Dana, sent out an email. This is what it said.

“We are excited to have you coming to the Grand Prix. At the moment, we are at 335 entries. We have had a couple of requests for late entries. Because the meet is not full, we will likely enter these few additional swimmers. If you have swimmers who did not enter an event for some reason, or if you have additional swimmers who have qualified, please let me know immediately if you want to put them in. See you soon! Dana Sheahen”

Isn’t that a nice email; saying all that’s best in sport. Giving athletes who have qualified late or missed the entry cut off another chance. No wonder the sport is so healthy in the US. People like Dana help make the whole thing worth while. We took advantage of the amnesty and sent off three entries, two for Rhi Jeffrey and one for John Foster. I was looking forward to telling them about their extra swims at afternoon practice.

But it seems that even US swimming has its pitbulls. Faster than light, Dana received the following email:

“I appreciated you not having the number of entries you would have liked, but I am totally against allowing swimmers/teams to enter late. Basically, what they have done, is look at the psych sheet and level of competition and have decided it would be worth traveling/competing. While the rest of us took our chances. If you do allow additional swimmers/teams, I may take my team out of the meet and expect USA Swimming and/or your club to reimburse me for plane tickets and entry fee. I would also like to know what teams/swimmers have asked. Larry Shofe, Sarasota YMCA Sharks”

Now that’s not a nice email especially as it appears to question the honesty of anyone who sent in a late swimming entry. That must qualify as a bit extreme. To take entering a swim meet to the stage of threatening financial harm is even more stupid. I’m glad I don’t swim for the Sarasota YMCA Sharks. Dana had no option. Her next email said;

“Dear Coaches: Because one club has objected to the proposed change in the program allowing late entries, none will now be allowed. Please disregard my prior email. I am very sorry for any confusion this may have caused. Dana Sheahen”

I bet that made Sarasota feel good. Dana had lost. Sarasota had won. What a man. I do hope he did not feel so good after the stream of emails supporting Dana; some serious, some hilarious, all on Dana’s side. My faith in the good health of US swimming is restored. Here is a selection of the emails I got on the subject. I hope you enjoy:

“Pine Crest Swimming and Coach Jay Fitzgerald, made a request to add an additional event for a swimmer who was already entered in the meet, so I would like for you to reconsider your protest for the benefit of the athletes already entered in the meet.”

“As an athlete I would welcome any competition and am sorry that politics got in the way of that.”

“Is it possible the only way he is able to remain on the pool deck all day during competition is through the use of a product known as an adult diaper?”

“Would the coach from Sarasota enjoy a days hunting with me? Love and kisses, Dick Cheney”

One thing I’m happy about though. I come from New Zealand and am pleased to see meet organizers here have to deal with difficult buggers too. I thought NZ had that problem on its own.

Well, in the vernacular of Down Under, you have to say the Missouri Grand Prix is off to a boomer of a start and no ones wet yet. I don’t think Sarasota will be buying the bar drinks. After his little tirade we’d all need something more than lemonade.

SwimWatch: We Love The First Amendment

Monday, February 12th, 2007
“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

In this game, the better you get, the thicker your skin becomes to swimming pool gossip and press comment. I know my experiences are nothing compared to the Clintons, the Bushes or the Hiltons. But even our small team has had its moments.

About a year ago, one of our swimmers missed a meet. A week later I was asked if it was true she was pregnant. I said, “Don’t be stupid,” but don’t think I was believed. All that was about a year ago, which either means it was false or the swimmer is seriously over-due.

Another swimmer I coached was plagued with a bad shoulder until she began a Lydiard conditioning program. Now she has no shoulder problems. Instead of giving credit to the difference between good and bad training, I recently heard her success was due to a new plastic shoulder joint she has had surgically implanted. Where do they get this stuff from?

A swimmer I coached to national titles and records obviously got more media coverage than other swimmers. The mother of one of the neglected announced to her Club’s Annual General Meeting that she understood my sixteen year old swimmer got publicity by sleeping with a local 57 year old press reporter. A lawyer’s letter was needed to put that right.

Toni Jeffs loved lifting heavy weights as part of her training. She was well muscled and strong. She was also very particular about what supplements she took and what food she ate. In spite of this we still heard the occasional rumor that “there had to be something else”. Jealousy is amazingly destructive.

Just after the Barcelona Olympic Games I was sitting in the Koru Lounge at New Zealand’s Auckland Airport. A guy in his mid 30s approached me and asked if I was the swimming coach from the Olympic Games. I said yes. He said he wanted me to know that he and his wife and children had got up in the middle of the night to watch the swimming and I had let them down. Boy that makes you feel good!

These are examples of stuff that’s just plain wrong. There is another category I don’t mind at all; the category called fair comment. Just before the Barcelona Olympic Games our team obtained generous sponsorship from one of New Zealand’s most successful strip clubs, Liks. The press loved it and even photographed one of our best swimmers being massaged by Liks attentive strippers. We would have had our finger nails pulled out one at a time by the Swimming NZ authorities if Liks owner, Brian Le Gros had not remembered he had paid Swimming NZ for an advertisement in their National Championships meet program. They took his money before we did. We just got more.

Press comment at the time was world wide; main sports story in USA Today, live television interviews from Australia; all that sort of thing. But, certainly the most incisive comment came from New Zealand’s best sports reporter, Joseph Romanos. In the New Zealand Listener he wrote a harsh criticism of the media frenzy and our willing participation. He said it was no way to prepare for the Olympic Games. We were, he said, outright irresponsible. And you know the bugger of it all. He was right and it hurt.

There is a point, however, when criticism is fair and deserved. The real bugger of these kind of situations is that when people are right, their words hurt far more. Cliché has it that it is the truth that hurts, and cliché is right. My actions, and the actions of my swimmers have been criticized at timed in the past where we’ve done wrong and I do not mind that at all. Joseph Romanos, The New Zealand Listener‘s best sports writer, never shied away from telling me when I had messed up, and I appreciate that. Even though is words were circulated around a large portion of the New Zealand population and often immortalized on the internet, I sometimes deserved the headache his weekly column brought me.

There is a lesson in all this though. If you are involved in sport and you do something, then people who comment on sport can write about it. The First Amendment says so. If you don’t want to be written about, don’t do things that warrent comment. Don’t do anything! If you don’t want those affected by your actions to write about them, then behave. If you take part in schemes that disrupt others, hurt others or are sneaky and underhanded, then eventually you will be called out. And you, like me, will have deserved it.

Gossip: It’s Good For Your Health

Monday, February 5th, 2007

By David

You probably realize Swimwatch doesn’t really report news. We’re more of a forum for commenting on what others report. It’s a mighty fine way of upsetting many and pleasing very few. This week there has not been a lot happening. There’s not much to have an opinion on.

We did report Kalyn Keller’s departure from USC. Since then there has been some discussion on the whys of it all. I noticed “ArtVanDeLeigh10” on offered an example of some football coach who took over a team in Nebraska. In three years he turned them into winners. The implication was that in three years Rhi, Amanda and Kayln would have come to benefit from Salo’s skills. That’s rubbish of course. In three years the Olympics would have come and gone and they would have had nothing left to save. If it’s broke, fix it.

“Rhi of Troy” had a good point when she said it wasn’t easy deciding to move on. The easy thing would have been to stay. It explains why these three are as good as they are. They gave it a go and when it didn’t work had the courage to get up and fix what they saw as a problem. Most of us would have just put up with it. We may have even justified staying as being the “unselfish” thing to do. That’s why most of us watch the Olympics and these three women swim in them. In a book on swimming called “Swim to the Top” I put it this way:

“I once suggested to a woman whose daughter was making little if any progress that she should try another coach. She said she couldn’t do that; it would not be loyal to the present coach. What a load of rubbish. It was her daughter’s career we were talking about. In swimming, blood doesn’t seem to be thicker than water. Certainly, don’t kick the coach out after a bad season — but, after two, do it if the swimmer is to have a chance.”

We could have also told you that our team in Florida is about to start racing again. This weekend, we go to Fort Lauderdale to a Senior Circuit meet. I’m not expecting too much. For most of the team it’s their first race since the State Finals three months ago. For Rhi it’s her first swim since she competed for USC. The last time John Foster swam was at the Nationals a year ago. The weekend after Fort Lauderdale we’re all going up to Columbia in Missouri for the USS Grand Prix. That should be fun.

We could have commented on Shane Gould’s revelation that no one should be allowed to swim in the Olympics under the age of 18. We didn’t comment only because it’s hard to discuss something as stupid as that without looking stupid as well. To quote a well known piece of Australianese, Shane’s obviously “got a ‘roo lose in the top paddock”. Mind you she is an Australian and deserves understanding. I can say that because I’m a New Zealander and the bloody Australians beat us by five wickets in the second to last over at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last night.

We could have also discussed FINA’s decision to delay implementing televised instant replays. Most commentators, including Craig Lord “of the London Times” as he once self-importantly told me, think FINA should get on with it. Lord said,

“Such a move would help FINA to present itself in modern, crisp clothes and be of great benefit to the sport of which it is guardian.”

I’m not so sure. Just about every breaststroke and butterfly race would be worth a protest. I bet there is not a swimmer alive whose hands touch the wall “simultaneously and together” to the thousandth of a second.

Other commentators talk about “Kitajima’s dolphin kick that cost Brendan Hansen the gold”

They are right, of course. Kitajima did do a dolphin kick. Before you rush to judgment, watch a frame by frame close up of Hansen’s pull out. I’m sure there is a small vertical movement; not as much as Kitajima. However, robbing the bank is the crime, not how much you take! And if Hansen’s feet didn’t move enough on the turn, include the start in your protest. I’m sure you’ll find an inch or two to justify the effort.

The list of what you could look for is a long one. Was every kick exactly on the same plane and together? I don’t think so. Was any turn passed the vertical? In the technical strokes, I doubt there’s ever been a race swum that doesn’t violate the laws if it’s given a slow, slow motion replay.

I’m actually on FINA’s side for this one; however this change needs to be implemented with caution.

But the maddest story of the week is about that guy, Martin Strel, who has just set off to swim down the Amazon. Swimwatch may be good for your health but that Amazon business; I don’t think so.