To Err Is Human; To Forgive Is Divine

This weekend our team swam in the Florida Gold Coast JO Championships. Normally that would not merit mention on Swimwatch. The meet hardly compares with the feast of aquatics about to begin in Melbourne, Australia. Something did happen in Florida though that deserves examination.

But first, I need to introduce you to the story’s cast of four. There’s Rhi Jeffrey, she won a relay gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games. There’s me; I’m her coach. Then there are two swimming officials; Beth Wilkerson, the Meet Referee and Jay Thomas; he’s the Chairman of the Officials Panel for the Florida Gold Coast.

The story begins with Rhi swimming a heat in the 100 butterfly. She did well; won her heat in a good time of 56.78. We were both looking forward to an exciting final. And then disaster; the results were posted and beside Rhi name, the dreaded initials, DQ. What had she done, why had she not been contacted and told she had been disqualified? Come to think of it doesn’t US Swimming Rule 102.10.2 say that the “referee shall make every reasonable effort to seek out the swimmer or his/her coach to inform him/her as to the reason for the disqualification.” We had been in the vicinity of the start for half an hour. No one had made any effort to find us. They had broken the Rule. Yes, we would definitely protest this one. We would get Rhi reinstated.

A few minutes later I was deep in conversation with Beth Wilkerson. My point was a simple one; if she could name just one thing she had done to reasonably find us I would withdraw happily. It did not have to be “every reasonable effort” just one thing would be enough. Did she look around, make an announcement, ask someone if they knew Rhi, anything would do? Beth, she is honest, said no she had not done anything to find Rhi. “Ahh,” I said triumphantly,” then you must have her reinstated.”

And do you know what she said, “I’m sorry you see it that way, NO.”

Clearly I needed to explain again. And do you know what she said, “I’m sorry you see it that way, NO.”

My God I thought, this woman is as bad as her mates in New Zealand. She breaks the rules and refuses to acknowledge fault. You catch these officials out, dead for rights, as guilty as hell and they don’t bloody care. Just your tough bloody luck they say. I’d complain to Jay Thomas, that’s what I’d do.

I let Beth know of my displeasure and left to compose my email to Jay.

The email explained Beth’s crime and ended with the demand, “The referee was polite but she was wrong and that should be addressed.”

Half an hour later this is what I got back,

“Hi David, I am out in Colorado and just received your email. Thanks for informing me of the situation at the meet. I think it best to let the Meet Referee handle the situation. It is her meet and for me to suggest solutions from here is not appropriate. All that I will suggest is that if you have a dispute as to the technical rules violation by the swimmer, it is best handled with the Referee or through a protest. Best Regards, Jay”
Now, isn’t that the nicest way you’ve ever read of being told to behave? It really, really pisses me off when I’m making every effort to be as aggravating as possible and I get no reaction. I hope Jay doesn’t mind me telling you this but he flies big airplanes for American Airlines. His email annoys me but shows why he’s a good pilot. He’d get you down on a shitty night. Oh well, I thought, no joy their.

The next morning I needed to get one of our swimmers a deck entry. A little nervously I went to Beth and asked. “Yes, of course.” she said. And then half any hour later Rhi wanted to time trial a 100 fly. Beth said, “No problem.” An hour later I’d forgot to confirm the entry of our 500 swimmer. Beth said she’d get it done. Just before the session ended someone taped my shoulder. It was Beth. She was sorry about yesterday but had no option. She hoped the rest of the meet was going well. This woman’s is as bad as Jay Thomas, I thought. She’s so bloody nice and she’s running a good meet. Why can’t I upset her as successfully as I was always able to in New Zealand? Perhaps I’m losing my touch.

And then it dawned on me. I was dealing with two real pros. People used to running meets of thousands, of managing two pools of swimmers at the same time, of dealing with aggravating buggers like me and not letting emotion get in the way. I’d just experienced another reason why swimming in this place is as good as it is. They’ve got good officials. I still think they were both wrong, but I tell you what, you have to admire the way they did it. If you ever have anything to do with a big meet, get in touch with these two. They run a good show.