Archive for April, 2007

Individual Medley

Monday, April 16th, 2007

There’s none so strange as folk”

My first job was as a Management Trainee for New Zealand’s largest meat processing company, Thomas Borthwick and Sons Ltd. It was big too. In New Zealand we killed 27,000 lambs a day, or near enough to one every second. I ended up working in London on new corporate acquisitions. I reported to the Group Chairman, Dr. Bullen, until he ran away to sail around the Mediterranean on his Nicholson 50 (an expensive British yacht) with our shared 25 year old secretary.

Bothwicks gave their trainees six months experience in each of the company’s departments, purchasing, processing, sales and finance. I began in purchasing and spent three months wandering around the central North Island of New Zealand buying lambs and cattle; a great job involving many stops for tea and scones (biscuits in the US) with heaps of strawberry jam and cream. The leading skills required were to count lambs in units of three as they ran by; you couldn’t keep up otherwise, and gauge their condition by feeling the muscle along their backbone.

The second three months were spent with my hand stitched leather brief case and custom made pin stripe suit in the New Zealand Head Office helping Peter, the company Stock Clerk account for each day’s 27,000 lambs. We made sure farmers were paid for the number, weight and grade of animal supplied. Peter was a quiet bloke; just the sort you’d expect to spend his days counting sheep. Being young and arrogant I wondered how he could continue sitting there every day in his wife’s badly knitted sweater doing such a boring job.

Then he told me he liked his monotony because it was so peaceful after the stress he had felt in World War Two. “Had he seen combat?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “I was torpedoed and sunk twice, once sailing from the UK to the USA and once off the coast of Nigeria.” After the Nigerian sinking he had survived in a life boat for a month before being rescued. By that time all six of his companions had died from thirst. Then I understood. After that maybe I’d happily count sheep too.

There’s none so strange as folk”

Several years later I was appointed General Manager of two meat plants in Scotland, one in Perth and the other in Sterling. We sold meat to the shops and stores in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Tom was the Sales Manager; grey hair, grey beard, successful, smooth, personable and could sell a pork chop in the local synagogue.

I didn’t have to ask him about his WW2 experiences. The first time we met he regaled me with tales about his time fighting in the Long Range Desert Group including details of his teams daring raid on Rommel’s desert Head Quarters. Death was his constant companion.

Several weeks later Tom came to Perth for a sales conference. At dinner he was the life of the party, entertaining us with his account of life as a First Officer in a Royal Navy submarine, protecting cargo ships on the dangerous Russian convoys. Several times he had avoided certain death in the Artic’s freezing waters.

On all that’s sacred, I am not making this up. Several months later I flew to London with Tom, for a Company dinner. Tom spent the flight telling me about the harrowing months he had spent in a Spitfire fighting the German Luftwaffe in the skies above London. He’d been shot down once over the English Channel and survived eighteen hours in the sea before being rescued.

There’s none so strange as folk”

Several years later I’d given up on the meat business to pursue my interest in coaching swimming. I coached at a pool in the United States that had a couple of lifeguards about the same age as me. They were quiet serious sorts of guys; probably interpreted the rules a bit too literally for my liking, but were good Democrats and that had to be a good sign.

I knew them for about two years before I discovered they both had served in Vietnam; one as a photo technician and the other as a helicopter door gunner. It took me a bit of probing to discover that even being a photo technician in the mess that was Vietnam was no guarantee of safety. One night a Vietcong shell passed through the technician’s hut and exploded in the hut next door. It seems living can be all about luck sometimes, dying can be too I suppose.

The door gunner’s life had been real scary; him shooting at people and them shooting back. One of his helicopters had crashed as a result of enemy fire. I once had to land an airplane in a barley field when the engine died at 9000 feet. That was frightening enough without having the local population shooting at me at the same time.

All that and here they were quietly working away looking after the local swimming pool. Like my Stock Clerk colleague I suspect they probably enjoyed and deserved the break.

There’s none so strange as folk”

I once coached at a pool that had another team a few miles up the road. Three swimmers from the other team decided to leave and swim with me. As is the case in most of the world they had the appropriate transfer forms signed and turned up to swim with their new team. Every coach knows such transfers backwards and forward are commonplace as swimmers and their parents pursue a normally futile search for greener grass. Their travels are not dissimilar to watching sheep run through a gate.

On each of these three occasions I received a twenty minute one sided telephone call from the other coach. He was not at all pleased that I had accepted the transfer forms. He would never do that. He would send the swimmer back to their home Club and ask them to sort out any difficulties with their old coach.

At the time I thought, “Yea right. What a load of rubbish.” but politely agreed that his position was a very honest one. No need to further excite his already high blood pressure risk.

A year later two swimmers left my team to swim with the team up the road. One of them had made the opposite journey a year before. Now we’d see whether the hour of telephone time had any substance. Would the two swimmers be sent back to attempt a reconciliation, or was this coach occupying his personal fantasy world. Was he coaching in the Long Range Desert Group, in submarines and in Spitfires above a burning London with just as much delusion as my Scottish mate, Tom?

I guess you already know the answer. The calls never came. Perhaps they weren’t needed. In his own mind, Rommel’s headquarters had been destroyed, the convoy had got through and London was saved.

There’s none so strange as folk”

Background Check

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Te Reinga is a small community. There are about twenty houses, a school and a Maori Meeting House or Marae; there are no shops, no churches and no pubs. It sits where the wide and tranquil Hangaroa River joins the equally peaceful Ruakaturi River and both spill over the bluffs and cliffs that form the angry Te Reinga Falls. I was brought up in Te Reinga. I left there as a High School senior to spend a second senior year at Thorp High School in Wisconsin.

Te Reinga is where I learned to shoot. My weekly chore was to hunt and kill two wild goats to feed our dogs. Te Reinga is where I learned to read, do math, ride a horse, play rugby and grow up. Te Reinga is where I learned to swim.

The pool was a short section of the Hangaroa River below our house. We called it the Hapua. It was thirty meters wide and was equipped with a long and steep mud slide that ended with a two meter drop into the water, a wooden diving board and a shallow learner’s pool made from a wide limestone shelf that ran along the river’s edge. My elementary school swimming sports were swum in the Hapua. Most of the school had no swim suits and swam, as they called it, “bare-naked”. I’m sure that would be against some law or another these days. I wore a suit and usually won.

At High School I realized that to keep winning, some training was going to be needed. I was competing against the Wairoa town kids who had a pool and a professional coach. They even used things like hand paddles and had green warm-ups with their Club name on the back. My mother bought me “The Science of Swimming” by Dr. Councilman. I copied his schedules and, religiously swam every yard across and back in the Hapua. In the three coldest winter months I could not swim because the river was flooded, cold and muddy. Instead I ran four miles most days waiting for the Hapua to clear.

The training was good enough though. I beat the town kids and won the School freshman Championship. Two of the swims were even school records. The breaststroke record lasted thirty years to the early 1990s. Before my second year at High School I got Arthur Lydiard’s book “Run to the Top for a Christmas present. His ideas were a revelation. Instead of math and science homework I converted his running schedules to swimming by dividing the running distances by four and determined that my training through to the next Provincial (State) Championships would follow Lydiard’s teachings to the letter. Lydiard’s 100 miles per week became 25 miles of swimming, 40,000 meters, 1334 widths per week of the Hangaroa River.

The training almost worked. I ended up second in the Provincial Championships; behind a guy called Robert Powell. I think I could have beaten him if my turns had been better. Standing and turning around in the mud at each side of the Hapua was not the best way to learn slick racing turns. The first four kicks of each width were spent clearing the clinging mud off my legs and feet.

I did however win the School Championship. The next three years of Lydiard training in the Hapua proved more successful. By that time I’d added weight training using a Lancewood pole and two of my mother’s cake tins filled with concrete. I won both Wellington and Auckland Provincial Championships. The Auckland one was really pleasing. That was beating the really big city kids from a muddy river in Hawke Bay. Many years later when I was coaching some of New Zealand’s fastest swimmers, people like Jeffs, Chellingworth and Copland, it still pleased me to go back to Auckland and beat those guys. There was still an element of the river kid beating the snot out of the white suits and pink socks who live in New Zealand’s largest city.

No one swims in Te Reinga’s Hapua anymore. It’s tapu, sacred and not to be used. About two miles upstream from the Hapua there is a crossing that is shallow enough to ride across. Four weeks before I left Te Reinga for the last time a school mate of mine called “Skipper” King was fording the river on his horse Tere. The water was high and he was washed off and drowned. The river was declared tapu until his body was found. Two weeks later Skipper still had not been discovered. I began swimming in the Ruakaturi River which was not as wide or as close to my home.

The third weekend after Skippers death I was riding to the new swimming spot on my horse Nehawe. I had my old Diana .22 rifle with me as I still had to find and kill the weekend’s two wild goats. I noticed a herd of goats across the Hangaroa River just at the ford where Skipper had been washed away. Dare I cross the ford? Why not? After all I was European; surely a Maori tapu would not affect my Presbyterian soul. I turned Nehawe down the path towards the ford. As I rounded the bend before the river, there in front of me, on the path leading to the ford was Skipper Kings old grandmother, kneeling beside the water, beating it with a Willow frond. She was wailing a haunting, tormented cry of grief. Presbyterian or not, it scared the crap out of me. I rounded the horse and set off for home as fast as Nehawe could gallop. Training and goats would have to wait for another day.

A week later I was on a Pan American Boeing 707 heading for Wisconsin and towns and pools and asphalt roads. I was about to become one of those city kids.

The Voice of the Lord is Upon the Waters

Friday, April 6th, 2007

By David

PSALM 29:2-4

Craig Lord of Swimnews Online disgusts me. His writing is poorly penned, seldom checked and lacks integrity. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in his article on Libby Lenton’s 52.99 100m freestyle. I’ll take you through his piece and show you what I mean.

“There is, sadly in this world where cheating casts clouds on the innocent too, another query”

In the very first sentence the fake inclusion of the word “sadly” casts clouds on Lord’s integrity. It screams fake; it highlights the beginning of a hatchet job. The writer is embarrassed; he does not want us to think of him as a scandalous creep so he drops in “sadly” to convey the idea that it upsets him to talk about all this. Right from the beginning it is appears sincerity and Lord are not well acquainted.

“… whose musculature came under widespread scrutiny

The standard put down; the girl’s got muscles, she must be a cheat. Lord’s as guilty of prejudice as the 1950s Chairman of the New Zealand Olympic Committee who said, “A good woman should never go to the Olympics if a good man was available” or the official who tried to throw Katherine Switzer out of the Boston Marathon. When I coached Toni Jeffs, she had muscles and was forever having to put up with snide comments from low life bigots.

“I am NOT accusing Lenton of anything.”

This falls into the same category as “sadly” in the first sentence. Lord, you are accusing Lenton of plenty. Your very next sentence says that because Steffen had the finger pointed at her, why can’t you point your finger at Lenton; because Australia has led the world in identifying cheats, Australia can expect the world to pick on them? Two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s probably a difficult concept for Lord to understand as he is a leading pointer in both cases. It’s the likes of him that bring sport into disrepute, that diminish the fine deeds of exceptional people.

“… three decades of doping-drenched swims that did not all come from the GDR and China.”

I agree: of course there have been drug cheats from other nations aside from the GDR and China. But name me five world record swims from countries apart from those two that have been ruled out as the result of a positive test. The implied accusation that Lenton’s swim is just another in a long list of exceptional swims that are the product of drugs is just not true.

“… a woman who has gone from over 54sec to under 53sec like a knife through hot butter

You have to give it to Lord, he’s an expert at every snide put down known to sport. She improved; she’s probably cheating. It’s disgusting. Thank God athletes like Bannister, Snell and Weissmuller never had Craig Lord around to diminish their efforts. Just think how much more uplifting it would be for Lord to have told us about the grueling hard work that went into Lenton’s physique and speed?

“… and looking forward to her wedding day”

What a sexist thing to say. Can you believe it? Lenton swam fast because she is getting married. I think Lord may have been one of those who said Hackett wasn’t swimming well because he was distracted by getting married. It hurts the guys this getting married business, but girls break world records at the very thought. One of my Master’s swimmers said this morning that guys like Lord deserve to get pregnant and give birth.

“Can strengthening your buttocks account for half a second on the rest of a world”

There’s another put-down. According to Lord, all Linton has done is tone up her hindquarters. He seems incapable of writing about women without mentioning their anatomy. Is it any indication of what he spends his time at swim meets looking at? The obvious answer to his question is; no, Lenton spent a whole lot more time strengthening a whole lot of things in order to swim that fast. But Lord doesn’t care about that.

“Don Schollander in 1964 would have been half a second behind her. Astonishing.”

No, it’s not “astonishing” at all. A major barrier to progress in women’s sport has been comments like this. As women like Lenton ignore the bigots and take on Phelps, the gap between the sexes will close. Lord-like journalists will continue to suggest that her wedding plans, her small buttocks or steroids produced the fine swims. Lord-like journalists just can’t bear the thought that females may catch men at anything. They are the twenty first century’s, bedroom and kitchen men.

“I can supply database figures in words and column inches from all over the world

Good for you. The fact others are sexist bigots makes it okay for everyone. Does that make sense? His whole article is a nasty little piece that reflects badly on its author and does nothing to progress the sport that helps to pay his wages. Lenton is a fine athlete and her 52.99 had me leaping “up and down at the magnificence of it all.”

And I’m not an Australian. In fact I’m a New Zealander. I am envious of other countries sometimes, especially when it comes to the Greatest Living American. However, our nation has fought mightily with Australia in the pool, on the track and playing field. If anyone has reason to wish Australian sports stars ill, we do. But Lenton is a class act. As Muhammad Ali once said, “You done splendid.”

Will The Dawn Ever Come?

Friday, April 6th, 2007

I wanted this article to reflect on New Zealand’s performance at the World Championships. I wanted to tell you that New Zealand, under Head Coach Jan Cameron, continued its stellar run of winning nothing in global swimming events. Their average placing was 24th in an average field of 88. I wanted to explain that this woman with the resources of a nation at her disposal, through nine years of trying, has coached another bomb. I wanted to ask whether her marriages to master coach Don Talbot and Sky Sport’s, Kevin Cameron provided coaching and PR advantages not backed by substance?

But, I’m not allowed to. Two of the four partners who founded Swimwatch have told me it’s an old record, it’s been said before and, in the US, no one cares. That’s probably true; so instead I’ll tell you about my week at the US Spring Nationals.

The simple process of getting to the US National Championships is different from New Zealand. We flew to New York on Delta who illuminated the seat belt sign at the slightest sign of turbulence and made announcements apologizing for the “unexpected bumpy ride”. That never happens on domestic Air New Zealand. Their pilots fly on silently ignoring the boiling coffee being spilt on their customers in the back. At first I thought the difference might have something to do with New Zealand’s turbulent air space. Now I think it probably reflects the very different attitudes to suing for damages in the two countries.

The simple process of staying at the US National Championships is different from New Zealand as well. I left booking our rooms too late but finally found accommodation at the Econo Lodge, 429 Duffy Ave, Hicksville. I mention the address only to warn you never to stay there. Rhi swears the rooms are normally rented by the hour. I wouldn’t go that far. But on our first night my concern was heightened when I pulled back the covers of my bed and found a well used crack pipe lying between the sheets. How did that get there? I took it down to the Reception Desk and was told, “Oh, don’t worry that sort of thing happens in hotels all the time.” His attitude was almost a jovial “Wow, you got something extra.” My suggestion that some compensation on the room rate might be fair met stony and rigid opposition. The moral, I suppose, is that if you are at all interested in your reputation as a swim coach, stay clear of the Hicksville Econo Lodge.

Even eating at the US National Championships has its moments. You may recall the debate generated by the Swimwatch article, “To Err is Human; To Forgive is Divine.” One disgruntled soul twice called me an asshole. He used the title “Anonymous” but I think the author of these insults is a coach on Florida’s west coast. If it wasn’t please deny the charge and I will apologize immediately. Anyway, my suspect was in New York and as luck would have it, on Tuesday, chose the same restaurant to have dinner. Even more unfortunately the staff put his party at the table next to ours. The challenge was too great. Rhi and I ordered water, to be served in martini glasses with two olives. There was more than a hint of disapproval from the next table as Rhi and I clinked glasses and sipped our “martinis”.

The meet was terrific. People I didn’t know greeted me with happy hellos. The meet referee politely asked each morning, “How’s Rhi’s coach.” The world’s best national championships felt warm and welcoming.

But, what about the swimming? I was pleased. With the exception of the 200 freestyle, Rhi swam season’s best times in the 100 freestyle (57.58), the 50 freestyle (26.12) and 100 butterfly (1.03.28). The butterfly was a lifetime best time. John swam season’s best times in the 50 freestyle (23.70), the 100 freestyle (53.43) and 200 freestyle (1.53.80). John’s time in the 50 freestyle was a lifetime best swim. Their highest placings were 4th for Rhi in the 50 freestyle and 13 for John in the 200 freestyle.

All three of us know there remains much to do. Things were not going right over in California that will take more than the sixteen weeks we’ve had together to repair. Both swimmers now understand a Lydiard program and know it produces best times at the right time. Lydiard guaranteed that and he was right. Lifetime best times in their best events will not be far away. Next week the team begins a new season. Rhi and John have three training goals; to improve their aerobic fitness by swimming six weeks of as close to 100 kilometers per week as possible, to improve their strength by adding a program of heavy weights and to improve their diet.

Our team is still young; less than two years old. Rhi and John and three or four others make up a great senior group. For them the dawn is not far away.