Archive for May, 2007

Ethics – Having To Do With Moral Duty

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

The question of changing coaches became more strident this week with the news that Laure Manaudou has decided back her bags and leave the coach who has guided her to become the world’s best female swimmer. Her destination it appears is to Coach Penso, 53, Director General of LaPresse Nuoto club in Turin, Italy.

It’s a big change and is unlikely to work. Already her new coach is telling the world Manaudou swam 5×400 meters this week under 4.40. I coached two swimmers in New Zealand capable of that effort and neither was a 200/400 freestyler. On Wednesday last week Rhi Jeffrey swam 12×500 meters on that sort of pace through the 400s and until Penso’s comment neither of us would have thought it merited mention on international swimming news. This morning Rhi concluded a set of 70×100 meters on 1.30 with a 1.06 100 meters fly. I’d have thought that was better than 4.40 for 5x400s.

Manaudou’s old coach, Philippe Lucas is quoted as saying he thinks Manaudou can’t stand the thought of another year of the distance he gives her – seventeen kilometers a day. That makes sense to me. I’ve had swimmers leave for the same reason. However, it highlights the ethics involved in changing coaches. Is a change being made for positive reasons, because something is genuinely not going right? Rhi and others left USC for this valid and reasonable motive. Or is the change being made in some frantic search for greener grass. One is ethical the other is not.

Manaudou would have us believe things were not right in Canet. She has said, “I needed a change.” That’s just rubbish. She’s going because her boyfriend is in Turin, she wants to swim less distance, Turin is making her offers Canet can’t match and any number of other personal, selfish reasons. Her character has been revealed by her lack of allegiance to a coach who has cared and nurtured her to Olympic medals, world records and World Championships.

Some are probably going to say swimmers always have the right to change and that of course is true. The fact that something is able to be done does not however void consideration of its ethics. Many things are able to be done that good people do not do. Let me give you an example.

About eighteen months ago a mother brought a swimmer to our team. The swimmer was sixteen. She had been ranked in the nation’s top dozen swimmers as a twelve and thirteen year old. Since then her career had deteriorated, She was damaged physically and mentally as the mother carted her daughter to other Clubs searching for the girl’s pre-teen success.

As I say, she ended up at our door. Her mother was very specific. Her daughter’s pre-teen coach had damaged her daughter. He had pushed the girl too hard and had acted badly when she decided to attend the “wrong” high school.

The mother was right about one thing; the girl was a mess. She pulled out half way through her first race and I realized fast times would have to wait while we rehabilitated a broken soul. A combination of considerate training and selective racing seemed to work. She was faster, but not by much. She was however physically and mentally strong again. Even her pre-teen coach, the one blamed for all the damage said he had not seen her swim with such spirit since she was thirteen years old. He also explained to me that the mother had serious problems as he was sure I would soon find out.

The table below shows the swimmer’s 500 yard times over a number of years and gives you a statistical view of the story I’ve just relayed.

The swimmer came to us just after she’d swum the 5.30 (Column 11) and left eighteen months later after she’d swum 5.05 (Column 18). That’s right, she left because her mother said that the training wasn’t working. The part that really stole the whole bloody cake was she scampered off back to the team that according to her had caused the girl’s problems in the first place. And that beats even Laurie Manaudou.

Philippe Lucas has said he would never take Manaudou back. I can understand that. Arthur Lydiard, probably the world’s best ever middle distance track coach always said, “David, never take an athlete back.” I broke Lydiard’s rule on one special occasion. It looks like Lucas is not even going to do that.

As a fun aside, check out this piece written by Navtej Kohli about four popular sports and why they’re … well, stupid. This is written in a rather “tongue in cheek” manner, as this guy actually loves sport.

Drunk On Drugs

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Two news items caught my attention this week.

Paris Hilton, isn’t she a piece of work? I love that phrase. She does something wrong, in this case druink driving, she ignores the discipline imposed by a Californian Court, she misbehaves again and now she’s going to jail.

What really amazes me is the reaction of Paris and her vapid mother. You might have heard them on TV”

“Judge Sauer is picking on me because I’m famous.”

“The cops stop me all the time to hit on me.”

“It’s my publicist’s fault.”

“My daughter is being made an example of because of who she is.”

“This is destroying a good family.”

Everybody’s fault except their own; a reaction that says everything about why the persistent offending happened in the first place. The Hiltons and many others do not understand harsh discipline can be extremely kind. Jail or no jail, they still won’t understand. They just never get it.

I bet they find a way around the jail time. People like that always do.

Behavior like that begins early. One of my master’s swimmers told me a tale this morning that illustrates the problem beautifully. A supermodel friend was hired recently to model clothes at a twelve year old’s birthday party. The extraordinarily rich Palm Beach party was going well until a gust of wind caught the super model’s gown and exposed a mini and expensive thong. The moment was caught by one of the birthday girl’s male friends. The boy’s mother is now suing the model. No wonder these twelve year olds turn out to be spoilt brats. As I said to my master’s swimmer, “Where I come from we’d pay a little extra for that.”

It’s not only Judge Sauer and supermodels that run into bad behavior. Every swim coach has to deal with parents who are all for discipline until it impacts their dearest. Then it’s time to fire the coach.

But enough of Paris; this week there has also been increased debate about performance enhancing drugs. Before addressing that question however, does anyone know why the IOC tests for social drugs? Unlike Bill Clinton I’ve never puffed a joint; I’ve never even been offered. I recommend my swimmers stay well away. It’s against the law. However I can’t imagine marijuana is performance enhancing. In fact, any swimmer who smokes anything deserves nothing but the dunce cap. Therefore it’s none of the IOC’s business. They don’t test to see if I exceed the speed limit or break anyone of a hundred other laws, so what’s the big deal about smoking all about?

But the drug debate this week was not about that. Website writers seemed to be concerned that the use of drugs is on the rise. They asked whether lenient sentences like that imposed on Ous Mellouli by the Tunisian Swimming Federation, the extra time given to Thorpe and the four positive tests so far in 2007 indicate rough times ahead. There is certainly nothing wrong with the debate. However there is another side to the drug story that is of just as much concern and should be debated; the power of the testing agencies.

New Zealand provides the world with an example of all that can go wrong. Their agency is led by a guy called Graham Steel. He has done a sterling job. He’s linked debating the performance of his Agency with agreeing with drugs – and it’s just not true. Because drugs need to be done away with does not put everything Steel does beyond critical analysis. In his crusade to rid the United States of communists, McCarthy achieved the same status. Criticize him or his methods and by definition, you were a communist. The New Zealand Drug Agency has created a lesser but similar environment of fear among sporting people. Don’t criticize the Agency or you will become known as a user and you will be targeted for testing at every opportunity. The fears may not even be true. They are nevertheless just as effective because they are believed to be true.

All this is especially true when the evidence suggests the Agency is not doing its job properly. Mistakes, errors, omissions and you begin to wonder whether the cure is turning out to be worse than the problem.

What makes this really bad is a recent amendment to the New Zealand Agency’s founding Act. Initially the Agency was required to adhere to a set of testing rules, similar to the traffic police. If the Agency did not comply with the rules it was grounds for having the test nullified. The New Zealand Agency is not one to have its performance examined in this way so it managed to get an amendment that says, even if the rules are broken the test will still stand unless the athlete can prove damage occurred. McCarthy would have loved it.

You might as well not have a testing procedure at all. The average athlete has no chance of proving damage, which means the Agency can do what it likes – leave samples on airport shelves for a month, reopen sample bags, change sample numbers, anything. And with its track record you wouldn’t bet it won’t.

From what I have observed the US has avoided the excesses of New Zealand. Beware though; when you are debating getting tough on the drug cheats, don’t create an out-of-control agency whose behavior may be worse than the original problem. Power corrupts and absolute power …. and you know the rest.

What It Means To Be An American

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Some time ago a New Zealand friend asked, “What is it like to be an American?” While I certainly cannot claim the title of American, this weekend is my fourth anniversary, I felt confident enough to attempt a reply. Here is my answer;

“Confused, puzzled, perplexed, baffled, mystified, bewildered, bemused, befuddled – that’s what it means to be an American. And why not – consider this.
It’s the country that wins the most medals at every Olympic Games and has the fattest, most unfit population in the world.
It’s the country that has the world’s best medical science and the world’s worst method of delivering medicine to its people.
It’s the country that put a man on the moon but still has millions who think God made the universe in seven, twenty four hour days.
It’s the country that leads the world in the production of hard core porn and still has millions of southern Baptists who think the sight of a woman’s ankle drives men to rape.
It’s a country that invades Iraq to spread democracy and happily disenfranchises four million Puerto Ricans.
It’s the country of the New York Times and the National Inquirer – Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly.
It’s the country whose society is progressive, educated and caring and yet insists on murdering its worst offenders.
The extremes are stunning and overwhelming. But does it lead to a confused population? After all Dwight Eisenhower, Wyatt Earp, Hillary Clinton and Eileen Collins are or were positive, assured individuals. But then there is Paris Hilton, she’s pretty vapid. I wonder if her SAT score ever reached four figures.
I just don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about it. I think I’ll make a turkey sandwich, open a Bud and watch the Super Bowl with a Jewish mate. Thank God I’ve been here four years. Just long enough to become a real American.”

Honesty compels me to report there is one aspect of American life that is driving me mad. I understand there are some who do not like Swimwatch and will say “Pack your bags and go somewhere else then.” Before you do, please hear me out, we may have common ground.
Pharmaceutical advertisements; I can handle the Iraq war, crazy medical insurance rates, the Californian porn industry, Southern Baptists, DC hookers and all the other extremes. They add color; make the place interesting. But I tell you, pharmaceutical advertisements are just bloody disgusting. Worse, have you noticed how they always play the things when the population is just sitting down to have dinner?

For those of you, who live outside the US, let me explain. Television in the US airs pharmaceutical advertisements sufficient to cure every disease known to modern man. Many are inoffensive enough; pain relief, Head On, apply directly to the forehead; Rand Eye Institute, one vision one option. Some though, go way, way beyond what is reasonable. It is difficult to understand a nation that forced itself into mental therapy over the possible exposure of Janet Jackson’s nipple and every night sits at peace through graphic descriptions of poor bladder control, male impotence and anal leakage.

Leading the pack for poor taste are cures for male impotence and the list of possible side effects for everything. Their product will cure your head ache but may cause an increase in blood pressure, sleeplessness, tenderness of the breasts, bed wetting and excessive flatulence. Have you ever noticed how many of these products cause excessive flatulence? And they wonder why we have an ozone layer problem?