Willkommen zum Gelsinkirchen

Overseas competition is a vital part of building an international swimming career. It is difficult to imagine how programs that aspire to international honors can do it without including the international bit. Some athletes do get there with little overseas experience. America’s Amanda Beard and New Zealand’s Peter Snell won Olympics medals before either had much international experience but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. The more normal pattern is that followed by the Russian swimmer Alexander Popov or the New Zealand runner John Walker. They traveled extensively and competed against all their major rivals in dozens of places around the world. They were tough mentally and physically and knew their opposition so that almost nothing could surprise them. Their Olympics were simply an extension of all that had gone before through years of preparation.

In a couple of weeks our team, Aqua Crest, begins its international education. Of course Rhi has competed internationally before but for the others international sport will be new.
I know, in the United States it is possible to argue that there is ample competition at home. It’s tempting to think that going to strange places where the natives don’t speak English and are no faster than many swimmers at home, is just a waste of time and money. Santaluces High School verses John I Leonard verses Park Vista will be excitement enough. But it’s not. The differences are the whole point. Mature men and women who have been subject to a wide range of experiences are best equipped to handle the stresses of National Championships, Olympic Trials and international competition. International experience matures an athlete for sport and for life. Besides, good and all as the US is at this sport there are still quite a few fast guys living somewhere else.

I coached Jane Copland (then aged 14) and Nichola Chellingworth (18) when they went off to Europe on their own to do three World Cup meets. Swimming New Zealand would never allow that these days but a few years later they happily reaped the benefit of having both girls represent the country. Jane went to Europe entirely on her own a year later at 15 and had a wow of a time; broke a New Zealand age-group 100IM record and attended what is still recognized as one of the best swimming parties ever, at a bar just off the Champs Elysees in Paris. Jane, who hated soda, rang me that night and said she’d found a fizzy drink she liked. I can hear her still: “I have discovered champagne” she said.

We have chosen the Darmstadt Meet in Germany. I’ve been twice before and it’s a good meet. I’m told it’s the oldest invitational swim meet in the world. It’s not as big as Fort Lauderdale’s Invitational or as fast as the Missouri Grand Prix. But for a combination of size and pretty good swimming it’s hard to beat. To give you an idea the women’s 50 meters free meet record is 24.96, the men’s 100 meters fly 53.17 and women’s 200 meters free 1.58.79.

Certainly our guys are going to have to be on their best behavior to do well. They will enjoy Darmstadt though. It is a genuinely lovely place about thirty minutes by car south of Frankfurt. It was first incorporated as a city in 1330 by the Bavarian Kaiser Ludwig. Today there are 145,000 people living there, but it seems much smaller. The town is also home to Merck, the giant pharmaceutical company and Wella, the hair cosmetics giant. Combined they employ a worldwide work force of 43,200.

The meet is hosted by the local Darmstadt Swim Club. Their facilities are among the best in Germany. Darmstadt was badly bombed in 1944. Over 12,000 people died, 70,000 were left homeless and 78% of the inner city was destroyed. From the rubble of World War II the town has been rebuilt with better facilities than would otherwise have been the case. For swimming there are now six open air swimming pools, two natural lakes and six indoor pools.

The town’s main aquatic center has a 50m indoor pool and a 50m outdoor, stainless steel pool. There is a gymnasium, weight room, massage clinic, meeting room, and club room. Best of all there is a super café/bar overlooking the outdoor pool; ideal for enjoying a cool beer on a hot day watching the schwimmen.

PS – While we’re talking about foreign things, Jane writes for another website and has just done a piece on strange place names. Here’s the link http://www.drivl.com/posts/view/851 Its traffic crashed Drivl’s server on Friday afternoon and caused a headache for the webdev team while she was on her way to Idaho for the long weekend, blissfully unaware of the carnage she’d initiated. But I digress. I think you’ll enjoy it.