Archive for June, 2007

Wild West Challenge

Monday, June 25th, 2007

By David

This weekend the “2007 Speedo International Age Group Invitational” took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If you’ve never been, you should make the effort. It is a special sort of event. I’ve written about it before in an article called “The Biggest Meet in the World?”

Fort Lauderdale’s fantastic aquatic center

In spite of my earlier advice the organizers still insist on giving their event an impossibly long and boring title. I’m told years ago the meet was known as the “Wild West Challenge”. Now that’s an improvement I intend to use.

This year’s “Wild West Challenge” was just that. Each session of preliminaries involved two 50m pools operating simultaneously, and only five meters apart. Up to 650 athletes competed in each session in each pool – that’s bloody huge. The standard of those entered wasn’t too bad either. There were Olympians all over the place including, at the risk of being immodest, Rhi Jeffrey from our Club. We also had John Foster and Andrew Meeder, our two other fastest swimmers. But more about them later.

I enjoy the presence of Gary Hall’s Race Club at a swim meet. There’s that slightly rebellious, older athlete feel about the things they do. The men are usually unshaven in a Hollywood, designer, scruffy sort of way – Marlboro men without the cigarette. Not for this team is the regulated march to begin warm ups. Not for them is the coach’s stop watch and whistle demanding obedience. They must work hard though. These guys are as fast as fish. Shows you don’t need to be in the swimming marines to crank out a fast 50 or 400.

I love going to the Swimming Hall of Fame Pool; parking across the road from the Fort Lauderdale beach, admiring skilled roller-bladers dodging Mustangs, Hummers and Corvettes along the beach road, the huge pictures of Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams on the Hall of Fame wall, executives with their fishing tackle climbing aboard the Lady Pamela for a trip the website tells me is “just what is needed for everyone to have a memorable experience while in town” and the whole range of sidewalk cafes, pubs and bars – it’s great.

But even the best run meets, and this one certainly merits that title, can experience interesting problems.

One of our swimmers missed the final of his event after another swimmer was disqualified and then reinstated by the referee. This is the massage I got from the Meet Director explaining the reinstatement. “The issue was that the backstroke pole was bent and the wind was blowing the flags away from the wall and in the judgment of the Referee the displaced backstroke flags were the probable cause of the swimmers turn being illegal” Sounds reasonable except that US Swimming Rules demand that swimmers affected by an equipment failure in this way be given the opportunity to re-swim the event; not be reinstated.

In an understandable and commendable effort to speed up the meet two or three events were switched from one pool to another. The men’s 400 however was switched from the East Pool to the West and finally back to the East. For athletes who have swum over 6,000 kilometers for this chance to qualify for the US Olympic Trials or US Summer Nationals changing and recharging the venue on them forty minutes before their event is not fair.

I do not want to imply that these officials are country-cousins, more used to the challenge of high school dual meets. Far from it, in fact one of the most impressive bits of administrating I’ve ever seen came just as the meet was about to end on Sunday night. A horrible rain and lightning front was threatening Fort Lauderdale from the south. There was no chance we would get through the program. And then the officials picked up the pace. I was mightily impressed. In thirty minutes they gained fifteen. And they did it with an easy efficiency that would have been a credit to any of the world class athletes they controlled. The meet was completed and the storm arrived.

I was pretty pleased with our three senior swimmers. Seventeen year old Andrew Meeder, in just his second meet of the season, completed a fine 24.72 and 53.92 double in the 50m and 100m freestyle; both personal bests, both the fastest for his age. John Foster, in his first meet of the season, swam 4.01.52 in the 400m and 52.95 in the 100m freestyle and Rhi Jeffrey won the 100m butterfly in 1.02.61 and the 100m freestyle in 56.20, the fifty-second fastest time in the world this year.

It’s a joy to coach such fine athletes as they work their way towards success or back from difficult days. This last weekend I’d have happily paid to watch them go about their trade. My guess is there is much better to come. It’s going to be a fun ride.

I’ll Take The Camera He’s Using, Thanks

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

By Jane

Off topic (unless you consider the nine-year-old who swam around Alcatraz last year), but we had to share this awesome picture. Click through for the larger image.

In God We Trust, Huh?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

By David

That was a truly fantastic 1500 swim of Kate Zeigler. It speaks volumes for her talent, application and discipline. More than that however Zeigler invites us to discuss the role a Christian God plays in athletic success. On several occasions recently she has taken the opportunity presented by her athletic success to promote the role her God has played in seeing these things come to pass. She says her talent comes from “God who gave me the gift of swimming.” Before each event she recites “All things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4.13). Evidently she has the time to repeat the verse through her race.

Craig Lord of Swimnews reports that Zeigler told him, “When races get hard, I’m like ‘come on God …’. It plays a huge role. Over 30 laps (1,500m) I do say that quote quite often. It gets me through the pain; I can clearly remember one practice: it was brutal, a really long set, it was hurting terribly. I kept saying it and said some Hail Marys.”

Now, if Zeigler is telling us about her Christian God as a personal insight into her life it is a good and proper thing. It is no different from those boxers who win their contests and thank Jesus for giving them the strength to beat their fellow man senseless. Whether God gets involved in 1500 meter swims or boxing matches can be debated long into the night. If it makes Zeigler and prize fighters feel better then I guess there is no harm done.

Arthur Lydiard would call such talk a “red underpants moment”. He was referring to an Olympic athlete whom he coached who insisted on wearing red underwear in major races. Lydiard tried to talk him out of it. What would happen, Lydiard argued, if his red underwear went missing on the morning of the Olympic finals? It was fifty thousand miles of training that had made him one of the world’s best runners, not a pair of red underpants. Lydiard failed; at the Olympics the guy wore his red underpants and they worked – much to the relief of his coach and his grateful nation.

Trust in God’s assistance can be taken too far. One very good New Zealand swimmer told me he once shared a room with a competitor in the same event at an international meet. Each night the room mate knelt beside the bed and said a prayer. Nothing wrong with that, you might say, and I would agree. Except that is when the prayer included a loud and strongly worded request that God assist his humble servant beat my informant in tomorrow’s race.

If however Zeigler is suggesting that all of us should adopt Christ as a means of swimming 1500 under 16 minutes then, I think, there is a problem. When I played football for Thorp High School in Wisconsin – it’s off the subject, but the Green Bay Packers team bought my senior class ring – the team coach used to have us recite the Lord’s Prayer with him before running on to the field. It always made me slightly uncomfortable. Why should a loving God take our side compared to the decent set of chaps who represented Stanley High School down the road? It was, I thought, using God in a role that probably made Him most uncomfortable.

It’s also hard to forget that in World War One the British troops at the Battle of the Somme held up signs saying, “God with us.” A hundred yards away the Germans also had signs. They said, “Gott mit uns.” I doubt you need a translation. In the attack the British and French gained 12 kilometres of ground, the taking of which resulted in 420,000 British casualties, plus a further 200,000 French casualties. German casualties were estimated to run at around 500,000. Makes you wonder what would have happened if God hadn’t been with them.

So no, I do not think my job includes teaching Christianity as means to athletic fame. Two John 3.16s do not equal a fast 100 freestyle. It is probably opportune to remind Zeigler and those boxing Christians of Mathew 6.6 “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” The scriptures appear to be saying that Zeigler’s prayers are best kept to herself.

Besides not agreeing with teaching Christianity as a means to athletic fame, the principle would cause me some confusion. Which God would I chose? While the Christian God appears to have helped Zeigler; in track and field the men’s 1500 world record is held by a Morrocan Hicham El Guerrouj, who probably thinks Allah is just the ticket to get you through a fast 1500. The women’s track 1500 world record is held by Qu Yunixia from China. She would probably subscribe to the Buddhist view that “we are what we think”. And then there is the confusion of the first man to break 15 minutes for 1500 swimming, the Soviet athlete Vladimir Salnikov. He could well have accepted the official Marxist position of his nation that all religion “is the opium of the people.”

And as for me, I still think red underwear works best.

RETRACTION: Screw Discipline, Embrace Partying

Friday, June 15th, 2007

We’ve written about the subject of discipline on a traveling team before and, from the sound of our articles, you’d think we were pretty conservative travelers. You’d think that all the teams we’ve been on have advocated going to bed at ten p.m. the night after competitions are over. You’d think we were boring. This is not so.

We thoroughly advocate partying. Swimming is hard. Swimming requires not just some, but all Friday nights to be spent at home on the sofa, contemplating Saturday morning’s training session. More often that not, it requires foregoing Saturday night festivities as well. Swimming means that you can’t stay up at watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report because they’re on at eleven and you have to get up at five. Sometimes, being a swimmers sucks. So when you can, you should live it up.

Michael Klim decided that it was time to stay up a little past his bedtime after the World Swimming Championships in Melbourne this year. Timed Finals covered the details of the party he hosted, as well as his means of getting around an Australian team function and the punishment that followed, so I needn’t relay the details here. The short version is that Klim decided to get the world’s best swimmers together at a local nightclub so that they could celebrate having taken part in one of the premier events of their swimming careers. In doing so, he (apparently) told Australian officials that it was a family matter that prevented him from attending an Australian team dinner, taking place on the same evening.

I am not sure what the Australian management’s policy is in regards to parties, but I know what it was like between 1998 and 2004. Those guys weren’t allowed to do anything without the consent of their coaches. Attending a party was enough to be dismissed from the Australian team indefinitely. Hosting one would have you brought before the Prime Minister. This, may I add, was a rather different culture to that of the German team during the same period of time who apparently advocated that their swimmers drink red wine. Often.

And now for Swimwatch’s first poll. Since our email address is, it would be stupid of us not to embrace voting every once and a while:

There are reports that Klim lied to his team in order to be free to host his party. While swimmers shouldn’t lie to their coaches, they shouldn’t be put in the type of position where they’re required to. The three best coaches I’ve ever known were in complete support of what we called “after match functions”; the only stipulation they put on our post-swimming festivities was that we not hurt or embarrass ourselves. With these two criteria in mind, it was still very easy to have a great time.

So now it’s your turn. Swimwatch wants to know about the best and worst swimming parties you’ve ever attended. Or heard about. We’ll add our input in the comments, too. Where did they take place? Why were they so good? Why so bad? Do you have photographs? Are those photographs on Flickr? Can we see? Add your anecdotes in the comments. The best story gets a Swimwatch premium membership. No; seriously.

The Queen of Where?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

On all that’s decent and proper, would someone take Craig Lord out of circulation for a month and buy him a course in Journalism 101? His insufferable smugness has reared its head again in the Swimnews article describing Don Talbot’s Queen’s Birthday award.

Talbot is an Australian. He is certainly one of the world’s best and most successful swim coaches. He coached in Australia and Canada for years before becoming the AIS Head Coach and finally Australia’s national coach. He probably hasn’t kept count of the number of Olympians he’s helped. Three facts probably not so well known are that Jan Cameron the current New Zealand national coach was Talbot’s wife. Their son was New Zealand’s best backstroke swimmer and swam for a year at Auburn University in the U.S. He represented New Zealand at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. But above and beyond all that I swam in Talbot’s Sydney team for two summers. Sadly, I was not one of his stars. However, his ethic of honest toil, hard work and fairness is something impossible to forget and very difficult to match.

During my first morning in his squad, Talbot announced the warm up included a 400 butterfly. I explained that I didn’t do 400s butterfly. “Well now’s a good time to learn,” he growled. Later in that first week and after practice, he was scolding me for not swimming hard enough. When he was annoyed he had the disturbing habit of poking you in the chest with his tough Australian fingers. I backed away from the assault and fell, fully clothed into the pool. I surfaced to find Talbot still explaining the error of my training ways. He probably thought I should do the 400 bloody fly again.

Talbot wasn’t all discipline and anger though. I asked him once what he would do with a problem swimmer I was coaching. What I wanted to hear was get tough, tell her to sort herself out, that sort of thing. Instead the fearsome Talbot said she may just be having a bad day, give her some time and see what happens. Tough but fair, that’s how I found him.

Anyway back to Craig Lord. He says quite rightly that Talbot has received the award “not a moment before it was due”. That’s certainly right. Often straight talking buggers like Talbot don’t get Queen’s honors. They’re usually reserved for those who achieve in a more acceptable, genteel way.

But then Lord goes on to say that Talbot “has been named an Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours (that’s the Queen of England, for those who live in other worlds, and the honours are given in her name, honorees proposed, in this case, by Australia).”

Now what really upsets colonials like me is when a pom, that’s what we call the English, a race noted for their unbearable international arrogance, claim our bloody Queen. “That’s the Queen of England” he says. No she’s not. In the context of Talbot’s award she’s the Queen of bloody Australia. And when New Zealand swim coach, Duncan Lang was similarly honored she was the Queen of New Zealand.

She may live for most of the year in central London, Windsor and the North of Scotland, but when she does constitutional duties for New Zealand, Australia and several other Commonwealth nations she is our Queen; not the Queen of England doing some colonial service. Your apology is expected Mr. Lord. Your Queen would expect no less.

I do not want to get Swimwatch bogged down in the dull dust of constitutional theory, except to explain that in New Zealand the Queen Lord refers to in Swimnews, has the official title of;

Elizabeth the Second, By the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”

In Australia, when she approved Don Talbot’s award the Queen was;

Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.”

It’s no wonder the American colonies went to war to get rid of the English. Guys like Lord must have driven them mad. We probably should have done the same thing. I see the Scots are doing their best to get rid of the English too; and all power to them. The Queen is a great constitution base on which to found a democracy. I don’t know how often the Queen reads Swimnews but if she does she must feel embarrassed about the behavior of a least one of her English subjects.