Archive for July, 2007

Lies That Figure: Swimnews Strikes Again

Monday, July 30th, 2007

By David

While it’s true that British competitors from England, Scotland, and Wales did very well at last year’s Commonwealth Games, I have to take issue with their combined medal tallies being compared to that of Australia, as is being done at Swimnews right now. Reporting the “unretirement” of Britain’s Mark Foster, Swimnews’ Craig Lord states:

“He announced his retirement on the eve of a Commonwealth Games at which he failed to make a final, a Games at which he also predicted that British home nation swimmers would be drowned by Australia. In fact, British swimmers put in what was by far their best performance, falling just one shy gold of Australia’s gold tally and defeating the male Dolphins hands-down.”

Here is the record of swimming medals from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games as reported on their official website.

Country Men Women Combined
Gold Silver Bronze Gold Silver Bronze Gold Silver Bronze
Australia 3 6 8 16 12 9 19 18 17
England 7 5 1 1 6 3 8 11 4
Scotland 4 2 2 2 1 1 6 3 3
Wales 1 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 2

Lord’s comparison of the combined score of the three UK teams with Australia is rather cheeky. After all, three teams can enter three times the number of competitors; in this case potentially nine swimmers per event compared to Australia’s three. Combining the scores like this has all the validity of saying Pine Crest did not win the recent Florida Invitational Swim Meet because Dynamo, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale combined scored more points.

Lord says the British home nations fell “just one shy gold of Australia’s gold tally”. I think he means just one gold shy of Australia’s tally, or at least I’ve never heard of a shy gold medal.

Even if we go along with Lord and combine the gold medals, my reading of the table says Australia won 18 gold medals and the UK nations of England, Scotland and Wales combined won 15 and that’s three “shy” gold medals short. There seems to be a problem with Lord’s math.

Lord is right about the male gold medal score. The UK total of 12 gold medals is well ahead of Australia’s three. Even England on its own won seven gold medals compared to Australia’s disappointing three.

However, it is interesting to note that if one allocates a normal nine, seven and six points to first, second and third places Australia would beat England 117 to 104. So perhaps even the male result is not quite as “hands down” as Lord would have us believe.

Am I imagining it or does Craig Lord just make stuff up? In our opinion, his site ranks well behind Swimming World Magazine and Timed Finals for accuracy, content and interest. Lord’s is a “legacy website”, popular and highly visible because of its age. The domain was registered on August 7, 1995. Online, age is a huge benefit. Search engines include a website’s age in their assessment of its authority and trustworthiness. That Swimnews is only seven months younger than Yahoo undoubtedly allows Lord to get away with many of his inaccuracies and blunders.

PS: Special thanks to Rae Hoffman for the “legacy” label.

The Napier Aquatic Centre

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

By Jane

I have a little nitpicky issue to bring up here. It could be considered silly, but I’ll post it nonetheless. It’s in regards to my favourite (you know, as in least favourite) swimming pool in the world: the Napier Aquatic Centre, formerly known as the Onekawa Aquatic Centre. They’ve changed their name and they have a new website, on which they lie.

Above is their page regarding the clubs that operate at the swimming complex. You’ll notice that they’ve included some nice pictures of the pool. The problem is, the two impressive underwater shots on either side of the charming hawk cartoon are of the bottom of the pool at the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre, two hundred miles away.

This shot clearly shows one of the WRAC’s bulkheads, which separates the 50m pool into three sections. You can also see one of the WRAC’s underwater viewing windows, of which the Napier Aquatic Centre has… well, none.

Here, you can see the sharp drop-off where the WRAC’s 2m deep portion descends to a 10m deep diving well.

The Napier Aquatic Centre is a horrible complex, where I suffered every ill effect of over-chlorination, poor water quality and dreadful management from 1999 until 2002, when I moved to the United States. Before living in Napier, I trained at the fantastic facilities at the WRAC in Wellington, staring at its colourful tiles for four years and many hundreds of kilometers. I’m pretty well versed in what constitutes the bottoms of both those pools.

How cute of Napier to show someone else’s pool on their website. I bet they thought no one would ever notice.

The Pony Express

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

By David

Swimwatch occasionally gets correspondence from readers who do not want to use the site’s comment’s facility. Most of this comes by email, but some is delivered by hand, by telephone or in conversation.

One of the nicest mothers on our team, in fact probably one of the nicest on any team constantly reminds me of the dangers of saying “stuff on the internet”. She prefaces many of her comments with the exclusion clause, “Now, this is not to be repeated on Swimwatch.” Telling you this has probably already got me into trouble. We had better move on.

One of our team’s ex-Board members, who, by the way, has intelligence to burn, is constantly pointing out areas where he thinks Swimwatch comments have gone too far. He took exception to the mention of Buck Shelford’s scrotum in a recent posting. Now I have to say that incident was a particularly proud moment in New Zealand sport. It was all the nation could do not to have illustrated highlights on bill boards throughout the country. My friend needs to realize that “down under” there is a tendency to refer to the male anatomy more than might be the case in the United States.

Just the other day the very good Australian runner Craig Mottram won a two mile race at the Prefontaine Track Classic Meet in Oregon. He was interviewed after the race by a very excited Dwight Stones, who asked, “What did you need to win a race like that?” The tall Australian did not hesitate, “Big balls,” he said. When Jane Copland first qualified for the New Zealand Open Championships she was only eleven years old. A good friend of mine was sitting next to us watching the race and was impressed with Jane’s efforts. When Jane climbed into the stands Pru jumped up, shook Jane’s hand and exclaimed, “You’re the only girl in the pool with balls.” Jane, who I must tell you, does not shock easily, did pause for a moment at that.

Several weeks ago we posted an item on Kate Zeigler’s world record 1500 meter swim. In it we discussed the comments Zeigler made about the importance of her faith. We said, “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.” Last week one of our Lutheran master’s swimmers went to her pastor seeking his views on the Swimwatch position. This morning she handed me a piece of paper which said, “Matthew 5:14-16, Acts 3: 21-23.”

I have consulted the recommended verses. Those in Matthew are commonly referred to as the “sermon on the mount”. In them we are told, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Chapter Three of Acts makes a similar point. It says, “’A prophet will the Lord, your God, raise up from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you.”

So there you have it, the other point of view. There appears to be a contradiction. But I don’t think so. It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to pray in secret and bear witness in public. It’s probably best at this point to take my team mother’s advice and move on.

Last week Swimwatch received a welcome email from New Zealand. It was in reply to a Swimwatch article called “Let’s talk about Contribution”. That article ended with the following point:

“Again, the North Shore experiment has failed to produce World Championship gold medals. It continues to demonstrate it is the wrong plan. Another losing performance in Montreal shows it’s time to change. New Zealand Swimming should get out of the Millennium Institute experiment. Develop a new national plan that strengthens swimming throughout the country – move away from the current narrow single site focus to a broad based national plan.

It’s all a distant memory now, but remember when Duncan Laing ( Dunedin ) showed us he could produce World Championship gold medals with his own five dollar bill and a decent swimmer. Moss (Stanford), Kingsman ( California ), Hurring ( Hawaii ), Simcic ( Christchurch and Berkley ) and Langrell ( Christchurch ) all did close to the same. Something Cameron and the North Shore Club haven’t been able to do with nearly all of New Zealand swimming’s best swimmers and most of its money.”

The email correspondence from New Zealand made the following additional point:

“Just thought I would back up the point made in LET’S TALK ABOUT CONTRIBUTION at the end of the article.
1 – None of the swimmers you listed ever won World Championship golds. All were wonderful swimmers
2 – The only quad of NZ swimmers to win World Championship Gold was Jon Winter, Paul Kent, Guy Callaghan and Trent Bray – all non Jan Cameron and North Shore.”

The correspondent is right. I apologize; Swimwatch should have included that team. By implication the email also points to a far healthier state of affairs when there was strength in New Zealand swimming from Dunedin (Loader), to Wellington (Winter), to Sydney (Kent) and south-of-the-bridge to Auckland (Callaghan and Bray). I understand Winter and Kent are both coaching in Auckland now. Winter did a great job coaching in Hawke’s Bay. Let’s hope he can do as well in Auckland. It would be great to see these two fine athletes produce a team that could take down the socialist backed North Shore. Don’t bet against them. They both have the quality Graig Motrum and Buck Shelford found so appealing.

Let us Kiss and Part

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007
By David

Readers outside New Zealand, the UK and France may have missed this great photograph of rugby action. The photograph was taken during a recent test match between France and England. The action shown is a set play called a scrum where eight players from both sides pack down against each other. The ball is thrown between the two sides who then fight to capture and control the ball. In this particular scrum two players from France and two from England appear to be exploring the full meaning of contact sport. Probably of more concern is the location of the English flanker’s (that’s the position he plays on the side of the white scrum) hand up the shorts of his amorous team mate. I’ve played several games of rugby and know of no legitimate reason for having ones hand in that position. Of almost equal concern is the French number eight’s (that’s the position he plays at the back of the blue scrum) hand carefully and gently holding his team mates bottom.

Now I have to tell you Rugby is a sport that takes great pride in its masculinity. New Zealand history is littered with tough buggers who played the game. Colin Meads built fences on his King Country farm all week and destroyed opposition players on a rugby field on Saturday afternoon. Jaz Muller cut his hedge with a lawn mower. Buck Shelford played on against the French with his scrotum torn in half. Tiny White, Graham Mourie, Sid Going, Sir Brian Lahore, on and on these men are real men; masculine role models; everyone is a man’s man.

What damage has this photograph done? What disrepair has it caused? Generations of men have looked on at the deeds of the nation’s rugby players with awe and respect. Now we find some players are using the game to indulge in some deep throat exploration and up the shorts fondles. It feels like someone in the family has died. We’ve just been told Santa and the Tooth Fairy are made up. Degree, priority and place have been damaged beyond repair.

Rugby players, the press and ESPN may brand swimming as an easy sport; not nearly as tough as American football or New Zealand rugby. But, I tell you what. You don’t find swimmers patting each other on the bottom part way through a deck change or having a quick kiss over the lane lines after the men’s 50 freestyle. A few of the old guard may have shuddered at Amanda Beard’s Playboy photographs. But at least they are straight, honest and in the right place. Yes indeed, in swimming, a sport that, after all, involves a minimum of clothing, the rules of good behavior are being better observed.

But wait, I may have reacted too soon. New Zealand’s Radio Sport is telling me the photograph is a shame; it’s been staged as part of a campaign advertising the 2007 Rugby World Cup about to begin in France. I feel a wave of relief. These are not real players; men whose feats I’ve followed since childhood. It is just an act. But soon my fear returns. Staging a photograph like this is worse than if it was real. This is deliberate. It is planned to advertise the game. It is an image of the sport’s World Championships. It may be a pointer of where the game is going.

I’m confused and glad to be part of swimming; a sport that still has Amanda Beard and a skilled and modest deck change.

Junior Nationals

Friday, July 20th, 2007

By David

It’s Nationals time; first the Open and then the Junior Nationals. Our team has one swimmer in the Juniors and two in the Opens. I can’t wait. Those early mornings and hot afternoons have all been for this; the top of the domestic tree, it’s great. I’ve noticed some local team’s make great play of having swimmers qualify for the Open or Junior Nationals and then don’t enter the event. What’s the point of that? If you’re good enough to be there you should go and try and win the bloody thing. Besides, why stay at home when you can be where the best hang out.

When I came to the United States I was a bit unsure about the Junior Nationals. My experience of the New Zealand version had not been good. It’s a terrible meet. So bad that I refused to let Nichola Chellingworth or Jane Copland swim in it.

Juniors in New Zealand are the scene of too much hurt. They remind me of the bull fights I’ve seen in Spain. Exciting and colorful, but in the end dusty, bleeding, dead animals are dragged from the arena. New Zealand’s Junior Swimming Championships are like that. At the beginning of the week keen, enthusiastic, happy young people arrive full of anticipation, coached and honed to a competitive edge. Parents dash around the pool checking that their charge’s start list seed times have been properly entered and locating the town’s best source of pasta. Coaches patrol the pre-meet practice with all the intensity of an Olympic warm up. International swim meet promoters would die to be able to create the nervous energy present at the beginning of your average New Zealand age group championship.

By the end of the first morning’s heats you can detect the mood beginning to change. The problem is thirty swimmers enter an event, eight make a final, three get medals and one wins. Potentially there are twenty nine disappointed swimmers and fifty eight disappointed parents who can’t wait to get back to the motel for their treble gin and tonic to ease the pain. It’s a disappointment born out of expectations set far too high.

As each day goes by the mood darkens and deepens. An adult’s most valuable skill is providing comfort to another sobbing teenager. The transformation is stunning. The tremendous high of the first morning slumps during the day; is momentarily revived at the beginning of day two, only to slump even further. By day four all I want to do is get the hell out of there and make sure no swimmer of mine ever goes back. For someone whose heart is in seeing athletes soar, the New Zealand Junior Championships are not something I care to watch.

There is a good article on the US Junior Nationals in this month’s issue of the USA Swimming magazine “Splash”. In it USA Swimming seem to be aware that their event needed to avoid many of the problems characteristic of the New Zealand version. For example, they say, “Along the way, however, many coaches and others within USA Swimming saw a disturbing trend. Instead of a whistle stop on the way to senior national and international competition the Junior nationals were embedding themselves as a destination.”

The Americans have done some good things to avoid damaging the nation’s youth. First of all their event is not a normal age group meet. Everyone up to a relatively old 18 can swim in the event. This avoids youngsters being over exposed at too young an age. Secondly, the qualifying standards are really tough. They reflect the “older” cut off age. An athlete has to be pretty quick just to make the cut. There’s a fair chance swimmers that fast will have the experience and maturity to handle the occasion. Thirdly, names included on the meet’s list of alumni suggest the Juniors are working as a transition between Sectional and International athlete. “Splash” tells me that Gary Hall, Aaron Peirsol, Ian Crocker and Michael Phelps all swam here. That’s a pretty impressive list. It appears that winning is not essential either. For example, Phelps never won the event, but he seems to have come through unscathed.

I agree with the “Splash” conclusion. The meet is a fine occasion for transition swimmers to “test themselves against the best among their peers.” When all the good ones are there, win or lose, its sport at its best.