Archive for October, 2007

Where Is The Rule?

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

By David

There are some taboo subjects in swimming. One of them is questioning the decision of a swimming official. Inevitably, you run the risk of one of those endless lectures about how officials are unpaid volunteers that the sport could not do without. However, questioning does not mean disloyalty. On the contrary, probing, questioning and seeking to make things better is the highest form of loyalty. You care enough to want to see things improve! Your motives are not a criticism of the past. Riding a stage coach from New York to Los Angeles was a fine means of transport. It’s just that first class on an American Airlines’ 747 is better.

And so, with some fear in my heart, I would like to discuss a decision made by the referee and starter at the Regional High School competition at St Andrews School in Boca Raton, Florida last week.

The swimmer involved was in lane five of the final of the women’s 500 yard freestyle. The referee called the competitors to the start and handed the swimmers over to the starter. The starter invited them to take their marks. The swimmer in lane five crouched in the starting position and realized that her back foot was insecure in some water at the back of the block. For safety she twisted her foot to clear the water. She was disqualified. Why? What rule had she broken? She was told it was because she had moved her foot. But what rule does that break? She was never told, and I can’t find it. I’m not saying the rule does not exist: I just want to see it.

Let’s look at what the starting rules say. First of all FINA:

SW 4.1 On the starter’s command “take your marks” they shall immediately take up a starting position with at least one foot at the front of the starting platforms. When all swimmers are stationary, the starter shall give the starting signal.

Then US Swimming:

101.1.2 (C) The Start: When the starter’s command “take your marks”, the swimmers shall immediately assume their starting position… When all swimmers are stationary, the starter shall give the starting signal.”

And finally Florida High School:

Once all swimmers are on the blocks, the referee immediately turns the heat over to the starter. When the swimmers are prepared, the starter says, “Take your mark.” When swimmers have assumed the correct starting position and are motionless, the starter activates the starting signal.

So what did lane five do wrong? She immediately assumed her starting position, realized her back foot was insecure, immediately corrected it and waited for the start signal. When she and the others were motionless the signal to begin the race was given and lane five started the race. Why has a flinch of the arms or a twist of a foot become illegal when it is not precluded in any of the rules?

What would the referee and starter at Boca Raton have had the swimmer do instead? Not move her foot, leave it insecure and run the risk of slipping and hurting herself? One of my swimmers slipped on a wet starting block during the New Zealand Olympic trials in 2004. The massive black bruise on her foot was visible by the end of the 100m race. If I’m reading this situation correctly, it reminds me of the zealous over-policing that went on when rolling on to the swimmer’s front was first allowed in backstroke turns. Hundreds were disqualified for turns that are readily accepted today. Edit from… the editor, and a pointless aside: dolphin kicks during breaststroke turns are allowed today, and my “best” 100 yard breaststroke time occurred in a race in which I was DQed for a dolphin kick on the start… six months before it was made legal. My legal best time is .15 seconds slower. Oh, the frustration!

At the pool this morning , I asked the seniors, “Why are you disqualified for a twitch of the arm or a twist of the foot when neither breaks the rules?”

“It’s because they consider it to be a false start,” said one. If that is the reason, it is a bad one. Lane five moving her foot was not a false start, or anything like it. She could have stood there until next Christmas without diving in the water. To be a false start, the process of starting needs to be involved. To false start you need to start. And that lane five did not.

It is off the subject a bit, but officials do seem to be cavalier about how they go about telling swimmers and coaches about a disqualification. In this case the swimmer in lane five was told, “You moved your foot. You’re disqualified.” That disqualification cost the swimmer her first trip to the State finals; she swam fast enough to qualify. If she hadn’t been disqualified, the swim would have been a big Personal Best. When officials are wiping out thousands of hours of work and hundreds of dollars of training fees and travel costs, they have an obligation to add, “and that is contrary to high school rule XY.” Then at least we could determine whether their decision was correct.

In this case we are totally open to suggestion. We have done as best we can to search the rules, but this doesn’t mean we’ve found every rule in the book. All we know is that swimmers have been disqualified for this “offense” before and we don’t exactly know why. We’d be very pleased for someone to complete the, “and that is contrary to high school rule xx,” for us.

Swimming the Waitakeres

Monday, October 29th, 2007

By David

Arthu Lydiard didn’t much like talking about history. He preferred debating how to win in Beijing than relating how he had won in Rome, Tokyo or Munich. There was one exception. He never tired of telling the story of the hours, days, months and years he spent running the roads around Auckland looking for the perfect training circuit. A run so tough, so mind numbingly brutal that just running it would turn boys into world class running men. Finally he found a run of 24 miles through Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. Seven New Zealanders earned the right to be called Olympic medalists along the roads and through the bush of Lydiard’s Waitakeres.

Alison first ran the Waitakeres the same year she qualified to represent New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games. There was no doubt about which achievement ranked, no doubt about which qualified her for the label of a real runner.

We wrote about Lydiard’s Waitakeres recently:

“In the haze and clouds that rise off Manakau Harbour, the hills that stretch beyond West Auckland are known for little but their slightly flashy suburbs and relative inaccessibility from the city by public transport. The city’s better off citizens find their homes at the end of evergreen crescents and avenues for a few miles into the Waitakere Ranges, but after the clean streets of Titirangi give way to bush, Auckland’s city limits are thought to come to an end.

Once the sharp, clean asphalt has surrendered to dirt roads and steep inclines, unsuitable for the well-to-do people living below, there begins a trek through the ranges that has become synonymous with runners coming-of-age. Numbering twenty four miles, a handful of people began pounding this route through Auckland’s volcanic hills in the 1950s, because a burgeoning coach called Arthur Lydiard told them to.

As you disappear into the clouds, into the region’s unforgiving hills and trails, hot and sticky in the summer, cold and sticky in the winter, a passing motorist or a nearby payphone becomes as distant as the pavement. Aside from training partners, people who have also been suckered into this deal and promised outstanding success, you are completely alone. Arthur Lydiard does not care if you crawl back into his house in the suburb of Mount Albert after you have completed your Sunday run around the Waitakere Ranges. He has promised that in ten weeks, you will be fit enough to run all the way to Italy. Sunday’s weekly journey around the Waitakeres was famous and infamous: hated and admired by those who labored through it every seven days.”

Lydiard said to me once, “It’s a shame you have to swim build up conditioning miles in a swimming pool. Wouldn’t it be good if you could drop buoys in a lake five kilometers apart and just have the team swim between them three or four times a day.” Of course cold water, alligators, the Loch Ness Monster and the like have prevented that being possible. However all is not lost. The people of Chile have provided a Waitakeres of swimming; a solution that could make Arthur’s idea a reality, that could place Chile in the vanguard of the swimming world just as New Zealand once was in athletics when its runners pounded the Waitakeres.

In a place called San Alfonso del Mar they’ve built a nineteen acre, 1000 meter long swimming pool. It’s fantastic. The 250,000 cubic meters of water is heated to a comfortable 26 degrees centigrade. Even the beaches have heated sand. Don’t get me wrong the Aqua Crest Pool in Delray Beach, Florida is a superb facility; the best I’ve ever coached at. But it is not 1000 meters long.

Just imagine, no more sets of 100×100 or 4×1000 IM or complicated descending, ascending, hypoxic, broken intervals; at San Alfonso its just a simple 4 lap medley or one lap fly warm up, followed by nine one length sprints. Consider the saving in dry eraser pens. Seriously though, I’d love to do a ten week, 1000 kilometer, build up in a pool like that to see if Lydiard’s idea worked. I bet it would. Ten weeks of timed 1000 straight swims and you’d have the aerobically fittest athletes around.

You’d have to do the next fourteen weeks of anaerobic and speed work in a regular pool, but I notice San Alfonso have several of them set into the sides of the main pool. It’s about time someone came up with something new in swimming training. We need to move on from the interval, “quality” training stuff of the last thirty years. It could be that San Alfonso is the answer. It would be fun to give it a go.

Masters of Reality

Friday, October 26th, 2007

By David

Twenty-nine masters swimmers take part in our program. What an interesting crew they are. Two are US National Masters Swimming Champions. Swimwatch has already posted an article on Darcy; how her love of swimming began on a Greek isle in the late 1960s. Darcy won the National Open Water Championship this summer in her age group. In Seattle, Bob won the National 100 breaststroke title. His wife Bonny isn’t too bad either. She got a bronze medal in all three backstroke events at the same meet. Bob’s a retired Doctor.

In fact, the program has more than its fair share of doctors. There’s another Bob who spent twenty-five years in charge of a local emergency department. He gives the impression of quiet authority. I would imagine that’s pretty important as another gunshot victim is wheeled in. I sometimes see him wander into the pool and wonder what incredible things he must have seen.

At the other end of his career, there’s tri-athlete John. He works at the local hospital. We’ve occasionally discussed the administration of health in the US. Coming from a state health care system I’m still getting used to the idea of hospitals being profit centers. For fifty years, I’ve thought of them as cost centers that society pays for in order to care for its sick people. It seems strange to think of them as factories that turn out well people in return for a profit. What the US insurance companies rake off in the middle seems obscene. Whoever wins the next election here needs to do something about that. There is one other doctor, Allan, who’s a General Practitioner and I have to thank him for suggesting a guy of my age should take half an aspirin each day. I think it’s made quite a difference. Note from Editor: it was one of your doctor-masters swimmers who advised you to go to that checkup in 2000 that… well… prevented that blood pressure from getting any higher, wasn’t it? Thanks, Brian!

We have a lawyer. I have mentioned him in Swimwatch before. He’s really, really bright. He insists on calling me his socialist friend; a grossly unfair accusation considering that in 1979 I voted for Margaret Thatcher in the British general election. I watch the Super Bowl around at Brendan’s place each year. On that one afternoon we become NASCAR, pizza and Budweiser red necks. In case you’re wondering, the Dallas Cowboys will win this year. I asked Brendan what he thought of some of the comments posted on Swimwatch demanding we stop writing on various issues. His reply, without comment, was that we post copy of the First Amendment.

Manuel is our fastest master. He swims to keep fit now, but in his, he day swam for Bolles, the University of Florida and MSU. He comes from Suriname and was friends with Olympic 100 fly champion, Anthony Nesty. He did a 50 yard time-trial the other morning and produced a 24.50 second swim. Not too bad, I thought.

And then there’s Alan. I feel a bit of a bond with Alan. He was wounded in Italy during the Second World War. My Dad was wounded in Italy as well. In fact, my father lost an arm and an eye when his tank was blown to bits half way up the hill they call Monte Cassino. He was lucky; the rest of the crew all died. Alan is a retired spy. Or, at least, he worked for the CIA. He doesn’t say much about what he did, preferring to pass everything off as, “shifting paper from one desk to another.” He saw the world in his CIA days. I have managed to find out that he worked in France, the UK, Thailand and, I think, in the Middle East somewhere. He probably won’t read this as he tells me he prefers “real” encyclopedias to that internet thing.

His partner Mary is a really interesting person. She’s a class act, generous and kind; clearly from a background where good manners are valued and dignity and honor are taught from a young age. She also owns an interesting swimming story. In her early twenties, she was flying in a twin engine Barron from her home on the mainland to a holiday island off the coast. Mary was the only passenger. As they headed out to sea both engines spluttered and died. It turns out the pilot had forgotten to check the gas. There was none. They had no option but to ditch in the sea. Mary says the landing was very gentle. The pilot did a great job. Mind you, after not checking the gas he had a bit to make up for.

The Barron ended up half a mile from shore and slowly sinking. Mary and the pilot set off swimming. Eventually they reached the beach and walked up onto the airport runway. As chance would have, it a Cessna was waiting to take off. The pilot knew Mary and got the two survivors on board and taxied them back to the terminal. Mary says the press chased her for days wanting to hear her story. She refused to answer the door. “I got one of the maids to do it instead,” she says.

The whole masters swimming thing is entirely positive. It’s good for physical fitness and mental health and its bloody good for the coach as well. I’m very grateful for our fantastic masters team. As you can see, they’re quite a bunch.

Why Elka Graham Should “Dob In” Drug Cheat

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

By Jane

Most off of us have heard the story of Australian Olympic medalist Elka Graham claiming to have been offered performance enhancing drugs before the Athens Olympic Games. I think most of us agree that Graham should name the swimmer who made the offer, whom she says is now in retirement. I don’t actually care all that much who the person was; I care who it wasn’t.

There a whole hoard of athletes whose names have now been called into suspicion by Graham’s Sydney Morning Herald post. She says that the swimmer was an “elite” athlete, indicating (but not specifically saying) that this person was also attending the Olympics. She doesn’t say which country the person represented, whether they were male or female, and she doesn’t provide any other identifying information aside from the fact that they’ve since retired. This calls into question not only every retired Australian swimmer, but many foreign athletes as well.

In a climate where every world-beater, and many lesser competitors, find themselves at the end of cheating accusations, it’s important not to mislabel anyone. Obviously, Graham’s revelation of the athlete in question will, or would, be quite a blow to Australia, whose citizens tend to view swimming as Americans do baseball and the English do soccer. Down under, national team members are like NFL stars: the average American can tell you who Michael Phelps is, whereas Australians know the names and events of at least half their country’s swim team.

Some have leveled accusations at Graham that she has done this for attention. She has been active in Australian media of late, establishing a name for herself in much the same way as former Australian representative Nicole Livingston. Yes, telling this story has catapulted Graham into the public eye, and her media career may well benefit from the exposure; however, I’m glad she’s done it. So long as the story is true – and that would be one hell of a tale to make up – I think it’s great that this elite-level cheating may get addressed. However, someone (for I guarantee you that Graham is not the only person who knows about this) needs to part with the cheat’s name.

I’m sure none of us want to look at everyone who swam at Athens and who now does compete not with an eye of suspicion. There are some very prestigious names in that club. While we all like to tout the idea of innocence until proof of guilt, and while we all realise that Graham’s story is (right now) impossible to prove, we’ll all wonder who the cheat is and we’ll be suspicious of clean swimmers. I hope the person gets caught, but I hope his or her innocent teammates are cleared even more.

Watching Swimwatch

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

By David

When your doctor asks, “Do you smoke,” what do you reply? I bet it’s either a firm, “No,” or maybe, “Just one or two on social occasions.” Even the packet-a-day crew lie like flat fish. A few years ago, the Marlboro man may have been as tough as hell, riding his horse into the snow capped Rockies; today he’s a social pariah, hiding behind a brown stained hedge, outside his place of work.

Television soaps are the same. There they are, running on for years – As the World Turns – 50 years, Days of Our Lives – 40 years, Coronation Street – 46 years, Shortland Street (of New Zealand origins) – 15 years, and no one watches them. At least, I’ve not met anyone who admits it: all that advertising and no one at the other end! Imagine.

It seems Swimwatch is a bit like that. No one reads Swimwatch. I’ve come across a few, “I glanced at it once,” or “I accidentally opened it,” but never, ever anything more. The mayor of the New Zealand town of Napier told me she never read Swimwatch and then proceeded to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of everything we’d ever published. We wrote about this years ago, but the trend continues!

Several years ago, a prominent official in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay swimming district told me he never read Swimwatch and sure enough his home computer did not appear on our logs or our analytics reports. His work computer, however, had a very recognizable URL and it cropped up twenty or thirty times a month. I guess he didn’t want his wife to know he read our stuff.

So, what is the truth? We are by no means a widely read site, and we’re by no means daily posters. However, we have fun with the site and we have a pretty consistent user-base, much like we did when we used to post to “Swimwatch 1.0″ between 2002 and 2004. Since we reinstated Swimwatch on a blogger platform on November 10, 2006, this is what has happened.

  1. We’ve been visited by 158,213 unique visitors.
  2. The most popular story wasn’t a story, but was my son-in-law’s photograph, “I’ll take the Camera He’s Using, Thanks.”
  3. The most comments on a single story was 58.
  4. The strangest family-friendly Google search leading to Swimwatch was, “what’s a good camera to take pics of my fish”. There were number of search terms that I won’t repeat here, suffice to say that Google definitely receives some odd requests.
  5. The lowest day for visitors was 18, on the third day after we reopened, November 13, 2006
  6. The biggest day for visitors was 8914 on June 25, 2007.
  7. Readers came from 126 countries.
  8. The highest readerships were in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, France and the United Kingdom.
  9. The smallest nation appearing every month was the Seychelles.
  10. The lowest visits from a country was one, from Fiji.
  11. Our biggest referrer was Digg.com. The post Digg links to has nothing to do with swimming.

Edward, Jane and I began Swimwatch because we enjoyed writing and the only thing I knew anything about was swimming. Jane and Edward have a wider range of skills. Of course, we’ve got our critics; and we’re pretty bloody pleased about that. Much of the Swimwatch data is the product of their efforts. I love that quote of Lyndon Johnson’s, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: “President Can’t Swim.” I know exactly how he felt. Every month one of our new seven or eight year old team members will climb dripping from the pool, study me for a moment and ask, “Coach, can you swim?” Of course I know how Johnson felt.

Our most proud moment? We began ranking for this term a few weeks ago. This pleases us very much.