Archive for March, 2008

Verschärfte Vernehmung

Monday, March 31st, 2008

By David

Swimwatch is a website that primarily concerns itself with swimming matters. Occasionally we have strayed and have discussed the New Zealand All Blacks or world class running. Even more occasionally, we have dabbled in politics and religion. You may recall I wrote a piece supporting Hillary Clinton’s bid to become President. Jane added her support for Barack Obama. However, having now seen more of Obama, I think she may have a point. Certainly the country needs either of them compared to the right wing alternative. The best writing on Swimwatch is the piece Jane did about life in the US Virgin Islands. It’s called Licentious Phoenix. I wish I could write with just a fragment of that feeling and accuracy. But the Swimwatch primary mission is still swimming.

Except this month, when an event occurred that is so despicable, so devoid of all that’s decent; an event so pervasive that its fallout will eventually affect every corner of society, even our watery sphere. Remember this date; on Saturday, March 8 2008, the United States endorsed the use of torture. By signing a veto of the Bill from Congress banning torture President Bush has approved its use. The President brutalized his society.

And it will have an effect. Condoning State violence will eventually affect us all. There will be more murders. More college freshmen will die with a hole in their head. The country that already boasts the world largest prison population will need more cells. “Might is right” has been sanctioned. Someday we will be affected too. Coaches will increasingly accept the philosophy of winning at all costs. If it takes steroids to get it done, why not? Officials with avarice for power will hold hearings and pass verdicts without advising the subject of the hearing. They will disqualify without properly recognizing the right to protest. Parents will punish poor performance. State brutality perverts everyone.

Our State does not call it torture of course, preferring, “Advanced Interrogation Techniques”. I wondered where that abuse of the English language came from. Do you know what I found? This is what I found in Wikipedia.

“The former editor of The New Republic Andrew Sullivan claimed that “enhanced interrogation” bears remarkable resemblance to the techniques the Gestapo called “Verschärfte Vernehmung,” for which some of them faced prosecution after World War II and were “found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death.” Besides the similarity of the practices, the German term “verschärfte Vernehmung” may be translated as “enhanced interrogation”.

A 1948 Norwegian court case described the use of hypothermia identical to the reports from Guantanamo Bay. The defense used by the Nazis for applying the techniques “is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration.” Most notably the concept of unlawful enemy combatant is invoked to justify its implementation on “insurgent prisoners out of uniform”. The now familiar ticking time bomb scenario as a rationale for allowing torture had its precursor in the Gestapo’s “Third degree” measures. But while the Nazis’ interrogative methods were found to be torture, The New York Times writes that the Allies’ methods at the time were far more effective and far less abusive than those the United States uses now.”

It remains to their eternal shame that Clinton and Obama were too busy getting themselves elected, to get back to Washington and vote for the ban-on-torture measure. It goes to show the extent to which our society has already accepted force, pain and evil. But if you think their neglect was bad consider this: John McCain did turn up and voted against the Bill. Six years of being tortured by the citizens of the last country the United States invaded and McCain learned nothing. Whether through their neglect or action, those wanting to guide this nation through the next four years have made a pretty poor start.

But not as bad as the George W. Bush finish. We all know he prides himself on his “Christian” values. It would do him well to read Mathew 7-16: “Ye shall know them by their fruits” or any one of a thousand other New Testament verses counseling mercy ahead of vengeance. Romans 12-19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, for it is written, Vengeance is mine; saith the Lord.”

Well President Bush, your actions in this event are not Christian or legal. They have brutalized and diminished you and your nation and maybe eventually our sport. For that you are not forgiven. We doubt that St. Peter will be that impressed either.

Ten Things I Find Stupid About Swimming

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

By Jane

I’ve sort of taking up the position of skeptical retired writer here, and whilst I’m probably perfectly qualified to write about more valuable topics, I quite enjoy bringing the ex-swimmer’s perspective to a blog about swimming commentary.

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of me quitting swimming. In the first few months afterwards, I began to recognise some things about the sport that are pretty strange, and after having recently attended my first swimming competition (this time as a spectator) since March 2006, I’ve thought of a few more things that are a bit… odd.

1. No surprises here. The cheering.

It’s silly. Very rarely did it get me excited about swimming and most of the time, having to partake in such ridiculous behaviour was just demeaning. And no matter how good of a backside you have, no one looks good doing that. Attending a swim meet recently also proved to me that there’s only one thing worse than being part of these cheers, and that’s watching them. Call me a spoilsport or a bad team member if you will: I’d have rather saved my energy for the 400IM.

2. Warm-up protocol.

Coaches world-wide have the idea that they know how you should warm up for a race. Generally, their ideas are pretty solid, but it’s now beyond me why every swimmer in the world should be able to warm up for a race in some what the same way. The best two races I’ve ever competed in were swum on about 700 meters warm up. I, and my coaches, should have learned something from this.

3. The idea that swimmers never reach the age of 18.

I was 22 when I quit, but plenty of people have carried on swimming far past this age. It’s stunning how swimmers are almost always treated like irresponsible fourteen year olds, well into their twenties and sometimes beyond. It’s a special coach who can treat a team like the adults they often are. If they make childish mistakes, they should have to deal with them like all adults who make childish mistakes.

4. Training camp.

I. Hate. Training camp. Yep, that one is still in the present tense. It will take me a few more years to get over the horror that is training camp. Dress it up any way you like, call it “winter training,” “training trip”, “The University of Randomtown’s Annual Trip to West Palm Beach”, it’s still training camp and it still sucks a lot. I have only ever enjoyed one training camp, and that was when my college team went to Miami.

Miami was made bearable by a few interconnected factors, such as the proximity of Miami to my parents’ house, the training being not quite as deathly hard as during previous years, good weather and the fact that my boyfriend happened to be in town. That was also frowned upon, but contrary to popular belief, my coaches didn’t have any authority over where he spent his holidays.

Training camp was the bane of my existence for my entire swimming career. The above link details some of my objections to it, but I’ll leave you with an image of how damn happy my classmates and I were at the end of training camp, senior year.

5. Making national holidays a living hell.

Following on from training camp nightmares, swimming programmes often take a national holiday (Veterans Day, Queen’s Birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, etc) to mean that a miniature training camp should occur. Training will be twice as hard, twice as long and will basically go on all day. Because it’s a national holiday, you’ll be allowed to sleep in until 9am, but practice will take place at 9:30, weights at 12 and another swim workout at 2pm.

Why is this necessary? If it had been up to me, I’d have gone swimming at the usual time (most likely 6am), enjoyed my day off school or work and gone back to the pool at 3:30. As per usual. As opposed to most people, swimmers often dread national holidays. And don’t even get me started on Thanksgiving.

6. Never shaving.

I understand this to a point. It feels great to shave down for a big meet and if you’re a particularly hairy person, the lack of leg hair probably makes a difference when you take it off. I wouldn’t know. But really. Come on. Never shaving your legs is just gross. Upon quitting, I shaved my legs every day for a month, just because I could.

Some coaches and swimmers treat shaving – or not shaving – as a combination of sacrifice, ritual and religious adherence to the groupthink that the team who’s hairy together, wins together. Thinking about shaving your legs for a Christmas party at which you’d love to break out a cute new red cocktail dress? Don’t expect to make your NCAA cut, traitor.

Yuck. Whatever. Give me a razor.

7. Small fins.

Don’t look at me like that. You know the ones. People call them “zoomers.” Those little fins that are barely bigger than your feet:

Some people swear by them, but I can’t stand them. To me, they achieve nothing but negating all feel of the water I have with my feet. Everyone knows about the talent associated with manual feel of the water – the ability to put your hand into the water and just know what to do with it. Feet are the same, and shoving them into zoomers is a sure-fire way to render a functioning pair of legs totally useless. I kicked slower with zoomers.

8. Training for punishment’s sake.

Most swimmers have had this happen. You are given a set with time constraints. If you don’t make certain times for certain intervals, you’re forced to do more and more until you complete the whole set. Obviously, you get tireder and thus reaching the required speeds becomes harder.

This is ridiculous. I don’t know (read: doubt) if any coaches read this, but please, for the love of God, don’t partake in this idiocy. I’ve known swimmers’ entire seasons to be ruined by these sets. Training shouldn’t necessarily be a constant enjoyment, but it should never be a punishment.

9. Long course snobbery.

This isn’t quite the problem in the United States that it is elsewhere, solely due to the high school and NCAA, twenty-five yard system. We get to watch world-beaters take short course swimming very seriously. In various other countries, namely the United Kingdom and Australia, there are people who’d have you believe a short course world record was worth less than a participation ribbon at a long course chocolate fish carnival.

Bite me. There is no good reason why a great swim in a twenty-five meter or yard pool is not as valid as a great swim in a fifty-meter pool. Do not tell me about which prestigious swim meets take place in fifty meter pools; it makes no difference to the legitimacy of good short course performances.

10. The following disqualification rules.

Some race rules baffle me:

  1. Thou shalt not kick on one’s front when completing a backstroke turn. This isn’t an NCAA violation, only a FINA rule. Turning onto your front and kicking into a wall during a backstroke race is a fantastic way to slow down. That it’s against the rules in FINA but not banned in NCAA competition speaks to its pointlessness.
  2. Thou shalt not move on the blocks. We’ve discussed this one before, questioning whether or not it really is a rule. However, I always found that being unsteady on the blocks was a disadvantage. Not only this, but I could never see my competitors, so it didn’t matter to me whether or not they were moving.

Whether you agree with me or not, I’m sure there are other ridiculous swimming rules, norms, traditions and phenomena that its participants don’t understand. I’d love to know where some of these originated, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure they’ll never change.

Nude But Not Degraded

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

By David

One of our triathletes is a second year student at Florida Atlantic University. She’s doing a course on feminism and has been asked to write a five thousand word paper on a female role model. I thought Swimwatch might help. The tutor has asked that the work of the chosen woman be contrasted with the images of exploited women found in glossy magazines and television advertising. FAU clearly wants its young students to end their course as pious apostles of Madame Curie, Florence Nightingale and Indira Gandhi. It seems the works of Pamela Anderson, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell are not viewed too favourably in the feminist corridors of FAU.

But I wonder if this is actually right. I don’t mean to denigrate the contribution of Madame Curie, Florence Nightingale or Indira Gandhi. They are remarkable women who touched and improved the condition of their generation, their gender and their world. It was and still is true that the road walked by women of ability is harsh and more difficult than their male peers.

Even in swimming, that’s true. The attitude of men is fairly easy to identify. Men in the training pool risk heart attacks trying to prevent a Rhi Jeffrey or a Darra Torres from passing them. Day after day, these women swim alongside men who feel threatened by a female and immediately increase pace to prevent her passing, their neck and shoulders bright red as they strain to avoid the inevitable. They would be far less likely do this if a male was trying to pass.

Weight training is where you see the most extreme examples of men’s ingrained belief in their superiority. Go to a gym and try a 100kg Lat Pull Down or a 40kg elbow raise. I’ve helped female swimmers who have lifted these weights. But the reaction of men is fascinating. The young bloods that surreptitiously set their own weights to the same level and then strain and struggle to do the lift. Many well-meaning males warn female swimmers of the dangers they face lifting heavy weights. They’d never bother if it was a man.

But my reservation with FAU is the implied criticism of Pamela Anderson, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. You see, if it is right that women are degraded by what these women do, then women today should be more vilified than they were one hundred years ago. After all, in those days no one appeared in a bikini trying to sell anything. When women were denied the right to vote, there were precious little of the fun and games Pamela Anderson gets up to these days. The lot of women appears to have improved as the behavior of some women has become more unchecked. Perhaps their liberated behavior has helped.

It also seems true that the quantity of clothes women wear or what they advertise has little to do with their social freedoms. Some of the most clothed women in the world live in the most awful repression. Pamela Anderson may show a few too many tattoos for sensitive eyes, but it does not prevent her society educating her or giving her the right to vote. That’s more than you can say for the jilbab clad women of Afghanistan.

My swimming role model for the FAU essay will be Amanda Beard, the current Olympic 200m breaststroke champion and subject of a recent Playboy photo shoot. My guess is the feminist staff at FAU will share USA Swimming’s horror at Amanda Beard’s Playboy spread. They too will mumble about swimming being a family sport and photographs that degrade women. Can’t you just hear it? “She was such a nice girl when she was fourteen and won all those medals in Atlanta. It’s such a shame. Just look at her now. In Playboy – of all things!” But again I’m not so sure.

I’m certainly not suggesting that any other swimmer appear in Playboy. But I am pleased Amanda Beard had the opportunity and the right to do the article. FAU and some swimming officials may not like it, but what Amanda Beard did was not degrading. On the contrary, it’s a thing called freedom and that’s worth hanging on to, even if it does involve the occasional good looking swimmer appearing in Playboy. Posing for Playboy may or may not be good for women or the sport of swimming; having the freedom to appear if you want to is very good for both. USA Swimming deserves credit for not trying to censure Beard for her Playboy adventure. I know of more than one Association around the world who would not have been so restrained. And that would have been degrading.

Well done USA Swimming; pity about our “D” in the feminist class at FAU though.

Heartaches By The Number

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

By David

New Zealand has had to settle a king-size sporting problem this weekend. The world’s two best single scull rowers live in New Zealand. This weekend, Mahe Drysdale and Rob Waddell compete in trials on Lake Karapiro for the one place available to New Zealand in this year’s Beijing Olympic Games. Hopefully by the time I’m finished writing this piece I will be able to tell you which athlete will go and which one will have to find another boat or stay at home.

Drysdale is the current world champion and the fastest single sculler in history. He enjoyed a spectacular 2007. He edged out Marcel Hacker in one of the great single scull world championship finals to win his third straight title. He also won the Diamond Sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta and numerous other titles in the United States and Europe.

Rob Waddell won the Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medal in the men’s single scull. He then retired from rowing and played high level rugby before taking up a position with Team New Zealand to defend yachting’s prestigious America’s Cup. Waddell’s return to rowing has been marked by an unofficial world record on the indoor rowing machine. Earlier this month over 5,000m he went under 15 minutes finishing in a time of 14:58.03. At the same trials, Drysdale finished in a personal best time of 15:11.

There are some in New Zealand who bemoan the fact that both these champions can’t be in Beijing to settle their personal rivalry. They have a point. If the function of the Olympics is to sort out who’s the world’s best, it seems a bit silly to exclude the world’s second best from the race. Don’t feel too bad for New Zealand though. America faces the same problem at every Olympics in a score of events.

Take swimming for example. The table below shows the number of Americans ranked in the world’s top eight in selected Olympic swimming events. Only two will get on the airplane to Beijing. The others, who could reasonably expect to make the Olympic final, and maybe even win the race, will instead be sitting at home watching it all on TV.

And so American swimming will have at least sixteen Waddells and Drysdales sitting at home watching events they are potentially capable of winning. Not only that – for the Americans, this problem exists at every Olympics. No wonder the Olympic Trials here are cut-throat affairs. However, it has to be said that they are only a natural extension of the fierce competition that characterises swimming in this country from Florida’s “eight and under” Junior Olympics to the Olympic Trials.

I think that’s why you seldom hear American elite swimmers complain about missing selection. Since they first put on water-wings, they’ve lived in swimming’s most merciless habitat; for them it’s normal.

The problem in America is not restricted to swimming. The table below shows the same data for selected track and field events. Track has the luxury of selecting three competitors in each event.

Another seventeen of the world’s best athletes are left sitting at home. Have you ever wondered why one of the US territories, such as the US Virgin Islands, Guam or American Samoa doesn’t offer these “left at homes” a chance to compete? All you need to represent these territories is a US passport and live in the territory for three or four months. With a little bit of imagination, the US Virgin Islands could go off to Beijing with the second best swim team and track team in the world. The Virgin Islands relegates Australia to the world’s third best swimming nation. What a wonderful thought!

But back to Waddell and Drysdale: what happened in that race? Well, Drysdale won two out of the three trials and is going to represent the country and New Zealand Rowing are going to have to find a spot in the crew of another boat for Waddell, or leave him in New Zealand. Incidentally, New Zealand Rowing had better pick Drysdale. Over the last couple of days they’ve made noises about not being tied by the result of the trial. That’s the sort of dishonest nonsense that Swimming New Zealand used to get up to as well. It used to drive me mad. At least in the States a trial means a trial.

This is international sport. It is right and proper; the loser of the rowing trial is going to have to watch his countryman compete in the Olympic event he could very well have won. Unless of course we rush through a US passport, and he too can represent the US Virgin Islands.

Swimming Is More Fun With Mojitos

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

By Jane

Do you like “signal” posts, as opposed to “noise?” Would you rather hear training theories, racing tactics and various other competitive swimming anecdotes? If so, you may want to join our impressive bounce rate and Back-button on out of here, because I’m about to talk about nothing of the sort. Maybe this could be considered a training theory, but don’t call me in a fit of rage when you don’t make your Olympic Trials cut. I would make a lousy coach; let me show you why.

I like to drink when I swim now. Thankfully, I don’t swim very often and (equally thankfully) I don’t usually get to drink whilst swimming, but I did this week at the SMX West conference in Santa Clara, California. My co-worker and I arrived in California (oh my God, it’s more than ten degrees above freezing!) and headed straight for the Santa Clara Hyatt’s pool. After a careful investigation, which involved me swimming a few lengths and making an educated guess, we deduced that the pool was twenty metres long. We were equipped with caps, goggles (yes, I wrote “googles” the first time. Shut up) and real swim suits. We were ready to “work out.”

You see, my co-worker will compete in a triathlon this summer. She is preparing for her first half-Ironman. She completed the Vancouver Marathon last summer. She isn’t as strong a swimmer as she is a runner yet, but she’s been swimming three or four times a week and didn’t want to halt her regime during the four days we were in California.

We started off well. She had five or ten minutes of warm-up to complete. I swam away on one side of the pool while she swam on the other. There were no lane ropes and no other swimmers. Right before we’d begun, however, three of our friends from the UK had turned up beside the pool (it’s a shame their colleague Tom Critchlow couldn’t have been there too, isn’t it, Tom? See your picture, Tom? The rest of you can pay no attention to this nonsense.) Soon after we started swimming, someone British suggested that we might like a drink to go with our training.

Tom Critchlow

My co-worker managed to complete her session, but I was well and truly distracted. I managed a few more lengths, including a 20-metre breaststroke as-fast-as-possible which was more impressive than you’d expect from a two-years’ retired, half-bottled search engine geek. With the Pac 10 Swimming Championships currently underway in Southern California, my “training session” reminded me both of how much I enjoyed my swimming career and how glad I am that it’s over.