Archive for May, 2008

Fort Lauderdale Seniors’ Meet

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

By David

It’s just as well the means of transport to a meet is no indication of the quality of what’s going to happen inside. Those arriving in a Porsche are not necessarily going to swim faster than the occupants of say a 1981 Mitsubishi Sigma. I say this only because for much of Jane’s swimming career she was transported to the pool in the “Blue Beast”, which was a $700 1981 Mitsubishi Sigma.

Jane won National titles and broke National records having traveled to the pool in that car. The Blue Beast was an engineering marvel, continuing to run through long periods of neglect that would have finished off most self-respecting vehicles. It did not run well. It was frequently passed on steep hills by East Coast Transport truck and trailer units, fully laden with a thousand sheep. It could not be counted on to even get you there. Jane and I arrived home from one European swimming trip with the Blue Beast on the back of an Automobile Association tow-truck. The Blue Beast’s radiator and automatic transmission had not survived the month in an Auckland parking lot. And on the way to early morning training you had to be careful to use the car’s lights sparingly. Anything more than twenty minutes and the Blue Beast refused to start at the end of practice. The windows, air conditioning and heater did not work. In the Blue Beast, climate control had a whole new meaning.

Actually, the car became nationally famous when it featured in a full page story in New Zealand’s largest circulation Sunday newspaper The Sunday Star Times. Basil Dynan, the President of a team based in the same town as our club, was unhappy Jane was setting national records and his swimmers were not. In a fit of spite, he called the police one Saturday evening and reported that the Blue Beast had been abandoned in the Onekawa Aquatic Centre’s parking lot. I guess his hope was that the police would tow the car away. Instead they called the Blue Beast’s home and asked Alison why the car was abandoned. Alison explained it was at the pool because Jane and I were at practice. I understand Basil had to suffer an irate visit from the local police, which served him right. We had some t-shirts printed with a picture of the Blue Beast and the word “Abandoned” printed on the front. The seniors in our team wore them at the next swim meet. Basil’s face was a picture. Just before she left New Zealand for the Virgin Islands Alison, who anyone who knows her will tell you is not normally the revolutionary type, mailed one of the spare t-shirts to Basil.

I have mentioned the Blue Beast only to avoid you thinking that our transport and accommodation at this weekend’s Florida Gold Coast Meet was in any way normal. At the Fort Lauderdale pool there is a Hall of Fame marina. Millions dollar boats are parked alongside the pool. Our swimmer Skuba’s parents have a 65 foot boat, which because they live in New Orleans, is called “Hello Dolly”. Some time last week, their captain sailed Hello Dolly to Fort Lauderdale and parked it in the Hall of Fame marina. For the weekend, we enjoyed comfort and company the likes of which I’ve never had before at a swim meet. Scallops wrapped in bacon between sessions, huge t-bones for dinner, a reserved parking place in the lot that is normally for “OFFICIALS ONLY” and, of course, a difficult 20 meter walk to the pool.

After swimming on Saturday, Captain Billy took us out into the Atlantic. I admit it was probably not the same as the four years my grandfather spent in World War One escorting cargo ships between Fort Lauderdale and Liverpool; but I could pretend. The trip did improve Andrew and Skuba’s reaction time. On the way back to the marina we passed a group of four boats anchored close to the shore. The owners were playing and swimming in the shallow water. About six of them were young ladies; very attractive and also very topless. In seconds, our guys had reached the bridge of Hello Dolly and were using Captain Billy’s binoculars to closer inspect these local shipping hazards.

By now you may be thinking we were not serious about the meet. That would not be true. I like this meet; it is one of my Florida favorites. It is understated and not all that well attended but attracts some very good swimmers. Not packed with thousands of swimmers; just some really good guys trying to beat the hell out of each other.

It’s the closest Florida gets to a World Cup or Mare Nostrum or Grand Prix type meet. It takes a certain philosophy towards swimming to like this sort of meet. I suspect that’s why Gary Hall’s Race Club is always there. It is certainly the reason we’re there. For example, our guys’ 50 meters freestyle included Gary Hall, Olympic Champion; George Bovell, Olympic Bronze Medalist and the Olympic representatives of at least three other countries. It was an ideal warm up for the competition the Aqua Crest swimmers will face in Europe next week.

So, thank you Gary Hall and George Bovell and the others. It was fun for our guys to race such huge swimming names. Thank you to Captain Billy and Skuba’s parents for the boat and looking after us for the weekend. And thank you to the Blue Beast for making us appreciate it all.

Publish or Perish

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

By David

About six years ago, I published a book on Lydiard’s training methods as they applied to swimming. The process was amazingly simple. Lydiard wrote a prologue and the manuscript was sent to Meyer & Meyer, a leading German publisher of sports books. Eight months later, the book was selling well and reached number seven on the Amazon’s water sport’s best selling list. “Swim to the Top”, that’s the book’s name, has slipped in the ranking since then but had done well enough that Meyer&Meyer asked if I could put together a second book on swimming training.

A year later, Jane and I completed the manuscript of “Swimming – A Training Program” and sent it off to see what Meyer & Meyer thought. They seemed happy and in 2004 the second book was published. I had the fun of finding the book in our local Barnes and Noble store and telling the shop assistant that I knew the authors. Jane and I are not going to be able to buy a corporate jet with the annual royalties but its fun enough to have the books in print and be part of spreading the Lydiard philosophy.

Flushed with success I decided it was time to write a novel with a swimming theme. 114,000 words later “Thirty Pieces of Silver” was a completed manuscript ready for publication. Since then things have gone from bad to worse. Meyer & Meyer don’t do fiction so I sent the manuscript to three New Zealand publishers, thinking my association with swimming in that fair land might make the manuscript more interesting. It seems not; “unfortunately” they were “too busy with current projects”.

Perhaps, I thought, the United States would be different. I sent the manuscript to five publishers selected scientifically by stabbing my finger at a list on the internet. The response was overwhelming. All five said they’d read it, all five “loved” it, all five said we were “great” writers; the manuscript was just what every passenger on every jet in every state of the United States was waiting to read. All five sent a contract that we should sign and return as soon as possible. Things did seem too good to be true. I decided to investigate.

Dorrance Publishing wanted me to pay them $17,900 to publish the book. Publish America would do it for free, but there were some pretty awful warnings about them on the internet. American Book Publishing appeared respectable but wanted $9000 up front. Clare Smith sent me an acceptance letter dated May 18, 2008 in November 2007. My impression was of an industry with more than its fair share of sharks circling and waiting to take advantage of vanity; to hit on anyone who had written a few thousand words and wanted to see them on a bookshelf. There are honest publishers in the world. Meyer & Meyer are one of them. The problem for the novice is simply finding out who are honest and who aren’t. If anyone can help answer that question we’d love to hear from you.

So, what’s “Thirty Pieces of Silver” about? It tells the story of the escape from East Germany of the National Swimming Coach and his eventual immigration to New Zealand. The East German secret police track him down and execute two assassination attempts. Through these and other difficulties and by employing Lydiard’s training methods the coach eventually wins three gold medals at the Olympic Games.

The book is entirely fiction but like all make-believe does rely on the author’s personal experience. For example the East German connection is based on when I employed the East German National Coach, Mike Regner. One of the assassination attempts is a distant parallel to the Australian based plan to kill one of Toni Jeffs’ sponsors, Brian LeGros. The airplane forced landing is a description of when I had an engine failure and landed my Piper Arrow in a barley field outside of Wanganui. Jane’s description of the Virgin Islands is from two hot summers spent sweltering in that place. Her knowledge of Lydiard’s training is from ten years spent doing nothing else. Sadly many of the “swimming official” stories actually happened.

But first we’ve got to get the thing published. Perhaps we should just serialize it on Swimwatch, or perhaps you know a better idea.

Athletics Is A Trip

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

By David

A few years ago, I spent several summers touring the European track series with my wife, Alison. She competed in middle distance events from 800 meters to 3000 meters. She was ranked seventh in the world over 1000 meters. There were some good runners around in those days. From New Zealand, there was John Walker, Olympic Champion and World Record holder, Dick Quax, Olympic silver medalist and World Record holder and Rod Dixon, Olympic bronze medalist and winner of the New York marathon. You may recognize some of the other names on the circuit, Henry Rono, Don Quarry, Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Renaldo Nehemiah, Tatyana Kazankina and Irena Szewinska.

One of the best athletes was the American James King. He was ranked fifth in the world at 400 meters hurdles and certainly one of the nicest guys I came across on the circuit. In 1979 we visited the Berlin Wall together. Eager to see what was on the other side we climbed a tree close to the wall. I noticed an East German sentry peering at us through his powerful Weiss binoculars. He seemed to be paying us close attention. I looked at James and was horrified to see my mate giving the East German guard the middle finger.

A notable feature of the track world back then was the number of attractive young ladies who followed the circuit providing home comforts to the world’s best runners. Two of the best known were from London. I even saw them at a World Championships, sitting comfortably in the VIP section of the stadium. One world class athlete told me he knew he’d made it to genuine world class, not when he’d broken his first world record or won his first championship, but when he was propositioned by one of the London ladies.

At the end of the Coke Meet in London’s Crystal Palace I was talking to James King when he was called over by the same young woman. He excused himself and walked over to where she was standing. After a short conversation he wandered back. Now, I have no idea what they discussed. Indeed I am not the slightest bit interested. All I can tell you is he came back to me, smiled and said, “Athletics is a trip.”

There are occasions when swimming too can be a trip. Our team is going through an interesting period. Last weekend we had a junior regional swim meet at our home pool. We had a record number of entries, made 20% more income than expected, had four swimmers qualify for senior competition and enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve mentioned before how well coaches are treated in the United States. Well, if you are a coach, you should have been at this meet. The food was fit for royalty and was served by a senior American Airlines flight attendant. Now that’s got to be hard to beat.

This past weekend, three of our master’s swimmers competed in the YMCA National Championships in Fort Lauderdale. Darcy swam the 1650 yards yesterday and was second. She wasn’t too happy with the swim, but second in the United States is never a bad result. Bonnie and Bob swam today: in five swims, they won a gold, two silvers and two bronze medals. There are two days to go and with an ounce of luck they may well improve their medal tally.

Next weekend, we will once again swim at the Swimming Hall of Fame pool in Fort Lauderdale. This time, the event will be a Florida Gold Coast championship meet. Skuba and Andrew are our best chances of success. They will both swim the men’s 50 and 100 meters freestyle. Skuba’s parents are parking their yacht in the Hall of Fame marina as our accommodation for the weekend. Can you imagine that? Where else in the world can you stroll in one minute from pool to yacht just in time for a steak lunch and a nicely chilled New Zealand Chardonnay? This swimming thing, it’s a tough life.

(From Jane, who edits Swimwatch for the minimal price of nothing: By Christ, that’s a change from the Blue Beast, parked in front of the Flaxmere Aquatic Centre. Can I remind you of how we got to Waipukurau on the day I broke that 200 breaststroke record? I sure as hell don’t remember any yachts ;) In fact, I remember having a can of V in the Blue Beast on the way down from Napier. And true to form, I’m as jealous as all can be! My New Zealand swimming memories are remembered through chlorine burn and the smell of heavy chemicals in the locker rooms. Enjoy yourselves; I’m willing to admit that you deserve it! I’ll just have another martini and look at the Space Needle!)

The Thursday after Fort Lauderdale, Andrew and Skuba head off to Europe for the Mare Nostrum series. They will swim in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Canet. I’ve been a couple of times before and it is a great series in three wonderful towns. From high up on the French motorway, it is impossible to tire of that first view of Monte Carlo. They call the place a millionaire’s playground and it is a title well earned.

Most of Barcelona, like many of the world’s big cities, is sprawling and ugly. Not as bad as somewhere like Mexico City, but heading in that direction. What Barcelona does have though is a waterfront heart of plazas, arcades, squares, shops and cafes. Barcelona also has a heart of history, reminders of the adventures of Columbus and the struggle of the Catalan people. Canet is one of this world’s truly lovely places. It is a small Mediterranean coastal village, close to Perpignan and the Spanish boarder. Little restaurants sell fantastic French food along a wide sandy beach. It’s just so incredibly French. Old men play boules and smoke pipes and talk about how bad things are in Paris. Young women swim with far too little on for sensitive eyes. Best of all, it’s not on the foreign tourist trail. It’s more a place where the French go to holiday. All this and some of the world’s best swimming. We are looking forward to it.

At the end of all this I am hoping Andrew and Skuba swim well enough in Europe to qualify for the US Trials in Omaha, Nebraska in the first week of July. It is a lofty goal. But that’s a good thing.

So that’s what the next month has in store at our place. James King was right: “Athletics is a trip.”

A Month Away

Monday, May 5th, 2008

By Jane and David

David: When we relaunched Swimwatch in 2006, we promised never to abandon it again. Sadly, the past month has been a bit of a fail on our part, as Jane has been traveling the world doing her real job and I’m not good at working the publishing software, as elementary as Jane says it is. To be more accurate, Jane has been in Sydney, Australia, speaking at an SEO and internet marketing conference. She also stopped for a week in Auckland, New Zealand on her way back to Seattle.

Jane: My trip to Australia, whilst having nothing to do with swimming, was an incredible trip down memory lane. The conference I attended (SMX Sydney, for those of you who are into search engine optimisation. What? None of you?) took place in a building at Luna Park. Everyone who’s been swimming in Australia knows that Luna Park is right beside the North Sydney Pool.

In Swimwatch’s opinion, the North Sydney Pool is the greatest swimming pool of all time. I didn’t list it first on my “Best Least Recognised Pools” post, but I would now. I’d forgotten just how fantastic it is. The closest I came to swimming in the pool again was going to dinner at Aqua, a restaurant that now overlooks the pool from the fifty-metre end. As you can see from this picture, taken before the New South Wales swimming championships in early 1996, the restaurant has not always been there. In fact, twelve years ago, it seems that the place was little more than a ratty office. Underneath the white and red striped canopy at the end of the pool now resides one of Sydney’s better restaurants.

This is what is there now.

For anyone else who’s vaguely interested, there are quite a few more of my pictures of the views of the pool on Flickr; this links to the first picture taken at Aqua. One word of warning: it’s probably not good pre-practice food. And don’t drink as much port as I did, either.

David: Jane tells me Auckland has changed in the six years she has been away. Much more impressive, she says, with lots of waterfront cafés selling New Zealand’s increasingly popular wines. Boutique shops are preferred to concrete jungle malls. All that sounds like progress.

Certainly New Zealand’s swimming made progress during the month. They finally won a race that mattered. Moss Burmester won the 200m Butterfly at the World SC Championships in Manchester, England; very well done Moss. Never again will I be able to say that Moss’ coach Jan Cameron has never won a decent championship. The country is still worse off than when Loader, Kingsman, Simcic, Bray, Winter, Langrell and Jeffs were winning medals at similar events, but any win for Cameron is a good win. In his early career, Moss had an excellent coach called Clive Power who clearly laid an important early foundation. Cameron is fortunate to inherit such a well coached product.

I see New Zealand’s sport funding agency, Sparc, hasn’t changed. This time they are writing threatening letters to New Zealand Rugby League telling the sport how to run its affairs. It’s all the usual blackmail, “Do what we say or we will cut off your funding.” They only give the sport about $200,000 a year. I’d tell them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. It’s hard to have respect for an organisation whose Chief Executive insists on abusing the Queen’s English. His comments on the Rugby League situation include the following gems, “[they need] to put their sport on a proper footing going forwards” and “they need help to move forward by identifying key issues” and, “Sparc would need to consider how justified continuing investment going forward would be.” That “going forward” stuff is all so unnecessary; a sure sign you’re talking to a guy of little substance. The head of New Zealand Rugby League made the issues most telling comment, “They are too powerful to ignore.” Isn’t that the truth? It’s sad though when might replaces right like it has in New Zealand’s sport funding.

While we’ve been away, Swimwatch has continued to receive its share of loony messages. For some reason, one genius decided to have a crack at Jane and wrote the following:

You’re just bitter because you weren’t that fast of a swimmer and are mad at yourself. You could look at the positive things like the amazing work ethic that every swimmer leaves the sport with. Or you could examine yourself and decide whether or not you actually put it all on the line and gave the sport your all. If you had you would have found out things about yourself that you would never find out otherwise.”

Although the comment was “anonymous”, I recognise the writing style and can confirm it is the product of personal failure; a not unusual reaction. For the record, Jane was a four time national open or age group New Zealand record holder, three times national open women’s champion, Division One NCAA Championship qualifier, Caribbean Regional Champion and record holder, Pan Pacific Game’s representative and an Oceania Games silver medalist. In the course of accumulating that record she swam 27,548 kilometers, that’s an average of 53,000 meters every week for 11 years. What sort of insulting, stupid fool says “Or you could examine yourself and decide whether or not you actually put it all on the line and gave the sport your all” to someone who put in that sort of work and achieved those sorts of results? Shame on you, whoever you are.

Here, in Florida, things are pretty normal. The team has just begun their summer racing program. Andrew and Skuba were first and second in the men’s 50m free last weekend at a local meet; a pleasing result for the season’s first race. They will race in four more meets before heading off to the European Mare Nostrum tour and meets in Monte Carlo, Canet and Barcelona. That’s where the big boys come out to play. It will be fun to find out how our two get on. The Americans are an amazingly generous people. They give willingly and without condition. We needed to raise money to help with the cost of going to Europe. The response has been humbling; thank you. Many of the Master’s swimmers are preparing for their triathlon season. Most notably Greg has the Hawaiian Ironman this year. Darcy continues to win her age group in every event she enters. She is an amazing athlete. I guess that’s what 52 looks like these days.

Next weekend our team hosts a Florida Gold Coast Sub JO Meet. That’s the beginning level of competition around here. Through the course of a year all the local clubs share the hosting of one of these events. They are well run and a terrific introduction to swimming competition. The only change I’d like to see are ribbons being given for personal best swims rather than for first, second and third. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against winning and losing. I just think establishing a culture of “I did my best” early in a swimmers career is a good thing.

It’s good to be back.