Archive for July, 2008

The Worst Pools In The World

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

“If Concrete Could Burn.”

By Jane

Not long ago, we published our list of what we view as the best pools in the world. It’s a biased list in that the pools were chosen for various reasons, including their strangeness (Leeds), location (North Sydney), history (Newmarket; Rome) and sentimentality (Long Beach). But for every stunning aquatic centre, there is its ugly, over-chlorinated twin. Thus, we bring you the worst pools in the world… it turns out that they’re mostly in New Zealand, but we’ve simply not visited any real shockers elsewhere.

Clive Memorial Pool
15 Farndon Rd, Pakowhai, 4102, New Zealand

If concrete could burn, it would smell like the Clive Pool. Imagine it for a second. Old, dirty concrete, soaked in chlorine, on fire.

Windowless. Airless. They’ve added some windows since I last visited, but I doubt they’ve added oxygen. The starting blocks were rough slabs of concrete. The picnic benches to the east side of the pool were buckling under decades of dampness. The water was murky like a sick Seattle morning when the Space Needle is invisible in the fog. Underwater, I had the feeling I was swimming in blue milk.

Blue, concrete-infused milk that, at some point, had been on fire.

The weird thing about my relationship with the Clive pool was that I completed some amazing workouts there. I swam repeats of 3,000 metres faster than I ever had before in 81 degree Fahrenheit water. I first broke a minute for 100m freestyle there. When my best time for 100m breaststroke was something around 1:15, I completed a time trial in 1:12.

At least part of my successes between 1999 and 2002 were due to training sessions swum at Clive and I’ll never forget some of the good times David and I had driving from Napier, listening to our Nissan’s bitchin’ stereo, on our way to Clive for some swimming. That I had some good times there, however, does not negate the fact that Clive is definitely one of the worst pools in the world.

Lloyd Elsmore Leisure Centre

Admission is free. That should have been our first warning. More than once, we made the mistake of stopping at Lloyd Elsmore to train after the Auckland Championships. Why did we not drive to Papakura or Newmarket? I suppose convenience was our only excuse.

The pool is hot. Really hot. There are fast, medium and slow lanes, but the lane speeds aren’t enforced and the lanes are possibly half the size of a standard Olympic width. Frog-leg, 1950s breaststroke is the order of the day, whilst children pour over the lane ropes from the play area. A chronic language barrier means that no one in the pool can understand each other which, with the overcrowding, makes swimming there somewhat like navigating a Christmas sale in a foreign country.

Raumati Pool
Marine Parade, Paraparaumu Beach, 5032, Raumati, New Zealand

Do you like filth, weird hours and draconian life guards? If so, Raumati is the place for you. Let me refer you to the case of a swimmer at Raumati who was banned from the pool for flip turning. Tumble turning. Doing this. I quote:

“Here I am one quiet morning empty lane plodding up and down my last training session before Rotorua half ironman. just a 2km quicky. I get stopped 6 or so lengths into it and told “get out you are tumble turning”. I later find out (after xmas) that I have been banned for tumble turning. this has to qualify for pool rage only problem I can’t rage about it in the pool now. Any suggestions, help, is it legal, can pool staff enforce ban. I am not a happy swimmer having to travel some distance to another pool (strangely enough run by the same council – go figure).”

The thread I’ve link to documents the swimmer’s ban, at the hands of the Kapiti Coast District Council, which was initially for two years but which was reduced to six months and then overturned entirely. The grotesque crime – flip turning – was apparently not forbidden at the pool, but an overzealous pool attendant simply decided that the technique got on his nerves on that particular day. Other swimmers – including myself – have flip turned at Raumati. The pool even has a swim team. The sad thing is, this is just an extreme example of the normal idiot fodder from small-town pool attendants and city councils.

I seriously hope you’re not thinking about tumble-turning…

Napier (Onekawa) Aquatic Centre
Maadi Road, Onekawa, Hawkes Bay 4110, New Zealand

Firstly, I’d refer you to our ancient Napier Pools Guide, which rates the Napier Aquatic Centre, formerly known as Onekawa, as a miserable failure. Everything that Raumati does, the Napier Aquatic Centre can do worse.

A personal view of the Napier pool’s misgivings: For a long time, I had no good idea why I had such trouble breathing at night. I’d have awful coughing fits and difficulty regaining my breath, but I didn’t have asthma or any other distinct respiratory ailment. I also suffered from a curious light sunburn on my face year-round. Literally two weeks after I stopped training at the Napier Aquatic Centre, having moved across the Pacific to Pullman, Washington, both the cough and the burn were gone. It was the water at that pool.

Again: no ventilation, no windows, no pool rules and a generally aggressive, retarded staff. The water spelled bad. Not like Clive’s concrete, but like a dirty bath. Patrons used the backstroke flags as clothes lines. Junk food, dropped on the pool deck, was never cleaned up. The place was putrid.

King County Aquatic Center, aka Federal Way
650 SW Campus Drive, Federal Way, WA 98023

What? Surely the King County Aquatic Center doesn’t belong on a post about the world’s worst pools? Whilst in a very different league to the above, Federal Way makes the list out of pure boringness. Wet tea-towels are more inspiring. No one could have built a more personality-void, bland shell of a pool if there had been a bland-pool-building competition.

The pool produces great swimmers. There is, in fact, nothing inherently wrong with it, aside from its epic boringness. But its boringness is its downfall.

Until Proven Guilty

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

By David

Three months after Reginald Woolmington married 17 year old Violet Woolmington, she left him and went home to live with her mother. Reginald was not best pleased. He cycled to his mother-in-law’s house and shot and killed his young bride. At the trial Reginald claimed he did not intend to kill Violet. He planned to scare her by threatening to kill himself. Accidentally the gun went off shooting Violet through the heart. The trial judge ruled that the case was so strong against Reginald that the onus was on him to show that the shooting was accidental. The jury agreed. On February 14 1935 Reginald was convicted and sentenced to hang. Reginald, however, was not done. He appealed the case to the House of Lords and he won. In articulating the ruling, Viscount Sankey made his famous “Golden Thread” speech:

    “Throughout the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt subject to what I have already said as to the defense of insanity and subject also to any statutory exception.”

Reginald’s conviction was overturned and he was acquitted; the first beneficiary of the “Golden Thread” that was to become known as “innocent until proven guilty”.

Today, many modern democracies include the right in their legal codes and constitutions. Although the Constitution of the United States does not cite it explicitly, the presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th and 14th amendments. In Canada, section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: “Any person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

In France, article 9 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, says “Everyone is supposed innocent until having been declared guilty.” And if all that is not enough, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence.

Given all this history and universal acceptance, why on earth did Chuck Wielgus, Executive Director of USA Swimming say the following?

    “Within the culture of swimming, if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, we want to catch you and throw you out of the sport. In other sports, it’s about excuses and justifications and being innocent until you’re proven guilty.”

I never thought I’d see the day when a fundamental human right was so scorned by a public official. Surely Wielgus is not supporting the idea that, in swimming, an accused is guilty until he or she proves their innocence. If he is, then thank God that view is not running the country. I did notice Wielgus was also reported as saying;

    “Our athletes are like All-American kids. If you align yourself with them, you don’t run the risk of athletes being found in some strip club in Vegas.”

In fact of course swimming has had its share of mishaps; DUI convictions, social drug busts and now Jessica Hardy has a performance enhancing problem. It was always likely the Wielgus “cleaner that clean” position would bite him on the bum. And sure enough it has. This is what he had to say about Jessica Hardy’s positive test:

    “We are hopeful the matter will be resolved expeditiously. Out of respect for the hearing process, USA Swimming will have no further comment at this time.”

I see, suddenly the hearing process becomes important. We are not quite so gung-ho about “throwing you out of the sport” or quick to abandon basic rights such as “innocent until proven guilty.” The change is not so much a flip flop; more of a tumble turn.

And thank goodness for that. Certainly Hardy deserves all the protection the sport and the law can offer. She may have been denied the right to challenge for a gold medal; she should never be denied the right to her “Golden Thread” of justice.

Perhaps There Is Another Way

Friday, July 25th, 2008

By David

As the elite athletic world prepares for the Beijing Olympic Games, the rest of us are being provided with a most graphic example of the difference between the preparation proposed by Arthur Lydiard and the preparation followed by most of the swimming world. The example we are being shown does not demonstrate all the differences. It shows only the disparity in an athlete’s final preparation. When this difference is added to the very real differences in the early stages of a season’s training, the gap is huge.

With a couple of weeks to go before things get underway in Beijing, most of the swimming world’s federations are locked away in training camps, swimming carefully prepared sets. The locations are usually warm and exotic. “Carefully ensconced” would not be an out of place description for swimming’s approach to these final few weeks. Swimmers I’ve coached have spent their final weeks in camps in California, Hawaii, the south of France, Brunei and Auckland, New Zealand.

In track and field there are some who do the training camp thing. The majority of athletes however follow Lydiard’s advice and are out around the world competing. Just last night in Stockholm, Craig Mottram, Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt, Meserat Defar, Jeremy Warriner, Muna Lee, Mashavret Hooker and Allyson Felix, Kimberley Smith and a dozen other probable Olympic medalists were competing in Stockholm. This weekend they all shift to London to do the same thing. It doesn’t matter whether they are sprinters sharpening themselves over 100 meters in 9.88 seconds or distance athletes running for 13 minutes. They are all there. For most of them, London will be their fourth or fifth stop on a seven meet programme of competition before the Beijing meet.

To train in a camp or compete in the full view of the world; this is not a question of shades of grey. One might be better than the other. The difference is far too extreme for that. One must be right and the other must be wrong; one superior and the other deficient.

I happen to be a supporter of the track athlete’s method of preparation. The swimming nation that first realises the difference and wholeheartedly converts its swimming to this preparation is going to steal a march on the rest of the swimming world. The times swum by Hoff, Phelps, Hackett, Trickett and Manaudou will look as second rate as those of Weissmuller do today. Good in their time but unlikely to make the final of a Sectional Meet these days. Anyone interested in what Lydiard would consider to be a dated method of preparation can read about it in Dave Salo’s new book “Complete Conditioning for Swimming”. It’s a good description of what everyone does in swimming today. What the sport needs is to look down the road at what is possible tomorrow – and this book is not that.

Instead of tapering down to a peak – even the term is a contradiction – the Lydiard track method of final preparation is based is a series of time trials and races in the ten weeks leading up to an Olympic Games. The time trials and races are consciously designed mock exams. They are tests during which the swimmer’s endurance, anaerobic conditioning, speed, technique, starts, turns, stroke counts, stroke rates and all the other skills required to race well are tested and retested. Shortcomings are corrected in the week’s other sessions before the swimmer is tested again. This test, correction, test, correction process continues through the 10 weeks, culminating in the season’s main competition. As Lydiard said, “You should be in a good position to pass the main exam after ten weeks of mock tests.” Just as importantly, the season’s main event is a natural follow on from all that has gone before. It is something that is built up to in a logical and controlled manner. It doesn’t take a coaching genius to see that this must have advantages over the traditional “train like mad and stop for a two weeks taper and hope” method used by national squads today.

It is also the method used by the Patriots to prepare for the Super Bowl, the Yankees to get ready for the World Series and the Spurs to play in the Finals. In fact, the best players in just about every sport you can think of these days execute their final preparation by competing as frequently and as hard as possible up to their main event. Wimbledon has Queens and the French Open; the British Golf Open has the European and Scottish Opens. Just about every sport you can think of does this, except for swimming. But just wait until swimming does it too. Rowdy Gaines and John McBeth are going to need a whole new vocabulary.

Arthur Lydiard And The Chocolate Bar

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

By Jane

We tell current stories here on Swimwatch, but there are some fantastic stories that hale from the days before Swimwatch existed. A few stories stand out to me as those which made me a swimmer and made swimming life worthwhile at times and horrifying at others.

This is my first installment in a series of tales that help define my life in this sport. They’re in a rough chronological order. The first one dates from January 10, 1998.

You believed Arthur when he told you something. Perhaps it was his complete conviction in himself that did it: he passionately believed what he was saying, and so you did, too. In Barry Magee’s words, “when Arthur Lydiard told me I could win a race, I knew I could.”

The first time this affected me personally was in the way Arthur approached me when I was thirteen and needed to swim a freestyle race in Auckland. I had spent the weekend swimming the breaststroke races at the Auckland Age Group Championships, but on the last day of competition, the breaststroke events having been completed, I had been entered in the one-hundred metres freestyle. In the morning preliminaries, I had qualified for the final in second place. Ahead of me in first place was a girl who had been lauded as the next most wonderful thing to happen to New Zealand swimming. She had swum two seconds faster than me, and I did not believe I had a hope of beating her. My family and I were staying at Arthur’s Beachlands house, forty-five minutes east of the swimming pool. Arthur decided half way through the afternoon that he would come and see me swim in the evening. We had been in the car for two minutes, driving west, when Arthur turned to me in the back seat.

“Do you think you can win tonight?” he asked. I was hesitant. Of course, with Arthur Lydiard coming to see me, I would have to look slick, but the girl ahead of me was two seconds faster, a virtual eternity in sprint events.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe I can swim faster than I did this morning.”

Arthur turned back to the front seat and fiddled around in his carry-bag. When he turned back to me again, he was holding the largest Rocky Road chocolate bar I had ever seen. Full of marshmallows, jello, and milk chocolate, the thing was about two centimeters thick and five times as long.

“Eat this,” he said. “And you’ll win the race.”

I breathed almost every stroke in the last twenty meters, looking at my competitor in lane four. I beat her by less than half a second. Eleven years later, it’s still one of my proudest wins.

No Trumpets, Just Air

Monday, July 21st, 2008

By David

It may be worth saying again that the views expressed in Swimwatch or the Huffington Post or any other blog are only opinions. They are not tablets of stone brought down from Mt. Sanai. There are some who have difficulty understanding that. At the Speedo Southern Sectional Meet last weekend some guy – I have no idea of his name or station in life; he didn’t reveal either – called me over and berated me for the Swimwatch report on the Fort Lauderdale International Meet. He was full of some pretty impressive abuse, calling me and the Swimwatch report “pathetic and nasty, nasty”. My guess is the repetition was for emphasis. Some, perhaps many, who agree with him. However, the Swimwatch article was not a personal attack but simply one observer’s view on a good swim meet that could do with a face lift. I’m sure the framers of the Constitution would see the report as fitting properly into the spirit of the First Amendment. I suspect our Fort Lauderdale reader would not be as generous.

The incident did get me thinking about aspects of swimming in Florida that have caused me surprise. I have spoken of some of these before; the fantastic level and depth of competition in the State, the standard of officials, the hospitality and deference shown to swim coaches, the excellent Sizzler and Sub-JO structure for young swimmers and a hundred other qualities. At the Sectional Meet this weekend one of the referees was new to the area. A Florida Gold Coast official introduced me to her and said if there was a problem she was the person I should contact. What good manners, what courtesy, what class. Everyone respects that. I have agreed with the concern expressed by the sport’s local administrators over the 90% teenage drop-out rate and have admired their willingness to tackle the problem. There are administrators the world over who hide from that sort of self analysis.

Have there been any negative surprises? Yes, of course there have. One stands out. I have been staggered at the speed and frequency at which some swimmers change clubs. Our team has benefited and lost as a consequence of the migratory habits of many swimming families. A club a year is not unusual. I know the President of a local club who had her family batting an average of about that. One of our mid-teen ex-swimmers is slightly ahead of even that impressive statistic. Long term, it’s the athletes who pay for all this vagrancy. There may be short term benefits but a sound long term career can not be built that way.

I do not know why club member’s nomadic behavior is so bad in Florida. There have been some who put it down to the American mania for instant results – fast food swimming. “I did not get the result I wanted quickly enough so I’m off somewhere else” – swimming in the drive-through lane. One parent who left our team after one year told me he was sure our Lydiard programme would produce long term results but, if his daughter was to get a University scholarship, they needed results quickly. Like fast-food, fast-results are seldom the best results. Others have stated that the programme doesn’t work, to which I contest that it’s not as if they’d know, as none of them actually completed it.

Lydiard had a very strong opinion on this behavior. Many times he said to me, “David I’ve never taken a runner back. Never take a swimmer back.” His view was based on the belief that in a broken relationship, trust lost is unlikely to be repaired. I have only taken a swimmer back once and that didn’t work. After three months she was on her way again. Interestingly, about two weeks ago she was back for a second time asking to be reinstated. Her journey to a third club had not worked out. This time I said no. If more coaches followed Lydiard’s advice, it may curb Florida swimming’s itinerant wanderings. Soon the roamers would have no home to go to. But it would mean losing another set of training fees, and money usually wins.

The effect of all this migration is easy to see. At most swim meet “UNA” is by far and away the biggest club. “UNA” means unattached: the status given to swimmers who have recently shifted clubs and are serving three months probation. At the Fort Lauderdale Sectional Meet swimmers from “UNA” accounted for 216 entries. That is probably about 40 of the region’s best swimmers who are in the process of changing clubs.

I do hope mentioning this oddity of Florida swimming will not result in another poolside ambush. It is clearly a difficult concept for some to understand, but mentioning things that could do with a bit of attention is not a condemnation of the whole. Far from it; swimming in Florida and the International Meet is exciting, competitive and fun. Come to think of it, so is the attention of a disgruntled reader.