Arthur Lydiard And The Chocolate Bar

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.

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