Archive for September, 2008

Those Far Foreign Places

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

By David

I love swimming’s annual World Cup tour. A year or so ago, it sounded as though FINA was going to drop the whole thing. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. This year, there are meets in Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Russia, Sweden and Germany. Since 1990 I’ve been to about 40 World Cups in eight countries. And they’re all good. They seem to produce an atmosphere of enjoyable competition that other meets usually fail to match. The closest non-world cup competition gets is the annual Monaco, France and Spain Mare Nostrum series.

The internationalism of World Cups and Mare Nostrum helps; the fact that both tours involve elite athletes from a dozen or more countries. The fact that this special and diverse group eat together, compete together, live together and travel together for two or three weeks gives these tours a special aura that the Grand Prix series in the United States and one-off invitation or championship meets have not been able to replicate. Certainly most of the swimmers I’ve taken on the World Cup or Mare Nostrum circuits swear by the experience.

Jane, who edits Swimwatch posts and writes some entries of her own, attended her second World Cup meet in Hong Kong when she was 14. She was there mainly for the experience but swam a great 50 meters breaststroke heat and made it through to the final. I bet she remembers that to this very day. [She does :) J]

Every year through the early 1990s, Toni Jeffs attended the European section of the World Cup. Danyon Loader, the New Zealand winner of the 200 and 400 meters freestyle at the Atlanta Games made the same journeys. Did you see that Danyon’s coach, Duncan Laing, died a couple of weeks ago? He was New Zealand’s best swim coach; a far cry from the overindulged North Shore oligarchy that run the affairs of swimming in New Zealand just now.

I cannot remember the year, but on one World Cup tour Toni was not swimming as well as she wanted. She was making finals and getting placed but was not winning or swimming personal best times. After a swim in Italy, that she considered especially bad, she informed me that this was the end of her swimming career. She was going to take up body building. I managed to persuade her to go on to the tour’s next stop in Paris and give it one more go. She did and broke the New Zealand 50 meters freestyle national record. Her body building ambitions were put on hold.

Back in those days the World Cup tour culminated in a World Cup Final. This event was the predecessor of the World Short Course Championships. In 1992 the world’s sixteen best competitors in each event were invited to contest the Final to be held on the island of Mallorca,off the coast of Spain. Toni won bronze in the 50 meters freestyle. It was a good meet for Toni. She also beat David Wilkie (Montreal 200 meters breaststroke champion) at pool in a local bar after the swimming. In fact, every New Zealand team member at Mallorca came home with a medal of some colour. No New Zealand team has done that since.

My biggest World Cup mistake was convincing Jane that, instead of boring airplanes the way to experience the series in Europe was to hire a camper van (RV in America) and drive from meet to meet. For us this involved hiring the RV in Amsterdam and in 14 days driving to three,two day meets in Paris (France), Gelsenkirchen (Germany), Imperia (Italy) and back to Amsterdam. It can be done. We did it. But when you include the distractions of taking a wrong turn at midnight just outside Lille (France) and not realizing the error for 400 miles when you noticed the signs saying “Welcome to Strasbourg”, or of bursting a tire on the German autobahn on a Sunday, or of being woken at midnight by a very drunk Frenchman who wanted you to pull his car out of some mud where he and his girlfriend had been spending some quality time. If you are ever tempted by the thought of driving across snow covered passes through the Swiss Alps, of cruising the motorway past Monte Carlo, of parking under the Eiffel Tower at midnight and of speeding past fields of German grapes and French sunflowers, remember I’m still waiting for Jane to forgive me for selling her the same vision. Don’t do it! Boring airplanes work best.

Then, of course, there was the infamous and mentioned on Swimwatch before World Cup party in a pizza bar just off the Champs Elysees in Paris; hosted by a splendid group of British swimmers well noted for their considerable appetite in party time excesses. Fourteen year old Jane was there and responded well. She rang me at 3.00am to declare that she had just found a fizzy drink she liked. “It is” she said, “called champagne.”

You may be wondering why I’m indulging in all this talk about the FINA World Cup. This year, an Aqua Crest swimmer, Skuba, heads off to swim in the European meets. It’s a bit far for an RV so we’ll be going by airplane to Moscow, Stockholm and Berlin. It should be fun. We’ll let you know how it goes.