Local History Needed

By David

I’ve just been to the Glen Eden library. I had to wait a few minutes while Alison made her selection of what I rudely call “cultural stuff” – Drybread by Allan Marshall, Over by Margaret Forster and The Believers by Zoe Heller. To fill in the time and because I can’t resist the lure of an unused computer I decided to search the library’s files for random titles. Sadly I found that Waitakere City’s library system does not have my two books, “Swim to the Top” and “Swimming, A Training Program”. I completed the form recommending they fix this error by purchasing a copy of “Swim to the Top”. We will see what happens.

Today’s library visit was my second literary encounter in twenty four hours. Yesterday I had Sunday lunch at the Takahe restaurant in Titirangi village. The standard of New Zealand restaurants has definitely improved. This is one those comfortable places with great views over the local bush, tables on the footpath, lots of polished wooden floors and big oak beer barrels along the wall. The food is good too. I had their beef burger and Alison had Eggs Benedict.

After lunch we decided to inspect Slightly Used Books, Titirangi’s second hand book shop. Some second hand book shops are like second hand furniture stores, depressing and a bit run down. Slightly Used Books is not one of those. This is more of a good quality antique boutique for books; full of agreeable titles especially those with a New Zealand theme or author. The owner noticed my US Swimming shirt and explained that he was a regular fitness swimmer at the local pool. There was something wrong with his arms. Could I help? He’d tried to find a swimming book for assistance but decided a more personal approach was needed. I said, of course I’d help, but had he come across a book called “Swim to the Top”? I could certainly vouch for the integrity of its content. He looked up “Swim to the Top” and discovered that there are twelve second hand copies available for sale in New Zealand. Perhaps Waitakere City’s libraries could buy one of them.

I decided to ask my new bookshop friend whether his computer could find second hand copies of Lydiard’s first book, “Run to the Top”, published in 1962. He found that there are nineteen issues available and they’ve become a collector’s item. What cost two pounds fifty years ago is selling now for $100 and if you want one with the original dust jacket it will set you back an additional $20.

In the Glen Eden library I wondered if they had copies of “Run to the Top” and did they know about their windfall profit? The computer came up with good news. “Run to the Top” did exist, reference number 360.30 in the library’s Local History section.

Would you believe it? The original text that changed the way the track world works; the book that should be compulsory reading for every track and swimming coach; the most relevant and modern reference work on the effects of aerobic conditioning, relegated to the Local History section. They’ve done it because the book discusses running tracks in and around Waitakere City. The old tracks are local and some of them are now history so according to Waitakere City’s librarians, that make the book Local History. But really, relegating Arthur to Local History is like filing the Bible alongside Stephen King in the Fiction section. Arthur Lydiard would be as mad as hell. The Mayor of Waitakere City is Bob Harvey. He’s a good guy and was Arthur’s friend. He probably doesn’t know the damage being wrecked in his local libraries. I hope he reads this story and restores Lydiard’s book to the Sports section, where it clearly belongs.

It is surprising how quickly New Zealand sports commentators have relegated Lydiard to local history as well. Many feel more comfortable with bogus theories peddled as training science. There’s a lot more profit for them in an oxygen tent and VO2 cycle machine somewhere in Auckland than there is in running around the Waitakeres. The reality is that New Zealand achieved its best results when Lydiard and then Jelley had good runners pounding New Zealand’s roads. There have been two golden eras in New Zealand track running; the decade of Snell, Halberg and Magee supervised by Lydiard and the other of Walker, Quax and Dixon supervised by Jelley. The coaches responsible for those eras are absolutely relevant today.

It got me wondering whether New Zealand swimming has ever had a golden era. What is the content of New Zealand swimming’s local history. You may find the following table interesting. Since 1908, when Olympic swimming events were first held in a pool rather than the sea, the table groups New Zealand’s results into periods of five Games.

It looks like New Zealand has had a golden era. Through the 80s and 90s Hurring, Moss, Kingsman, Langrell, Simcic, Clark and Loader were responsible for fourteen final swims and five Olympic medals. The figures may be slightly overstated by New Zealand’s good showing in the boycott hit Los Angeles Games. The results however are also hurt in this period by New Zealand’s absence from the Moscow Games when Hurring could well have won the 200 backstroke and would probably have made the final in the 100 backstroke as well. Certainly New Zealand is going to have to go some in London and Buenos Aires to match the performance of the best we’ve done so far. Before he leaves office and Auckland becomes a Super City, Mayor Harvey could help that cause by promoting Lydiard’s book to the Sport’s section of the city’s libraries.