New Zealand National Championships

I’ve spent the past week at the Henderson Pool in Auckland, New Zealand watching what the local media refer to as the “Commonwealth Games” swimming trials. Actually the meet is the National Championships. It’s also the trials for the Pan Pacific Games, the Junior Pan Pacific Games and several smaller internationals against the Australians. But as far as Radio Sport and Sky TV are concerned it’s the Commonwealth Games that really matter.

It’s always been that way. This country’s sporting people are obsessed with the Commonwealth Games. It’s strange. The meet is not particularly competitive. The main swimming protagonists are Australia, England, Canada and New Zealand. But without the USA, France, Italy, Germany, China or Japan it’s not really up to much as a swimming competition. The 2010 Pan Pacific Games will be a far tougher and better meet. Given the choice between California and New Delhi later this year I know where I’d rather be.

Swimming New Zealand tend to put a lot of store on the meet. They have to. SPARC, the government organization that funds sport in New Zealand, base many of their funding decisions on the results in New Delhi. Ironically they call it a pinnacle event. I suspect you could win the Pan Pacific Games, beat Michael Phelps but happen to have a bad afternoon at the Commonwealth Games and its bread and water for you for the next twelve months.

Because the Commonwealth Games could be looked on as being a lesser meet than the Olympic Games, the European Championships or the Pan Pacific Championships, I was surprised when Swimming New Zealand and the Commonwealth Games people here announced qualifying times that were the same as the times required to swim for New Zealand in Beijing. After all the Beijing times were in full body suit days and it was the Olympic Games. Even the Commonwealth Games most ardent supporter would admit it is not the Olympics. To make things even tougher the qualifying times had to be swum at the Nationals and in the Championship finals.

I know I wasn’t alone in thinking it was all too tough. New Zealand is a small nation. We don’t have ten swimmers in every event all within a percent or so of the world record. The men’s 50 here is good but it’s not the French final where Bernard and Bousquet and four others are beating the hell out of each other to see who can take the world record back from a presumptuous Brazilian. Swimming New Zealand, I thought, would be better off using the Commonwealth Games as a stepping stone to London; in much the same way as Snell was included in the 1960 Rome team – on trust, as an investment in the future. In Snell’s case the future just came a lot quicker than expected.

But I was wrong about the qualifying times. For the Commonwealth Games, I would still debate the merit of the having to swim the times in the Championship finals. But as far as the times themselves are concerned they are good times and they are fair. Take a look at the table below.

The codes I’ve used in the table mean the following:

MQT Male Qualifying Time

FQT Female Qualifying Time

WT Winning Time at the New Zealand Trials

PIC Current Place in Commonwealth of the qualifying time

As you can see the majority of the qualifying standards represent times that are currently 6th or 7th in the Commonwealth. That seems pretty fair to me. At a meet like the Commonwealth Games it is not unreasonable to expect the country’s swimmers to make it through to the final. Swimming has progressed a lot in the last two or three years and it hasn’t all been suits and steroids. This times set to get on the New Zealand Commonwealth Games team appear to be a proper reflection of where swimming is at, in the Commonwealth right now. The exception to this is the times required to swim in the 50s. These seem to be tough. To get into a sprint event at the Commonwealth Games requires a swim that right now would get you 1st or 2nd in the meet. That might be asking a bit much.

The fairness of the times is further reflected in the quality of the swimmers that have made it through. Dean Bell, Moss Burmester, Melissa Ingram, Lauren Boyle, Glen Snyder, Natalie Wiegersma and Hayley Palmer are good swimmers and will do New Zealand proud in New Delhi. Even from as far away as Florida I know a number of them have shown real character in their careers. Ingram alone on the World Cup circuit and her rejection after missing last year’s World Championships, Boyle in the red hot heat of NCAA competition, Burmester in the Beijing Olympic final and Wiegersma, the girl from Southland, New Zealand’s Alaska, in her after match interview,

“It’s bloody good down there.”

She just has to be the sort you want out there representing all that’s best in this country. All of you swim well.

  • J

    Wow, those 50s times are *fast*. 30.66 for a 50 breaststroke is fast short course meters, let alone long course :D