Championship Talent

By David

“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade.” That interesting quote was made by Benjamin Franklin. This week an unusual mix of coincidences reminded me of the famous American’s quote and his renowned opposition to authoritarianism. A New Zealand team of twenty swimmers flew out to compete in the eighth Oceania Championships that start in Samoa next week and a Level Two swim meet took place in the Auckland Swimming Center.

There may not seem to be much of a connection, but let me explain. The first Oceania Championships were held sixteen years ago, in 1994, in New Caledonia. In those days Swimming New Zealand didn’t select teams for the event. Anyone who wanted to go could enter. In 1994 I think four New Zealanders made the trip. Two of them were coached by me – Toni Jeffs and Nichola Chellingworth. Entering Nichola was a bit of a stretch. She was twelve years of age and had only swum in one race before leaving for New Caledonia. The race hadn’t gone all that well. She was disqualified for a false start. New Zealand’s newest and youngest international had never successfully completed a swimming race. As we arranged the entries Swimming New Zealand never asked so I never volunteered that information.

Just before we left for New Caladonia, David Myer, the Chief Executive of Swimming New Zealand sent me a note that expressed his organization’s disapproval of Nichola’s entry. He had discovered that she had been disqualified in her only previous start. He said that if it wasn’t for the already paid airfares and hotels she would have been withdrawn from the event. I’ve still got his message; one of my more treasured swimming mementoes.

I was sure it was worth Nichola making the trip. Three months earlier she had joined the Club’s learn to swim program and was clearly a special talent. I moved her up to training with Toni and she seemed to thrive on the experience. Toni did a good job of nurturing her learn to swim training colleague. In the New Caledonia Oceania Championships Nichola qualified for the final with a heat swim that was a New Zealand twelve year old record for 50 meters long course freestyle. In the final she got fifth in a time that again set a new twelve year old record. Two races, two New Zealand records and fifth in an international event; not a bad start to Nichola’s fledgling swimming career.

A week later we flew to Sydney for the New South Wales Swimming Championships. Nichola had turned thirteen during the week. On 24 January 1994 at the Blacktown Pool she won the New South Wales thirteen year old 50 freestyle title in a New Zealand record time of 27.27 seconds. Her swimming career record was now three swims, three New Zealand records and a New South Wales Championship title. And she had yet to complete a race in the country she represented. Sixteen years later her 27.27 freestyle time still stands as the New Zealand record for thirteen year old women.

Back in New Zealand a month later Nichola swam in the New Zealand Open Championships at the Moana Pool in Dunedin. She ended up fourth in the 50 freestyle behind Toni, Anna Wilson and someone else whose name I’ve forgotten. A year later Swimming New Zealand selected Nichola for the Atlanta Pan Pacific Games. Several years after that she swam for New Zealand again in the World Short Course Championships in Indianapolis and in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. David Myer and Swimming New Zealand should have forgiven us by then but somehow I don’t think they had.

I have only been with my new Club in Auckland for eight weeks but I have noticed several talented swimmers. One of them, a fourteen year old girl, has seldom swum in competitions. In six months she hasn’t raced at all. Her mother tells me she has become so disillusioned with the sport she was about to give up. She only trained once or twice a week and said she was not interested in racing anymore. In Auckland this past weekend we had a Level 2 swim meet. She didn’t want to swim. But, by using a version of the “what’s a sundial in the shade” argument, I managed to convince her to pay the $12.00 for a late entry to swim the 50 meters freestyle. It worked; she not only won her heat in a creditable 30.70 seconds, she was the fastest swimmer of her age in the competition. And now for the scary part – her name is Nicole.