Training Gem

By David

One or two of the comments you hear or receive by email deserve special mention. There’s been a few of these this week. First was an email comment on the Swimwatch article we did on the New Zealand master track coach, Arch Jelley. Here is what the email said.

Great article, summing up well my brother’s methods and personality, as well as putting into perspective the rather pointless comparisons often made between coaches. I sometimes claim to be Arch’s first runner, as he certainly advised and guided me when I entered athletics as a runner in 1946, after a season or two as race walker.

Arch and I came across the writings of Arthur Newton, who defied the authorities in South Africa when refused financial support for a farming venture, by determining to become a world champion distance runner. He eventually set a world time for 100 miles, although he almost collapsed on his first training run of 3 miles. One of Newton’s favorite theories was that lions and tigers did their daily training mainly by sauntering around at “below racing pace”, yet broke all records occasionally when they raced for their life, or for their quarry. Our speed work was basically Fartlek, and only when we felt like it, and the great field coach and pole-vaulter Merv Richards (of our own club) warned me that this kind of training might well create a ceiling of performance not high enough for international competition. He was to be proved correct. Runners whom I had beaten in 1951, like Jim Daly and Ernie Haskell, included far more speed conditioning work than I did, and surpassed me markedly by 1954, both representing NZ at Vancouver, and bettering my 3-mile times by about 40 seconds or more.

This kind of thing set Arch thinking, and the rest is history. Arch’s schedules came to be based on scientific knowledge of the human body in action, as well as the results of different kinds of regime in practice. And he was never surprised when people like Bill Baillie would come up with a sensational 2-mile time before they had done any speed work. Back to the lions and tigers perhaps! Hope this is of some interest.

Stan Jelley (now 83 and not running.)

Arch and Stan Jelley represent a way of thinking that brought New Zealand athletes to the top of the world. It’s basic; it’s honest; it’s fair, it’s essentially New Zealand. Ed Hillary, Rusty Robertson, Fred Allen, Arthur Lydiard – they all had it. Richard Tonks and Robbie Deans of rowing and rugby have it as well. Graham Henry, the All Black’s coach does not.

Since returning to New Zealand I have been surprised at the concern felt about the direction of elite swimming. People may talk to me more because they know Swimwatch has promoted an alternative view on how things should be done. That does not make their concerns any less genuine. These are not the views of a radical disenfranchised fringe out there in radio talk-back land. These are informed New Zealanders who think the additional $60million the New Zealand Government is about to put into elite sport, much of it at the Millennium Institute is about to be misspent.

Take the father who on Tuesday this week told me he enjoyed Swimwatch. He said he had a daughter who had been the best at her event in New Zealand but when she declined an invitation to join the Millennium Institute training group she was abandoned by the organization. Her funding was reduced. The fawning attention she had received during the courting period disappeared. It was clear, he said, that the line promoted on the other side of Auckland’s Harbor Bridge was the only acceptable line.

Take the communication’s student and ex-swimmer who pleaded with me not to publish this article. The bosses of elite swimming in New Zealand, she said, will not tolerate an alternative point of view. Dissent would hurt the sport. Dissent would see an end to Sky Sport and Murray Deaker reporting swimming events. Of course the article is being published. My country is not the Soviet empire yet. Her concern however reflected the fear in the parent who wanted to meet me but preferred it to be in a downtown coffee shop, “in case someone from the North Shore” sees us. It’s all not very healthy.

Take the coach who told me he had decided their Club would have to “do it” on their own. While his best swimmers continued to swim with him they could expect little assistance from the Millennium Institute. It was, he said, his club against the Institute.

Take the suggestion that good coaches hand over their best swimmers to some coach at the Millennium Institute for “elite” training. If that suggestion had been made by Clive Rushton when Cameron was coaching North Shore she would have dismissed it out of hand; Cameron hand over her swimmers to Clive Rushton? Yeah right. I hope Winter, Kent, Miehe and a dozen others dismiss the current idea with equal vigor.

And all these conversations took place in just the last five days. This is not Swimwatch being strident. This is simply reporting discussions that should cause those responsible for the sport concern.

It wouldn’t be so bad if swimming was making progress. In their blurb promoting swimming on the North Shore the “After the Millennium Idea” results in the table below are shown to support the brilliance of what’s happening over there. But when the results from an earlier generation of swimmers are added the brilliance dulls. Without question, we were better when New Zealanders took care of their own business.