Archive for July, 2010

New Delhi Commonwealth Games

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

By David

I must begin by apologizing to any American readers. This post is going to be all about the Commonwealth Games. In swimming terms the Commonwealth Games is not the world’s best meet. Certainly the Pan Pacific Games being held in the US shortly will see some far better swimming. However New Zealand is besotted with the Commonwealth Games. Sport’s funding decisions, pages of news print and hours of broadcast time are spent predicting results and analyzing performances.

So, how is New Zealand going to get on in the swimming pool at this year’s Games in New Delhi, India? It is an important Commonwealth Games for swimming. For years the National Coach has been promising us an international swimming nirvana. This time she must deliver. Whatever the result, she owns it. Four years ago in Melbourne Australia, New Zealand won six medals. The table below shows the details of these results. If we don’t do better than that in New Delhi, the past four years of effort and money will have been wasted. If we don’t do better than that I’m told SPARC are not going to be very happy and will probably cut the state financial lifeline that keeps swimming afloat – if you’ll excuse the pun.

One indication of how New Zealand might fare in New Delhi is the current Commonwealth rankings. The table below shows the name and place of the best New Zealander in each event, based on three swimmers per Commonwealth country. If the best New Zealander is outside the Commonwealth’s top eight the table just records this as “NA” and “outside the top eight”.

Fortunately medals at Olympic and Commonwealth Games are not decided by world rankings. If they were Peter Snell would never have won the Olympic 800 track title. So while the ranking data suggests New Zealand will only win one bronze medal in the women’s 50 backstroke it is entirely possible we could do better than that. Sadly it is equally possible we could do worse. Australia, Canada and South Africa are as strong as ever but in the past four years swimming in the UK has improved dramatically. The efforts of Swettenham and the injection of a truck load of lottery money have borne fruit. And in the Commonwealth Games an improvement in the UK is a quadruple problem for New Zealand. Good UK swimmers can represent Scotland, England, Ireland or Wales.

I think New Zealand will do better than one bronze medal. In particular I rate Melissa Ingram as a very good athlete. In World Cup events a year ago she was superb; competing against and beating the world’s best. On that tour she showed the character that it takes to win medals at an international Games. I also like Bell; he’s a bit of a rebel and that often helps win races.

Just to do as well as New Zealand did four years ago is not going to be easy. Winning the eight or nine medals required to demonstrate progress and justify the financial resources provided to those responsible for the sport’s elite performance is unlikely. For years New Zealand has been told swimming is building for the future. Well, the future is now.

Give Us A Break Mate

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

By David

The Auckland Winter Championships have come and gone. West Auckland Aquatics have doing alright; seventy four personal best swims out of one hundred and twelve starts. That’s a PB ration of 66%; not bad, but not brilliant either. After experiencing a major coaching change, it’s probably good enough to satisfy the criteria of seeing the team make some progress. And we did qualify nine swimmers for the Age Group Nationals in Christchurch later in the year. Only three so far have qualified for the Open Nationals in the holiday town of Mt. Manganui on the 12 November. They are three good swimmers and should do well in the Nationals. Their task hasn’t been made easy though by a stunning bit of programming.

New Zealand has national examinations called NCEAs that are taken by students in their third, fourth and fifth years in High School. It seems that Swimming New Zealand have programmed the Spring National Championships from the 12-14 November. The NCEA exams begin nationwide one day later on the 15 November. Not much in the way of pathway planning there. I wonder how much thought went into arriving at the worst possible conflict with every New Zealand High School student’s academic and swimming progress.

As is normal all over the world on occasions such as the Auckland Winter Championships you encounter the good, the bad and the ugly. For example, I was surprised at the number of people who swam in the preliminaries and qualified for an “A” or “B” final and decided to scratch. From thirty four events forty seven swimmers decided the heat swim was enough for them. One of the forty seven was from West Auckland Aquatics. I’m not sure what the international norm is in this case but an average of almost 1.5 swimmers scratching from each final does seem high. It suggests that too many good swimmers are treating their regional Championships as a morning training opportunity. That would not be right.

Our team was appointed to sit next to the United Swim Team coached by Jonathan Winter. I’d like to know who decides the allocation of the seating these days. When I left New Zealand West Auckland Aquatics always sat down the other end of the pool. North Shore still sits where they always have. Why don’t we? Anyway, the good part about being shifted was we were next to the United Swim Team. All weekend I was entertained by Jonathan Winter, recounting stories about what he a Mark Haumona got up to in the “old days”. For those of you who don’t know who Mark Haumona was; he swam butterfly for New Zealand and was noted as a hard case. I’m told he is a teacher these days. He’d be very good at that – the poacher turned gamekeeper. No wonder Jonathan Winter is one of New Zealand’s best coaches. His easy manner and calm disposition are in the best traditions of New Zealand’s finest coaches. Lydiard, Jelley and Laing had the same quality. Swimmers perform at their best for a coach like that. Referring to a point made on Swimwatch several articles ago; I have no idea why we import foreign coaches when New Zealand has the likes of Winter around. Hopefully one day soon that will change.

Yes, it was a fun weekend; well run and, unlike some Florida meets, spread across relatively short sessions. My daughter Jane followed our team’s results on the internet. She sent me an email towards the end of the weekend. All it said was, “Somewhere Ross is pleased.” The Ross she referred to is Ross Anderson, close personal friend and coach of West Auckland Aquatics through many of its most successful years. He was New Zealand Coach of the Year in 1987 and Head Coach at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. For three consecutive years from 1992 to 1994 the Ross Anderson led West Auckland Aquatics team won the Cain Trophy awarded to New Zealand’s top club. Ross resigned from the Club in March 1997 and died a couple of months later. But, to my mind, Ross Anderson is still part of this team. He set the standard by which our work and today’s West Auckland Aquatics club should be judged. If, as Jane says, “Somewhere Ross is pleased” then we have done well.

Swimming History

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

By David

Last week’s Swimwatch story has prompted some interesting correspondence. You may recall the story was about the Auckland Winter Championships. In it we mentioned some of the characters that have swum for the West Auckland Aquatics swim team in the past. Regular readers may also remember that several weeks ago we published an article about one of New Zealand’s master track coaches, Arch Jelley. The two stories were unusually linked by the arrival of this photograph in our email mailbox.

There may be more to this photograph than I know. However, even the bits that I do know make it a genuine piece of New Zealand sporting history. As you can see the picture was taken in 1980 and shows the Sunnybrae Normal Primary School’s Auckland championship swim team. You would be excused for thinking there was nothing too remarkable about that. However, at least three members of the team make the photograph unusual.

First there is John Steel. He’s the blonde haired guy on the far left of the back row. For years John swam for the West Auckland Aquatics team and was New Zealand’s best 100 and 200 freestyler. John competed for New Zealand in two Olympic Games; Barcelona and Atlanta. He won a bronze medal in the 4×200 Freestyle Relay at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand and four years later won two silver medals (4x100m Freestyle and 4x200m Freestyle Relays) at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. He was pretty well known in the United States as well. He spent four years swimming for USC and in his senior year was Captain of their men’s swim team. His coach at USC was Mark Schubert who also coached Rhi Jeffrey, John Foster and Joseph Skuba before they swam with me in Florida. The swimming world is a small place sometimes. John Steel now works for Air New Zealand as a flight attendant.

Fifth from the left in the middle row is Nick Sanders. He also rose to swimming fame as a member of the West Auckland Aquatics team. He swam the 50 and 100 Freestyle and 100 Butterfly for New Zealand in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. His fastest 50 Freestyle time of 23.32 was set in Rome in 1990. The time stood as New Zealand’s fastest 50 for thirteen years until 2003 when fellow West Auckland Aquatics team member Brad Herring lowered it to 23.27. Last year the New Zealand Olympic Association set out to track down the 1111 athletes that have represented New Zealand in Olympic competition. They accounted for all but nine. One of the “lost” nine was Nick Sanders.

And the Coach of all this talent? None other than Arch Jelley. He’s on the far right of the photograph, without a swimsuit. At the time he was Principal of Sunnybrae Normal Primary School. I have always been quite proud to have coached both international runners and swimmers. Arch has me well beaten. Nick Sanders, John Steel and John Walker, there is no trumping that. Perhaps the best part of this story though is that shortly after this photograph was taken Arch Jelley appointed another teacher, Sheridan Fish, as the swim team’s Assistant Coach. It didn’t take long for the swim team to be known as the Sunnybrae “Jelleyfish”.

Sunnybrae, West Auckland Aquatics, John Steel, Nick Sanders and Ross Anderson; it was all there long before the days of SPARC, Millennium Institutes, carding and pathways. But the Jelleyfish that ended up at West Auckland Aquatics did all right I think. And that’s a tradition well worth preserving for swimmers in west Auckland today.

Auckland Winter Champs

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

By David

Next week we’re off to the Auckland Winter Championships. Actually we’re not “off” to them at all. Being as we operate out of the Henderson Pool, the Auckland Winter Championships are coming to us. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always enjoyed the meet, right back to when I swam in it in the late 1960s. The meet wasn’t held in the Henderson Pool back then. Henderson only became its home in the early 1990s.

Two of our swimmers, Nikki and Jessica

In 1969 I won the senior men’s 100 breaststroke title. New Zealand’s star breaststroker at the time was Joco Ruzio-Saban. He was from Auckland but fortunately for me he didn’t enter the Championships in 1969. Coming from rural Gisborne winning the Auckland Championships was a very big deal; or at least the local Gisborne Herald said it was. The time was painfully slow. Many years later when Jane won the women’s version of the same race she was about eight seconds ahead of her struggling parent. Mind you she did not have to deal with some of the ancient rules that made breaststroke harder to swim in the old days. I taught our Bronze Squad (that’s the young swimmers) 1969 breaststroke at practice today. They seemed to enjoy swimming along, with the old wide kick and head stuck up out of the water breaststroke that we used to swim. I heard Xavier tell his mates that this was the way the “old ladies” in the aqua-jogging lane swam breaststroke.

When Toni Jeffs came to Wellington to train the first “away” meet we took her to was the Auckland Winter Championships. On the flight to Auckland Toni, Gary Hurring and I were upgraded to First Class. Gary and I were sitting towards the back of the First Class section. Toni was near the front sitting next to Roger Douglas who, at the time, was the Government’s Minister of Finance. I leaned over and said to Gary in what I thought was a soft stage whisper, “Who’s that gray haired old bugger sitting next to Toni Jeffs from Wellington, New Zealand?” It can’t have been soft enough. Roger Douglas turned around, gave a small wave and a smile and said, “It’s Roger Douglas from Auckland, New Zealand.”

Several years later when all the controversy about Toni being sponsored by Tiffany’s Night Club was swirling around, Television New Zealand would call me in Wellington to see if our team was swimming in the Auckland Winter Championships. If we were entered a news crew would be sent out to Henderson to record the event. I’m afraid we don’t merit that attention these days; not yet anyway. Come to think of it no one does.

Back in those days our team always sat with Coach Ross Anderson and his West Auckland Aquatics swim team. Little wonder he was New Zealand’s best coach. He was a man who saw the big picture better than most. No matter what the controversy or gossip when we walked in the door of the Henderson Pool there was always a cheery wave and a, “Come and sit with us, David.” He had a great team too; John Steel, Johnny Munro, Ross Anderson Junior, Paul Kent, Nick Sanders, Craig Ford and Georgina Hall. Now there’s a list of characters. The place and the meet will not be quite the same without Ross Anderson. I just hope we can do a good job with the team that I still think of as being partly his.

Jane qualified for her first New Zealand Open Nationals swimming at the Auckland Winter Championships. She was eleven and won the 50 breaststroke in a time that was a hundredth of a second under the qualifying time. She was naturally pleased and came up to her father and coach and breathlessly exclaimed, “I did it.” I had no idea what she was talking about and asked, “You did what?” There is a moral in that. Too many swimmers are under too much pressure from coach and parent to qualify for this or swim fast in that. Swimmers generate their own pressure. There is little need for us to add to it. Lydiard used to say, “If it doesn’t happen naturally it won’t happen at all.” It’s good advice.

We’ve got twenty one swimmers entered in the 2010 version of the Auckland Winter Championships. It will be interesting to see how they go. They are a good group of swimmers who have worked well to understand their new coach and his strange training ideas. Since I arrived back from the United States there has only been time to do eight weeks of build up conditioning, one week of anaerobic swimming and three weeks of trials and coordination training. But, the Auckland Winter Championships have been good to us in the past. Let’s just hope that run continues. Two of the team’s seniors, i and Jessica are in this photograph. They are both great fun to have around; Jessica contentious and reserved, Nikki, larger than life, a New Zealand version of Rhi Jeffrey. With them and Zane, Justin, Kirsty, Anaru, Amelia, Jane, Sarah, Sophie and eleven others it should be a fun weekend. We will let you know.

We Need More Volunteers

Friday, July 9th, 2010

By David

“We need three more timekeepers before we can start the meet.” In the world of competitive swimming you hear that announcement all the time. Without a huge army of volunteers the sport would quickly grind to a halt. I’ve become more aware of the role volunteers play since returning to New Zealand. In my Florida team paid staff performed many of the tasks volunteers handle in New Zealand. Invoicing training fees and preparing meet entries are two time consuming examples. I hate to think what Florida’s County bureaucrats would have made of a parent preparing the monthly pool invoice or collecting training fees. The beginnings of a Bernie Madoff incident would have been suspected and a dawn raid planned to deal with the scam. Don’t laugh, they thought dawn raids were entirely rational behavior. America sends the world a message of slick efficiency but some of the worst bureaucratic jungles exist in that country and it’s getting worse.

That’s not to say US Swimming doesn’t benefit from the work of thousands of volunteers. In 2009 there were 29,557 non athlete members registered to US Swimming. Of these 2,129 were full time coaches; Florida had 140. That still leaves 28,000 other non athlete members helping run the sport in the United States. In addition there are thousands of others who work at meets but are not registered with the national association. Some of them are real hard workers. I knew a lady in Florida who was the mother of a Florida State High School 100 freestyle champion. She was an amazing worker. She updated the team’s notice board, ran the hospitality service for each swim meet, recruited the officials necessary to run local meets, organized the team Christmas party and spent hours standing on the pool deck, in the Florida sun, inspecting starts and turns. Best of all she did it in a good spirit; happy to be part of things working well. Another exceptional volunteer in America was an attorney who was on the Club’s Board. I would think he provided the team and me with about an average of two hours of his time every week for five years. The normal charge out rate for a senior attorney in the United States is $350 an hour. In five years that’s $182,000 of free advice. He insisted on paying his full swimming training fees as well. Yes, there are some very good people out there.

Good volunteers in New Zealand are no different. We have four grafters I must tell you about. First of all there is the team handicapper. “What on earth is that?” I hear every United States reader ask. Well, in New Zealand, the person who processes the team’s racing results and meet entries is called a Handicapper. I suspect the origin of the name dates back to when many swimming races in New Zealand were handicapped with some swimmers starting at go while the faster swimmers waited for a predetermined delay before they could swim. The delays were calculated by the team’s Handicapper – hence the name. Handicap races don’t exist any longer but the name lives on. Our team handicapper has been doing the job for the Club since forever and she’s very good at it. And it’s not an easy job. Somebody is always late with their entry; someone else wants to change the 400 IM to the 50 Free one day after the entry’s closing date. It’s a nightmare. Since I’ve been back in New Zealand the team has entered six meets. Two days before each meet I’ve been presented with a printout of the entries – no stress, no drama, just a real good volunteer.

The second of our team’s four grafters looks after the team’s correspondence, updates the notice board and distributes information to members via email. It is all important and all done well. The one I like best though is the Notice Board. There’s nothing worse than having an out-of-date Notice Board. No one is interested in reading the training timetable changes from 2008. Worse are those faded newspaper cuttings and team lists so old that the paper is cracked and curled. It makes the Club look bad. If the Notice Board is a shambles what else isn’t being done right. Well we don’t have that problem. From a coach’s point of view, our Notice Boards are so good I don’t bother remembering half the things I should anymore. Someone asks me something I just point to the Notice Board; it’s all there.

The last two grafters come as a pair. They do the office stuff; invoice the team’s training fees, prepare monthly and annual accounts, apply for grants, pay invoices and pay the coach’s wages: best to keep in good with them. If it’s the team’s money, they’ve got it counted. They work early every morning while the team is at practice. In spite of the hour they seem happy enough. I occasionally call in to make a cup of coffee and it’s like a good British comedy in there; stories, laughs and good hearted banter. I won’t be able to tell this story nearly as well as it was told to me but two days ago one of the grafters had a disaster at home; her washing machine broke down. The wretched thing wouldn’t drain properly. In fact it had been getting worse for a couple of months. Finally a plumber was called. He searched and searched and finally he found a pair of our grafter’s panties – in New Zealand they are called knickers – stuck in the drainage pipe. “I was so embarrassed.” she said, “I wondered where they’d gone.”

So there you have it, good volunteers not only keep the place going they provide entertainment as well.