New Zealand Swimming Championships 2011

By David

I begin this story with a heavy heart. The New Zealand Swimming Championships have just ended. It was the most contemptible and depressing version of this meet I have ever attended. The meet now reflects perfectly the character and personality of the person who has led this sport in New Zealand for a decade; full of intrigue and deception, politics and graft. It was a most disheartening sight.

But before I address the concerns that have brought swimming to its knees, I am pleased to report that Swimwatch has hired a prominent firm of attorneys to investigate and report on the decision of the Swimming New Zealand Board to alter the published minutes of the 2010 Annual General Meeting. In particular, I have asked the attorneys to consider whether the SNZ Board’s decision to remove a properly passed remit from the minutes is in any way illegal or unconstitutional and what further action they would recommend. We will report to you in full on their findings. As you can well imagine this type of action is something Swimwatch can ill afford. However the sport of swimming can even less afford to have a group at its head who alter the course of history if it doesn’t suit them.

Jan Cameron’s ways are an abomination. They deny all the good this proud little country represents. I walked into the pool on the first day of competition to find that Cameron’s Millennium Institute swimmers were permanently located in privileged seats next to the New Zealand selectors while the rest of us were expected to shift around the pool to a new location every day. The Millennium swimmers arrived in their black and silver outfits already adorned with the silver fern. There is no need for any of them to win an international swimming race – they already have the finest seats in the building and have become heirs to a uniform their predecessors had to earn. I have the privilege of living in a home where my wife and my daughter represented New Zealand in track and swimming. I have also coached a dozen athletes who have represented four different nations. I know the effort it took them to earn and the value they put on their national uniform. New Zealand’s uniform is not for some Australian to give away to anybody that turns up at her Millennium Institute.

I have also been fortunate enough to attend swim meets with swimmers whose names you might recognize – Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Dara Torres, Amanda Weir, Ian Thorp, Matt Biondi and several other similarly prominent names. Without exception these swimmers sat with their club mates. They mixed happily with those who would never progress past the heats. They displayed a humility that kept them in touch with reality; that kept them aware that they must perform. Even at this meet names like Danyon Loader, Rhi Jeffrey, Gary Hurring, Paul Kent and Jon Winter sat with the common herd. But with four Olympic medals and a dozen World Championship finals between them I guess they represent the sport the way it used to be. The way it was before Cameron.

I owe New Zealand’s Head Coach, Mark Regan, an apology. Here, at Swimwatch, we assumed Regan was a willing Cameron puppet. We were wrong. He was actually her pawn. He was employed as a temporary stand in, to fill in time before Cameron could complete her real mission of appointing her son to the position of New Zealand’s National Coach. At these National Championships Cameron took the next step towards assembling her family dynasty. The team of coaches selected to accompany New Zealand’s swimmers to the World Championships excluded the National Coach, Mark Regan. The three coaches that will travel with the team are Cameron’s son, Scott Talbot, Christchurch coach Leanne Speechley and Invercargill coach Jeremy Duncan. I would be surprised if Regan did not see this as the insult, Cameron certainly intended. He will resign and Cameron will announce that her son will reluctantly step in to save Swimming New Zealand in its hour of need; mission accomplished. But really, you would have to be pretty bloody stupid to believe it was any way to run a national sport. For four years Swimwatch has been pleading for the sport to stand-up to the Cameron dictatorship. This time perhaps someone is listening.

I watched Scott Talbot closely during the Woman’s 100 freestyle final. The race was a essentially a head to head contest between a swimmer from the Millennium Institute, Tash Hind, and a swimmer who left Scott Talbot ten weeks ago to be coached in the United States, Hayley Palmer. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they react in circumstances like that. Well, in this case Tash Hind won and Scott Talbot danced all over Hayley Palmer. He pumped the air and beat his chest. They say sport does not make character, but certainly reveals it. What was revealed in this instance was most unpleasant. Swimming New Zealand with Scott Talbot in charge will be a nasty place. Good manners, breeding and dignity will recede further into our past. Mark Regan has done a good job in exceptionally difficult circumstances. He should be going to the World Championships in China. We wish him better in the future than he has been dealt here.

The announcement of the World Championship team was a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. I was pleased to see “B” qualifiers, Hayley Palmer, Dylan Dunlop-Barrett and Matthew Stanley, selected. One thing I don’t understand though. While Hayley Palmer’s selection is a good one and well deserved, I’d have thought Cameron would have preferred to have her finger nails removed than select the swimmer who rejected her son’s coaching. I’d love to know what caused Cameron sufficient grief; what put her under enough pressure that she included New Zealand’s fastest female swimmer on the team. We will never know but there must have been something. It’s the only time I’ve seen her chicken out of anything. Perhaps she is afraid of the SPARC investigation. I hope so.

Cameron’s influence on the sport of swimming in New Zealand has been awful. The National Championships are not a patch on what they used to be. Ironically though it was Cameron who provided one of the event’s best moments. A swimmer who had been in Cameron’s office recently was telling me about the visit. In a voice positively complete with awe she said, “There is a name plate that goes all the way across Cameron’s desk.” With a title like “Swimming New Zealand General Manager of Performance and Pathways”, I guess it probably does. With an once of luck though, it won’t be there much longer.

From our Club, Jessica Marston performed best, improving her 100 freestyle by one second, her 200 by the same amount, her 400 by four seconds and her 800 by ten seconds; just reward for 664 kilometers she swam in this season’s eight weeks of build up aerobic conditioning.

  • Chris

    I am horrified that the national team is off to a World Champs with 3 inexperienced coaches. Even Scott Talbot with a few campaigns under his belt is by no stretch of the imagination an experienced coach with the commensurate maturity. Compared to Teri McKeever – not a patch! While he is undoubtedly talented, is he any more talented than Gary Hurring, Paul Kent, Jon Winter? How would they fair if given the favoured resource and ready-made talent of the HPC? Certainly by the behaviour at the Awards evening where Scott had an “incident” (as a result of way too much drink which delayed some of the proceedings) it doesn’t bode well. With that sort of mentoring, is it any wonder that Daniel Bell’s bad behaviour continues unabated, without a shred of personal responsibility. There was always the hope that if he was able to get out from the shadow of his parents he would be able to truly flourish, but by recent observations, he has unfortunately inherited a vicious streak that is guaranteed to be a disaster in a touring team already divided by factions. I truly fear for those on his and his mother’s hit list.

    Forgive me, but I thought that Mark Regan was brought in as Head Coach of the national team, funded by SPARC, because of his Olympic podium experience (which he does have – Petria Thomas, no doubting about that). And it seems that many of his swimmers do rate him. Just read that very enlightening article in the Herald about Lauren Boyle not being a happy bunny, because yet again, they leave the coaches behind who have the most swimmers. They did it last year with Thomas Ansorg, which undoubtedly was the final straw for Moss, and they are doing it again. According to my simple reckoning, Mark Regan has more swimmers than anyone, and the highest FINA ranked (Lauren) which does nothing other than confirm the charge of serious manipulation in the selection process. So what the hell is going on?

  • Suey

    My husband and I are active in our own sporting fields and avid sports followers.

    We know several top level swimmers, including some at training at HPC, however, we have no affiliation to swimming, no children swimming, no inside lead. We just like it.

    I have been reading Swim Watch and the Swimming NZ website with interest. It is no secret that there is disharmony in the air.

    So it is with interest and an open mind that I watched highlights each day from the NZ Nationals.

    Listening to the commentary each day it was abundantly clear, unfortunately, where there is smoke, there is fire.

    By the end of the week I felt swimmers fall into the following categories:

    1. One or two favourite swimmers who’s praises were sung at full noise.

    2. The swimmers that were cutting the mustard but trained overseas, better say something good about them.

    3. Swimmers also cutting the mustard but from Clubs around the Country, try to be encouraging, but don’t really want them to shine too much.

    4. Last but not least, there were the swimmers that the commentator couldn’t even speak a word about. The silence said so much.

    So at the end of the Nationals my belief is there are definitely favourites. There are some who are definitely not.

    But when personnel cannot put personal feelings out of the picture, NZ will never know how many great swimmers are not getting a fair opportunity of reaching their very best potential.

    PS. Wouldn’t it be nice to send another swimmer or two to Worlds and one or two less officials? Just a thought!

  • Suey – I found your analysis of the Sky commentary very interesting. I am sure your description is accurate. I am also sure that the bias you have detected in the commentary has real consequences in the day to day selection and treatment of swimmers. Unfortunatly that has been the case in swimming for ten years or so now. A weak administration has allowed Cameron free rein to do what she likes. Her era has been uniformly bad.

    Chis – I agree. In Florida I coached a very good butterfly swimmer. He swam at Auburn for four years before he joined our Club team in Florida. He loved telling yarns about the weekend evenings Scott’s Auburn team mates spent getting drunk on what he called “Scott’s mother’s credit card.” He called Scott the “life of the party.” Scott, Bell and Jan’s credit card – now there’s a potent little trio.

  • Paul Newnham

    Hi David,
    Great comment above. Took our daughter, the swimmer, 11, to the finals session on Friday for inspiration. She usually sneaks down to the poolside and chats with her heroes. This meet she didn’t want to sneak among the titans becuase she couldn’t see many of them from the grandstand!
    Maybe it’s just that New Zealand is a corrupt place! Had dinner with friends who were involved in shooting. The story goes, speak your mind, piss off officals, win national champs by a country mile, win aussie nationals, win Olympic trial shoot by a healthy margin, selector counts the first three rounds only for some reason and the second placed shooter goes to the games!
    Australia are focused on bringing home the loot. The US are focused on bringing home the loot. We are focused on bringing home our souvenirs from the company paid junket!
    Keep up the good work David.
    Regards Paul

  • Rhi Jeffrey

    YAY for Hayley being selected. That would have been compete bullsh*t if she hadn’t.