Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent

By David

A year ago the West Auckland Aquatics Swim Team swam in the Auckland Winter Championships. For American readers that’s a state championship and is swum here as a short course meters event. We didn’t perform all that well. Jane Ip won the team’s only medal, a bronze in the 50 meters breaststroke. We certainly needed to do better than that this year. A week ago the 2011 Auckland Winter Championships were held. How did West Auckland Aquatics get on?

Actually the week of the competition started pretty badly. The team’s only finalist in the New Zealand Summer Nationals, Jessica Marston, developed a sore shoulder. I talked it over with New Zealand’s best track coach, Arch Jelley, who said to take her out of the meet. Swimming at race speeds was just too big a risk. So while the other swimmers were given a few days rest poor old Jessica was toiling through another week of aerobic distance conditioning. A week later her shoulder is fine and Jessica has an extra hundred kilometres in her aerobic build-up account.

Over the years I’ve heard dozens of coaches proclaim that the race results of their swimmers have been especially good because their team is in “hard training”. Scott Talbot is forever using the “hard training” option. It is usually the sign of a coach who needs a pre-prepared excuse in case his charges don’t perform. Having said that, I am about to use the same “hard training” defence. West Auckland Aquatics do a pretty traditional ten week Lydiard/Jelley build-up; lots of long steady paced swimming – even the occasional 8000 meters medley and one 10,000 meter straight swim. The table below shows the distances swum by our senior swimmers through this season’s build-up. The Auckland Winter Championships were held during week nine. I think you can see that our swimmers were actually racing in the middle of “hard training”. The distances shown in the table are kilometres per week.

And so, with our excuses declared, here is how the West Auckland Aquatics swimmers listed in the table got on this year. Jessica, we have already mentioned. She laboured while the others played. This build-up has been pretty good for Jessica; averaging 85.3 kilometres through the ten weeks. She will be rewarded for that effort later in the season.

Nikki Johns is a remarkable individual. I have written about her on Swimwatch before. You may remember that in the past few months her large intestine became infected and she ended up having most of it removed. In spite of that she’s back swimming and has averaged 31 kilometres a week over the past ten weeks. In the Auckland Winters Nikki recorded a series of times close to her personal bests. After the summer she has been through it is impossible to believe that she is back swimming, let alone recording times that will see her swim in the National Winter Championships again this August.

Abigail just sneaked ahead of Jessica to record the team’s biggest build-up; averaging 85.8 kilometres. In spite of doing no speed work Abigail recorded an impressive five personal best times from five swims. Twelve seconds off her 800 freestyle, four seconds off her 400 freestyle and three seconds off her 100 breaststroke were especially memorable. All swimmers earn the progress they make; but Abigail perhaps more than most.

This weekend was Rhi’s first meet on her return to competitive swimming. In world terms the Auckland Championship is a lovely, intimate almost picnic style meet. Certainly it does not rival the Athens Olympic Games or the Barcelona World Championships where Rhi has previously mined for gold. However Rhi’s performance in Auckland rivalled her swims at those more illustrious events. She arrived in New Zealand five months ago. She was 30 kilograms overweight and couldn’t break 30 seconds for 50 meters freestyle. Last weekend she has lost the 30 kilograms and she swam 25.43, 55.50 and 2.00.99 for the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle. Only an awesome talent could pull that off. Beware America one of your best is on her way back.

Justin’s week leading up to the meet was full of drama. At the request of his parents Swimming New Zealand had suspended his membership and banned him from our club. He took his case to court and won. The news of his legal victory and friendship with Rhi circled the world. USA Today, London Metro, Sydney’s Morning Herald and Sky Sport all reported Justin’s story. I was concerned. How would all this affect his swimming? Nothing but good it seems; eight swims and seven personal bests. The best was probably a two second improvement in his 100 fly from 58.86 to 56.65. Although improving his 50 fly from 26.86 to 25.54 wasn’t too bad either. It seems the pressure of worldwide attention is not something that concerns this fine New Zealand sportsman.

Jane is fourteen and is the Club’s best breaststroke swimmer. She’s talented, she’s mature beyond her years and she does not like the long kilometres of aerobic conditioning. This build-up has been her best, averaging 38.1 kilometres per week. The distance does not seem to have hurt; twelve races for nine personal bests. My daughter Jane Copland was a pretty accomplished breaststroke swimmer, winning national open championships and setting national open and age group records. On a recent visit to New Zealand daughter Jane told me she thought Jane Ip was destined for good things in this sport. I think she might be right.

And finally there is Zane. Now he is talented. In fact, whatever the stroke, he’s bloody good at it. Unfortunately his early childhood coaches exploited his talent and stripped mined his potential. That sort of coaching is nothing short of abuse. I’ve spent a year working with him to rebuild the determination needed to succeed at sport. He has averaged 26.9 kilometres through this build-up. That needs to improve but is a huge step forward from where he was at a year ago. He swam four races at the Championships and managed one personal best time. I hope we see the best of this swimmer. It will be an impressive sight.

And was our medal count better than twelve months ago? Yep, we did improve. Our one lonely bronze turned into nine medals; three gold, three silver and three bronze. There is still a long way to go to match the deeds of the Ross Anderson led West Auckland Aquatics. But we are on our way.

  • Paul Newnham

    We attended the meet with our 11 year old daughter. She trains with these athletes, she sits with them at meets, she claps and cheers when they race. A gold medal winning swimmer actually talks to her!
    I don’t professes to know what goes on in her head, but I do know she loves going to training. She wants to PB. She wants to win and wants to go to the games!
    I know its been a tough year David so thanks for the inspiration your program has given us.
    Paul Newnham

  • it’s cool to hear that Rhi is kicking some butt – can’t wait to see some more meet results from her