Archive for November, 2011

It Means More To Them

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

By David

I have told this story before. It concerns Mohammed Ali who was arriving at Miami Airport. The driver of his car called the airport to arrange to park Ali’s car in a restricted zone that would allow the champion to get through the terminal quickly and avoid the pressing crowds that inevitably gathered when Ali appeared. According to plan, the driver parked in the restricted area and went into the airport to collect his employer. A few minutes later they emerged to find a parking warden, standing at the car, writing a ticket. The chauffer explained that, because this was Mohammed Ali, the airport authorities had approved the arrangement. The warden was incensed – just because Ali was the world heavyweight champion that did not give him the right to park anywhere he wanted – and defiantly stuck the ticket on the car window. The driver was about to argue when Ali gently put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Just take the ticket. It’s more important to him than it is to us.”

About four years ago Rhi had just returned to Florida to train with her old swim team. On her first afternoon there was some excitement around the pool; an Olympic Gold Medallist was back swimming at the pool. I was discussing the afternoon’s training with Rhi when the Pool Manager, a guy called Joe McNeely, came out of his office and strode purposely to where we were standing. “Has Rhi paid to get in he demanded?” “No” I said, “she is joining the swim team and the cost of her pool entry is covered in her coaching fees.” “I don’t care about that,” he said, “has she paid her coaching fees today?” I explained that it was Rhi’s first day back in Florida and her father, who lived in New York, would be paying the fees shortly. McNeely however was not to be deterred. Either Rhi paid her training fees there and then or the cost of pool entry was due. I paid him the four dollars. Clearly it meant more to him than it did to us.

Last weekend a West Auckland Aquatics’ swimmer called in at her boyfriend’s home. Visiting her boyfriend’s parents, at the same time, was the mother of three girls who used to swim at West Auckland Aquatics. She’s the same woman who said to me, “How could you?” when we secured the Court’s approval for Justin to be a member of Swimming New Zealand. On this occasion she asked our swimmer what plans she had for Christmas. Emma explained that she planned to have Christmas lunch at her grandmother’s home. “Oh” came the harsh reply, made crueler by the cutting Irish accent, “I’m surprised HE allows you to have Christmas Day off.”

There is no place in sport for people like her. Rhi, Jess, Justin, Erica, Nikki, Abigail and a dozen others work until they bleed with hurtful chlorine burns and she finds fault. She thinks it’s just fine to demean their efforts. But then, I guess it means more to her than it does to us. At least that’s what I told Emma.

And today I heard that New Zealand swimming official, Jo Davidson, may have been appointed to work at the London Olympic Games. If that’s true it is a fact beyond my comprehension. You see back at the 2002 New Zealand summer championships Jane Copland was favourite to win the 100 and 200 breaststroke. Shortly after the heat of the 200 one of the West Wave life guards came to where I was sitting and said he thought I should know that he had just taken Jo Davidson and two referees down to the underwater viewing windows below the West Wave pool. As he let them in he overheard Davidson tell the referees, “Now, Copland is swimming in the next heat and I will show you what to disqualify her for in the final tonight.”

It turns out the two referees were appointed to act in the finals session that night and Jo Davidson was setting out to ensure a swimmer whose father she didn’t like did not become a national champion. I went to the National Coach, Clive Rushton, and asked him to deal with a rogue official. To his eternal credit Clive took the complaint seriously and called for a hearing. Davidson looked as guilty as hell. And well she should. That sort of behaviour has no place in any sport. Anyone guilty of blatant cheating has no place officiating at an Olympic Games. Swimwatch analytics tell me that there are regular Swimwatch readers in Lucerne, Switzerland. I can only hope this report causes them to alter one of their appointments to the London Olympic Games. Swimming New Zealand will never do anything about her. The bunch of crooks in Wellington probably think Davidson behaviour represents all that’s good in the sport. Knowing what she is capable of they keep putting her name forward as a New Zealand official.

Finally, I heard today that Emily Thomas has just retired. That’s a shame. She is a very good swimmer who represented her country with distinction. Her bronze medal in the 50 meters backstroke at the Pan Pacific Games last year was New Zealand’s best performance since the Jeffs, Simcic, Loader and Langrell era. Who knows what the reasons are for her, all too early, retirement. What is inexcusable is that she has gone without a mention by Swimming New Zealand. This athlete represented the sport of swimming in New Zealand with absolute commitment. Swimming New Zealand has a duty to report and applaud her career. Ignoring her is the sort of inexcusable bad manners we came to expect during the Cameron era. It appears Miskimmin’s hired help know no better.

Mohammed Ali is right. The bad behaviour of the parking warden, Joe McNeely, a mother with an axe to grind, Jo Davidson and Swimming New Zealand is best ignored. Ali’s ability to turn the other cheek deserves the utmost respect. In the meantime us lesser mortals will write the buggers up on Swimwatch.

The Good Guys Gather

Monday, November 28th, 2011

By David

The comments posted on the Melissa Ingram story made interesting reading. I don’t know whether Swimwatch makes a difference or not. I suspect readers comments carry more weight in Wellington than what I say. The author can easily be written off as “he’s always been a trouble maker.” Fitting Tom and Sensible Swimming and Stevie into the same throw away likeness is more difficult; especially when Tom and Sensible Swimming and Stevie so often express views different from those in the main article. Certainly Swimwatch – with a healthy diet of comments – has turned out to be good for swimming.

The sport is going through a period of being badly managed by a Butler, Wrightson, McDonald, Cull and Byrne; five individuals who know nothing about the industry they lead. And it shows. It’s the reason they keep making mistakes like the open water prize money fiasco. People with a deep understanding of elite swimming would not make those errors. The CEO of SPARC, Peter Miskimmin, has backed a bunch of losers. The first rule of good management is to pick good people. Miskimmin has failed that test. In this case he has more than failed. Swimming people on the Swimming New Zealand Board voted four votes to three to get rid of Butler and Wrightson. Miskimmin ordered the vote overturned. Democracy clearly has no standing in his world. At that moment the position of Butler and Wrightson changed. They are no longer Board appointed independent directors. They are servants of Peter Miskimmin, hired to do his bidding. SPARC now has four representatives on the SNZ Board, two observers and two voting members. SPARC runs the sport. All I can hope is that one day Miskimmin is held responsible for the mess he has created. What he did to this Board’s vote is inexcusable dictatorship.

Some readers may have noticed that Swimwatch has been silent on the subject of Auckland Regional Swimming. Normally there would be some comment on an administrative shortcoming. But no, not in the case of Auckland. Why is that, you may wonder? Well, and much to my surprise, Auckland Swimming is bloody well run. I’ve coached here for eighteen months and Auckland is as well run as the best I’ve seen. Brian Palmer does a good job. The Auckland Board do a good job. Sure, I could moan about some small issues, such as holding Championship meets in November. When it’s time to prepare for the summer racing season Auckland puts on two Championships. It is crazy. However all that is insignificant in comparison to the terrific job the rulers of Auckland Swimming do in managing the sport. New Zealand Swimming would be a better place if Peter Miskimmin was appointed grounds man at the National Hockey Stadium in Berhampore and Brian Palmer and the Auckland Board pitched their tents inside Pelorus House for six months.

For example, about two minutes ago I got a text message from Auckland Swimming. There is a swim meet on in Auckland this afternoon. It is one of the Championships I was complaining about earlier in this post. One of our swimmers was disqualified. Unfortunately Coach Kimberly had left the pool just before the disqualification came to light. The Auckland text asked if I was happy for the disqualification to be processed without the required coaching signature. I agreed, but most of all I was left with the thought that here was an organisation that went the extra mile. Florida Gold Coast Swimming do most things very well, but you’d wait a bloody long time to get a disqualification slip out of them in the same circumstances. I happen to know that’s true. At a JO Meet in Coral Springs, Rhi Jeffrey and I once tried in vain to get a slip of any sort. Anyway, Auckland Swimming – thank you.

And now to the subject of this article – The Good Guys Gather. Tomorrow afternoon I have to collect Lara from Manukau. She is arriving on something scarily called, “The Naked Bus.” She’s coming to Auckland to live and swim at West Auckland Aquatics. Her text message this afternoon tells me she’s having trouble packing. I can well imagine that is true. She says her mother has told her to “keep it simple”. Good advice but, I suspect, also very futile.
From Manukau bus station we move on to Auckland Airport to collect Rhi who has been home to Boston for Thanksgiving. In one weekend, a General Election and the return of Rhi; that’s a lot for one small country to handle.
Jess has finished her final year of High School exams; calculus, which she tells me “wasn’t too bad.” I am concerned though. I did hear her talking about a swimmer she met during the recent World Cup meets in Singapore and Beijing. I got the impression this example of all that’s best in swimming came from a nation in the south of Africa.
Nikki returns to New Zealand from a holiday in California. With all that she has been through the break will have done her well.

Abigail has stolen a march on her team mates and has used the final week of her holiday to swim 100 kilometres.
And Bekki, looking tanned and incredibly fit and sporting a new short blonde hair style, that suits her, has arrived back from Boulder, Colorado. She competed in the elite section of the Auckland World Cup triathlon and is now preparing for races later in the New Zealand summer.

The rest of us have enjoyed our final week of holiday. A holiday before what, you may ask? Well, on Monday we begin the build up to the New Zealand Olympic Trials being held in Auckland from 25 March to 30 March 2012. We are aiming to take a team of nine to the trials. It is an important event for West Auckland Aquatics. How successful we are will be determined by what happens in this next eight weeks. We have five swimmers aiming at or close to 100 kilometres a week through the eight weeks. As long as it is swum at a firm pace we should have a good championship. In eight weeks I will let you know how they have done. Get on, that is, through the 100x100s, the 8000 medleys, the 10,000 straight swims, the 6×1000 and 4×1500. On Monday they have 10,000 metres swimming, 30 minutes of heavy weights and 20 minutes running in the morning and 8000 metres swimming in the afternoon. All the stuff that the critics say will see them into early retirement – all the stuff that might just win them a swimming race sometime between the 25 and the 30 March next year.

New Zealand’s Best Swimmer

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

By David

Last Sunday the Herald on Sunday published two very important articles on swimming. The first covered the Machiavellian Board Room antics of Miskimmin and Butler. Andrew Alderson’s article was a most important insight into the management of sport in New Zealand. It is unusual for the main stream media to publish a story like this one. New Zealand is a small country. Just about every sport’s journalist depends on Sky Sport for a portion of their income. As you know Jan Cameron’s husband runs Sky Sport. The effect was that, for a decade, swimming got a free ride from New Zealand’s castrated sport’s journalists. Except, it seems, when Alderson decided to inform New Zealand about the political trickery practiced by SPARC and Swimming New Zealand.

It is pretty well accepted that SPARC is now in full control of what goes on in Swimming New Zealand. Miskimmin with his money and hired guns on the Swimming New Zealand Board runs the show. He decided who would be Chairman and President. He appointed the two SPARC observers and nominated and voted for himself to run the latest Review Committee. You can’t buy a paper clip down there without processing a requisition order through the CEO of SPARC. Whatever happens in London is down to Miskimmin. There should be no misunderstanding on that point. The successes and failures of the New Zealand team at the London Olympic Games belong to Peter Miskimmin. London will not be a test of how good New Zealand swimming people are at their job. London will be a test of Peter Miskimmin’s management and the men in dark suits he hired to do his bidding. Swimming people wanted Butler and Wrightson gone – out of there. Miskimmin said they had to stay. Well, Peter, you made the decision, you live with it. You backed the slick insurance salesman from Nelson. We think you were wrong. But now you stand and fall by consequences of decisions that are your responsibility.

Actually it was the second article by Andrew Alderson in last weekend’s Herald on Sunday that really caught my interest. In it Alderson discussed the progress of Melissa Ingram. In particular I was fascinated by the last paragraph of his report. Here is what it says.

Ingram is prepared to leave nothing to chance. The Herald on Sunday understands that could mean moving on from current coach Scott Talbot – potentially leaving the high performance coach with no Olympic swimmers – but she is too loyal to say.

“I’m now in the process of planning my pathway to London and I’m hoping Swimming New Zealand will help me with that.

“I was disappointed with my campaign at the world championships [15th in the 200m backstroke semifinalists], some mistakes were made with my programming. That won’t happen before London.”

I have spoken about Melissa Ingram before on Swimwatch. I would not blame her for being very annoyed that I refer to her without her permission and without ever having spoken to her. For that I apologise. However, with her indulgence one more time, I was taken with what this report said and by what it failed to say.

I first saw Melissa Ingram swim a couple of years ago at World Cup swim meets in Moscow, Stockholm and Berlin. When I first noticed that a swimmer from the New Zealand Millennium Institute was entered, I was prepared to be hugely under-impressed. I thought, here comes another product of the Cameron welfare state. My first surprise was when she turned up in Moscow on her own. Not only that, she went about her business with dignity and calm. But best of all she was a winner. This sceptic was wrong. I was hugely impressed; proud to come from the same country as this fine athlete.

Some of you may know that I spent several years watching the likes of Quax, Dixon and Walker compete and beat the best runners in the world. These were tough professional men doing their job and doing it well. They were all Olympic medallists. Two of them were world record holders and the third won the New York marathon. After watching Melissa Ingram in three meets she was their equal in every way – quite simply New Zealand’s best swimmer. And, in my view, she still is.

If Melissa Ingram struggles in London she will have been let down by Swimming New Zealand and its SPARC owners. She will not have let them down. Melissa Ingram knows more about swimming than anyone running Swimming New Zealand. She knows exactly what will work best for her through to London. For what it’s worth, my advice to Pelorus House is to find out what Melissa Ingram wants and give it to her. If she wants to work out on the dark side of Mars, find a way of getting her there. If she wants McDonalds after practice every morning, send her the vouchers. If, as this article suggests, she wants to change her coach, support that decision. Every swimmer of Melissa Ingram’s standing, must have the right to be coached by someone of their choice. Clearly she has a plan in mind for what she needs to perform well in London. Make sure she gets it. Melissa Ingram is one of the world’s best swimmers. Swimming New Zealand should start treating her like one.

There is a philosophy behind the stance taken in this article. The vast majority of athletes who win the Olympic Games are men and women, not boys and girls. Cameron was a control freak who insisted on disciplines appropriate for grade school but not relevant for adults wanting to win the Olympic Games. Her juvenile treatment of the team was one reason New Zealand performed badly during her time in charge. The remnants of that regime are still there and will take time to wane. But, for Melissa Ingram at least, wane they must if New Zealand is to change its swimming fortunes at the London Olympic Games.

SPARC: A Case For The Ombudsman

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

By David

It hasn’t been the best of weeks for the New Zealand government. The Prime Minister, John Key, has twisted and turned to avoid a tape of his conversation with ACT candidate, John Banks, being published. Key’s deceptive behaviour suggests there is something on the tape that he will do anything to avoid being made public. One week before a General Election and John Key is behaving like a guilty creep; walking out of meetings, refusing to answer questions and dodging reporters. Deception, it seems, is learned behaviour. The Prime Minister’s underlings in SPARC are proving equally adept at covering their tracks, hiding their bad behaviour. Is dishonesty becoming a defining feature of the John Key government?

On 3 November 2011 I wrote to Murray McCully, the New Zealand Minister for Sport and Recreation, requesting information held by SPARC. Here is a copy of my email.

Dear Sir,

In accordance with the terms of the Official Information Act 1982 I am making a request for information held by the Ministry of Sport and Recreation and in the offices of the organization known as SPARC and in the office of Swimming New Zealand.

In particular I am requesting a copy of the minutes and mediation agreement of a meeting held recently between several regions of Swimming New Zealand known as “The Coalition of Regions”, Board members of Swimming New Zealand and members of the Government funding organization (including the CEO Peter Miskimmin) known as SPARC. The agreement reached at this meeting has been referred to in the press as a Record of Mediation Agreement. This is the document that is the subject of this application for Information.

The Mediation Report is held in the offices of SPARC and Swimming New Zealand and is therefore covered by the Official Information Act 1982. Thank you for your consideration.

This morning I received a reply from Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of SPARC. Here is what Miskimmin said.

I am withholding the mediation agreement under section 9(2)(ba)(i) and 9(2)(j) of the Official Information Act. Under s 9(2)(ba)(i) it is necessary to protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence and its release would be likely to prejudice the supply of similar information from the same source. Under s 9(2)(j) it is necessary to withhold the information to enable SPARC to carry on negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage.

There should be no misunderstanding of what is going on here. Peter Miskimmin is walking roughshod over the rules of swimming. In particular he is in almost daily breach of FINA Rule 13 that says, “These measures include the suspension or the expulsion from the FINA membership if any act by any governmental or other body provokes the activity of the NF or the making or expression of its will to be hampered.”

The Swimwatch application for the Record of Mediation Agreement was made in order to gather further evidence that the CEO of the New Zealand’s sport funding organization, SPARC, is out-of-control. At every turn he is “hampering” the “will” of Swimming New Zealand. Right now he effectively runs the place, lock stock and barrel. FINA do not like governments running their affairs. If Miskimmin’s authoritarian behavior was happening in some central African dictatorship, imagine what we would be saying.

Naturally I expected Miskimmin to decline my request. Open government is not this government’s most endearing quality. Look at the effort Miskimmin made to hide SPARC’s involvement in the drug laced supplement’s scandal. Of course he was going to hide the extent of his direct involvement in the management of Swimming New Zealand. Twice I’ve heard him stand up in public meetings and claim that he would never get directly involved in a sport’s governance structure. All that means is twice I’ve heard him lie like a flat fish. Why doesn’t he tell the truth? He’s up to his eye balls in managing the affairs of Swimming New Zealand.

Anticipating Miskimmin’s response I prepared an appeal to the New Zealand Office of the Ombudsman. The appeal is pretty self explanatory and is copied in full below.



Sequence of Events

  1. On the 3 November 2011 a request was made to the Minister for Sport requesting information known as the Record of Mediation Agreement. This document was an agreement reached between several regions of Swimming New Zealand known as “The Coalition of Regions”, Board members of Swimming New Zealand and members of the Government funding organization (including the CEO Peter Miskimmin) known as SPARC. A copy of the email request is attached to this complaint.
  2. The request for information was forwarded to SPARC for their consideration.
  3. On Friday 18 November 2011 a reply was received from SPARC declining the request for a copy of the Record of Mediation Agreement. A copy of the SPARC letter is attached to this complaint.
  4. On Monday 21 November 2011 this Official Information Complaint was forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Reason for Declining the Request for Information

  1. The SPARC letter from CEO, Peter Miskimmin, explained the reasons for declining the request for information as follows:

    “I am withholding the mediation agreement under section 9(2)(ba)(i) and 9(2)(j) of the Official Information Act. Under s 9(2)(ba)(i) it is necessary to protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence and its release would be likely to prejudice the supply of similar information from the same source. Under s 9(2)(j) it is necessary to withhold the information to enable SPARC to carry on negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage.”

Discussion of SPARC’s Reasons for Declining the Request for Information – One

  1. The first reason is section 9(2)(ba)(i) of the Official Information Act. SPARC describe the terms of this section as protecting “information which is subject to an obligation of confidence and its release would be likely to prejudice the supply of similar information from the same source.”
  2. The wording used in the Act is as follows, “protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence or which any person has been or could be compelled to provide under the authority of any enactment, where the making available of the information — (i) would be likely to prejudice the supply of similar information, or information from the same source, and it is in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied.
  3. For the CEO of SPARC to suggest that providing a swim coach in Auckland with an agreement reached between several swimming regions and Swimming New Zealand would be likely to “prejudice” the supply of future information from the same source has no merit.
  4. Swimming New Zealand receive two thirds of their annual funding from SPARC. Without SPARC Swimming New Zealand does not exist. SPARC has two appointed observers permanently sitting on the Swimming New Zealand Board. Not one decision is made at Swimming New Zealand without SPARC’s approval. It is important to remember that the purpose of this information request is to investigate the strength of SPARC’s involvement in Swimming New Zealand; not its weakness.
  5. To suggest that there is the even the slightest chance that Swimming New Zealand would decline a request from SPARC for further information because SPARC was required to provide the Mediation Agreement to an Auckland swim coach is beyond belief and has no merit.
  6. This reason for declining the request needs to be seen for what it is – a charade of an excuse designed to avoid SPARC’s influence over a sporting body in New Zealand becoming known and conveyed to the world headquarters of the sport.
  7. It is certainly in the public interest that the extent of SPARC’s involvement in the management of swimming becomes known to the members of Swimming New Zealand.
  8. It is even more absurd to suggest that the Coalition of Regions would withhold information from SPARC if the Record of Mediation Agreement was made available. I know many of those involved in the coalition. Most would welcome a FINA investigation into SPARC’s activities. Far from causing them to withhold information, the success of this application is very likely to encourage them to more generous with information in the future.
  9. The transparent failings of this reason given by SPARC prompt us to request that the Office of the Ombudsman recommend that the Record of Mediation Agreement be released.

Discussion of SPARC’s Reasons for Declining the Request for Information – Two

  1. The second reason is section 9(2)(j) of the Official Information Act. SPARC describe the terms of this section as protecting the Mediation Agreement “to enable SPARC to carry on negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage.”
  2. The wording used in the Act is as follows: “enable a Minister of the Crown or any department or organisation holding the information to carry on, without prejudice or disadvantage, negotiations.”
  3. Using this section to avoid making the Mediation Agreement public is also a case of finding any reason to avoid SPARC’s public responsibility to provide this report. The Mediation Agreement does not cover ongoing and extended negotiations. It covers an agreement reached at one meeting that decided to form a couple of committees to investigate the management of Swimming New Zealand. Those Committees have now been established and are going about their work. There is no reason for any further, extended negotiations on this subject. Effectively there are no further negotiations to protect.
  4. The intent of the Act is to protect ongoing and serious matters of state being improperly used. This application for the release of the Mediation Agreement comes nowhere near that level of importance. No serious future negotiations are being put at any risk by the provision of this information.
  5. As this complaint has already mentioned, future discussions between Swimming New Zealand and SPARC would not be affected in any way by the release of this report and discussions with the Coalition could very well improve.
  6. SPARC are clearly very concerned at the possibility of this information becoming public. But their concern has nothing to do with protecting SPARC’s relationship with Swimming New Zealand and the Regions. SPARC’s interest, in this case, is to protect itself. And that is not a reason offered by the Official Information Act.
  7. Section 9(2)(j) is not a valid reason for declining to provide the Mediation Agreement Report. We would ask the Office of the Ombudsman to rule that the Mediation Report be supplied in accordance with the terms of the Official Information Act. It is in the public interest for that decision to be taken.


  1. This complaint is made in the belief that no harm will come to SPARC, Swimming New Zealand or the Coalition of Regions by the release of the Mediation Agreement. In fact it is probable that only good will occur.
  2. Certainly the sections of the Act identified by SPARC as protecting the release of the Mediation Report were never intended to be used in a case such as this one. This is not an ongoing sensitive negotiation. There are no security or commercial factors at play that would be likely to damage the state or the public interest.
  3. This is simply a record of events that took place at a meeting held to discuss the future of a sporting organization. It is in the best interests of the members of the sport that they are made aware of what went on in that meeting. SPARC may want to hide their involvement. That does not make it right. The Act was put in place for a situation just like this one. We would ask the Office of the Ombudsman to rule accordingly.

David Wright – Swim Coach, Auckland

Our Club Ends Its Season

Friday, November 18th, 2011

By David

When you’re up to your arse in alligators, it hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp. Coaching a swim team in West Auckland is a bit like that. The objective is to create an environment where young people can explore their swimming potential. The side show is a bunch of crooks in Wellington whose behaviour needs to be addressed. Clearly, it is important that the time it takes to write this blog and talk swimming politics does not detract from more important swimming matters.

So how successful were we this past New Zealand winter season? I suspect most readers will be aware of our attention to the Wellington side show. Readers of Swimwatch have clearly been interested in the antics of Coulter, Cameron, Byrne and Butler. Our quarterly readership numbers have increased by 150% during 2011. We still have a huge number of honest readers who have Swimwatch delivered in a “plain brown envelope” and deny all knowledge of the seditious blog. However a few hundred New Zealanders every day can’t possibly be wrong.

What about the swimmers? Have we drained the swamp? I think so. We began this season with no swimmers ranked in New Zealand’s top ten performers. The standard of our swimming was not good. I avoided making it obvious but I hated going to meet after meet and not winning a race. That had to change. The first sign we were beginning to turn the corner was at the 2011 New Zealand Division Two Championships in Rotorua. Erica McGough and Alex Tonkins won their events and most of the team made finals. We were at a national meet and we were winning. A refreshing breeze was blowing through the club and it felt good. Swimmers who bought into the distance-based program were making progress. The critics were still vocal but the results were clearly moving in our direction.

Results at the Nationals in Wellington were better than the Club had done in several years. Rhi got a bronze medal in the 50 freestyle. Jane did one better and got two thirds in the 50 and 200 breaststroke. Jessica’s fourth in the 800 freestyle was a sign of better things to come. Amelia completed the list of swimmers making finals in this national event. We were getting better. Our swimmers were winning medals. They were not gold but nevertheless it was progress.

The end of the 2011 winter season was dominated by four important swim meets – the Auckland Level One Meet, the WAQ 50s Meet and the World Cup Meets in Singapore and Beijing. The majority of the team were involved in the two Auckland Meets while Jessica was signed up to swim in Singapore and Beijing.

Rhi won the 100 freestyle at the Level One Meet (57.17) and the 50 freestyle at the WAQ 50s Meet (26.38). Both swims qualified Rhi to swim in the US Olympic Trials, scheduled for Omaha, Nebraska from 25 June to 2 July 2012. Being Rhi, her swims were reported on the authoritative American Swimming World Magazine website. The knockers of her accomplishment didn’t take long to appear. Here is a comment published by one genius. “Making cuts for Trials used to be a meaningful accomplishment. It’s a shame the standards are about where they were in the 1980s. It cheapens the meet to have the cuts so slow.” First of all the comment just isn’t true. In 1980 Rhi’s Auckland swim would have placed her fourth in the Olympic final. In 1984 her time would still have made the final of the Games 100 freestyle. More importantly, since Rhi arrived in New Zealand, in seven months, she has lost 30 kilograms (66 pounds) and transformed herself from an overweight ex swimmer to an athlete preparing to compete at this sport’s highest level – because that’s what the US Olympic Trials happen to be. Don’t knock Rhi Jeffrey. “Come backs” are not easy. Usually they don’t work. In Rhi’s case she is very much in the business of proving the sceptics wrong.

Being Rhi’s boy friend obviously hasn’t hurt Justin’s swimming. In six months his 100 fly has improved from 59.79 to 57.11 (4.5%). Probably his best swim this season was his last race in the WAQ 50s, the 50 freestyle. He was swimming against three or four very good swimmers from Roskill who all had very much better records than Justin’s modest 25.26. Much to my surprise and probably to the surprise of the Roskill guys, Justin swam 24.43 (3.3% improvement in one race) and won the bloody thing. I did say to Justin afterwards to enjoy the moment. He took those Roskill guys by surprise this time but it won’t happen again. Next time he will have three very good swimmers after his hide. They are also very well coached by Paul Kent. He wasn’t New Zealand’s (and one of the world’s) best swimmers for ten years without knowing how to win a swimming race. This next build up better be one of Justin’s best. I have a feeling he’s going to need it.

And then there is Jane. What can you say about Jane? She fifteen and says she’s scared of her own shadow but had no problem bungy jumping during the team’s training camp in Rotorua. She won two bronze medals at the Short Course Age Group Nationals and won all four breaststroke races at the Auckland Level One and WAQ 50s meets. Jane ended the season with a best ranking of tenth in New Zealand Open Women’s breaststroke and second in her age group. This season’s build up will be important for Jane. She hates build ups, but her breaststroke will benefit from the aerobic conditioning.

Jess ended the season in Singapore and Beijing. The experience of World Cup swimming was a revelation. Her short course pre-season best in the 400 improved from 4.22.86 to 4.14.68 (3.1%) and her 800 from 8.59.48 to 8.47.66 (2.2%). Her best open New Zealand ranking however occurred early in the winter over 1500 meters. Her long course time of 17.09.86 ranked her third in the country. Jess is a first class competitor, as tough as nails, as honest as the day is long – all the qualities required to be very good at this sport. She deserves all the success in the world. It is a privilege to be her coach. Oh, and just as important – Jess too did the bungy at training camp in Rotorua.

There is a league of others at WAQ who have progressed well this winter. I have told you Nikki’s story. Abigail improved her 200 breaststroke by 4.7%. In one season that is huge. Xavier, Israel, Amie, Lavinia, Billy, Hannah and a dozen others all had good seasons. The stars tend to hog the limelight but the improvement of the team is just as good, just as valid, just as important.

At the end of the season I am pleased. A WAQ swimmer is ranked in the New Zealand top ten swimmers in every woman’s freestyle event from 50 to 1500 meters. A WAQ swimmer has qualified for the US Olympic Trials in two events. A WAQ swimmer has qualified for three World Cup finals and achieved a best place of fourth. WAQ has five swimmers ranked in the top ten in at least one event in the open or age group New Zealand rankings. Yep, in spite of the best efforts of the alligators in Wellington who run this sport, our guys have drained the swamp, not too badly at all.