It Means More To Them

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.

  • David

    The commmitment of some swimmers constantly surprises me and is the reason I am defensive about their careers. Today Abigail was concerned that her weekly build up mileage would be affected by a trip to Rotorua planned for tomorrow by her parents. She demanded to be allowed to “make up the lost distance” by adding a third session to today’s programme. And so today Abigail swam 10,000 in the morning, 8000 at lunch time and 8000 in the afternoon, plus a thirty minute session of weights. 26,000 in a day – that’s huge. She did it swimming with Rhi and Jessica so it wasn’t exactly slow. And she ended it all most pleased with herself. As Lydiard would say – by anyone’s standards, that’s the Waitakeres twice in a weekend. Well done Abigail.

  • Tom

    I can’t help but identify a little with the guy who ticketed Ali’s driver. I’m sure he’d had the same excuse used on him many times before – but the airport said it was ok if I parked in this zone. And even if the airport had approved the measure, he has a point about celebrities being given privileges most of us aren’t afforded.

    Granted, the airport was probably trying to act in everyone’s interests by avoiding a fan scrum. Still, I can understand the parking warden’s reaction.

    I think you’re second example is quite different – clearly Rihi had every intention of paying her dues, and no one was trying to rip-off the pool complex or use their status to get a free ride. While the pool manager may have been technically correct, it seems like a situation where a bit of common sense was called for.

    And the tale about Jo Davidson, if true, is rather galling. It’s a shame such pettiness exists in sport.

    If the governance of Swimming New Zealand is getting you down, could I suggest you cheer yourself up by reading about the English Rugby Union.

  • Hi Tom,

    Yep, it’s true :\ At least, I was there when the life guard approached David and told him what he’d heard. David has one part of the story wrong – we were down on the deck rather that sitting in the stands, but I remember it as clear as day (can’t believe it’s been nearly 10 years!). It would have upset me more at the time if I hadn’t been six months away from leaving for the United States. Where, incidentally, I was disqualified in breaststroke races a couple of times in four years – once for a dolphin kick on a start (the sort that is now legal but was illegal in 2003) and once for a non-simultaneous touch on a turn.

    If there were any others, I don’t remember them, but I was definitely never faulted for technical issues underwater besides that undulation off the start of the 100 yards breaststroke at Pac 10s, my freshman year. That was not what Jo suggested I be disqualified for. I guess I feel the need to point this all out lest anyone try to defend Jo Davidson.

    Her opinion obviously wasn’t shared by four years’ worth of NCAA and USS officials ;)

    It’s not as unpleasant as some things officials in Hawke’s Bay did and said, but at least they’re not coming to the Olympics.

  • Tom. Your last paragraph has just made my day. Bloody brilliant.

  • James T

    I haven’t had dealings with Jo Davidson, only observed her (like most) from pool deck where she has been pleasant enough. In most stories of this kind the instinct is to say ‘maybe there is some other explanation’, but the fact that this incident was witnessed by several people makes this astonishing and I am struggling to find any possible explanation or defence. This is actually corruption.

    What was the infringement they were trying to engineer?

    I suppose there is no point asking if this incident was well known, because clearly it is now!

  • Northern Swimmer

    Throughout my swimming career I had much interaction with Jo Davidson, including being on the receiving end of a couple of DQ forms.On all occasions she acted with honesty, integrity and professionalism. From my experience she could not be faulted.

    There is no denying that the recount of this incident appears damning. However I would argue that it is not as clearly constructive and vindictive an action as is portrayed here.
    The rules for Breaststroke pull-outs were different 10 years ago. Butterfly kicks on the break out were not allowed. I can remember the outcries that Kitajima should have been disqualified in Athens for his fly kick pull outs which were clearly visible from the underwater cameras, but obviously not from the IOTs vantage point on pooldeck. I would guess that this was what Jo was trying to show the IOTs from the underwater viewing windows in 2002.
    (In response to the difficulties of enforcing what was an undulation flowing from the pullout and what was a butterfly ‘kick’ FINA changed the rules around breaststroke pullouts in 2005.)

    On several occasions over the past couple of years Glenn Snyders has been disqualified at International and overseas events for illegal pullouts, but never at home. This suggests that New Zealand officials have been afraid to disqualify our top swimmers for rule infractions, and have not wanted to be the official who prevented a swimmer from representing their country, or being a National Champion.
    Such a fear is understandable, given the criticism that officials can come under in any sport – Wayne Barnes anyone? And indeed, it would be quite an intimidating thing to disqualify the star of the show; as the great W G Grace said when refusing to be given out: “They’ve come to watch me bat sir, not you umpire.”

    It needs to be remembered that officials are volunteers, and like the rest of us, human. Our sport could not function without the likes of Jo Davidson.

  • David

    I have been asked today whether Jo Davidson’s behavior actually broke any rule or was it “just” morally corrupt. I have always thought it was both. FINA rules say “SW 2.7.1 Judges of stroke shall be located on each side of the pool.” That’s not under the pool from an underwater booth. That’s on “each side of the pool” only. I think it is relevant that the rules think to mention their position specifically.

  • Stevie

    SPARC is a candidate for bad behaviour stories in swimming these days. And Swimwatch is among the few who talk about it. I’m adding Paul Collins (chairman SPARC) and his fellow directors to the list of buggers referred to in your story.

    I know I shouldn’t – “Means More To Them?” No!
    It means more to the people in swimming affected by their activities!

    SPARC doles out the taxpayers’ money and looks for a cruisey, no fuss voyage. Richard Boock’s Sunday Star Times story (27 November 2011) is a reminder. It records how Softball NZ received $780,000 from SPARC as opposed to baseball’s nil award. And baseball is the performer in the international context, not softball.


    The Jo D story seems so bad that it is right that some attention be given it, when she may be on the road to London 2012. When discussing poor behaviour in this sport, there are many with stories that can be told (on behalf of athletes badly treated by officials or SNZ staff). But, where possible we need to look forward as much as we can, and let that stuff go.

    Swimwatch has become part of the swimming landscape for people immersed in the sport, particularly through its work in 2011. I would like to see more stories and blogs on Swimwatch about swimming itself and the athletes in the game, so that we are not considering swimming administration matters so often. In saying that I realise that what you have covered in the management area in 2011 has had to be covered.

  • Chris

    Northern Swimmer – you clearly know a thing or two about breastroke. I personally have always been a bit of a snob in relation to swimming officials’ interpretation of FINA rules and gave far more credence to an official who was a swimmer, particularly in relation to some of the more ‘difficult’ or ‘controversial’ rules, such as the old breastroke pullout rule that you mention above. For example, I have always maintained that unless you are a swimmer, particularly a breastroker, you cannot fully appreciate how the natural undulation of the feet from the pullout feels, how it is totally involuntary, and how it is quite different to a ‘kick’. Thankfully, common sense reigned and that FINA rule was changed.

  • Hi Northern,

    It wasn’t actually the start or turn – it was something she said I was doing with my feet during the stroke. She said there were dolphin kicks throughout the stroke, which I contend there weren’t: like quite a few breaststrokers, I swept my feet up a little at the end of a kick, but did not drive them down into a dolphin kick. We filmed this underwater in Hawke’s Bay a few times to ensure it was within the rules, and had a friend who was a Hawke’s Bay official watch above the water, and watch the video, to confirm.

    I’ve definitely been done for the dolphin kick on the start twice ;) Once at the World Cup in Melbourne in 2001 (I forgot about that earlier) and once at Pac 10s in 2003. Both were 100m / yards races and, damn it, would have been best times had I kept my wits about me :)

  • Greg Meade

    David, Most certainly Emily Thomas retired from the sport without the National accolades an athlete of her status should recieve. There was however a great story about her in the Gisborne Herald on 8 Sept ” Time Out On Life In The Fast Lane” by John Hill. Emily is working in Gisborne at present and she tells me she may move to Hawkes Bay in the New Year.

  • Northern Swimmer

    The fact that you and David had an official look at your technique during training suggests that you thought it was close to the rules. The fact that you recorded it underwater as well suggests that you recognised that that was a better vantage point to judge it from.

    If we are to get down to the nitty-gritty being in an underwater viewing window which is located on the side of the pool, is still being located on the side of the pool. However, I would argue that that reading of the rule is more to ensure that there is a stroke judge on the lane 1 side, and the lane 8 side, rather than having both on the same side (eg both beside lane 1). The purpose being to, as best possible, ensure that each swimmer is subject to the same level of scrutiny. But yes, on the facts portrayed, it does sound as though Jane was coming in for focussed scrutiny.

    Yes swimming could happen without the officials. However, if you want to run competitions where meaningful results can be recorded – Olympic Qualifying times, National Records, even Personal Bests – there needs to be objective and impartial adjudication.
    Sportsmen and women are inherently competitive, as I am sure you can attest, and will do most anything to win. I can remember in my school’s 200m IM watching a lesser breaststroker sail past me as they did half-a-dozen fly kicks and 2 complete pull-outs off each wall. There were a limited number of teachers acting as officials on the pool deck, however they trusted that as national level swimmers we would abide by the rules. If I was given my time again… I probably would do 3 pull-outs of each wall.

    Thank you. Yes, many years ago I almost medalled at Age Groups in the 100m Breast when there were only 4 of us in the field.

    I would say that on the facts, at best, it looks as though Jo Davidson thought that Jane’s technique deserved some closer scrutiny . The worst case scenario is as David has outlined above. If this were what happened it is both abhorrent and reprehensible.
    However, I said in my last comment: “throughout my swimming career I had much interaction with Jo Davidson …On all occasions she acted with honesty, integrity and professionalism. From my experience she could not be faulted.”

    People have differences of opinion. It would seem I have a different opinion of Jo Davidson than David’s. I would say Jo Davidson had a different opinion of Jane’s technique to that of the Hawkes Bay official.

  • Jane

    Northern, you twist my words. We had it looked at because of what happened, not because we thought a similar situation might happen. I thinknmost people would do the same if subjected to what Jo tried to do. And again, I swam competitively for four years after that with the same technique, including at the NCAA champs and US senior nationals, without incident. My coaches in Washington never thought to mention anything about it either, and they saw me swim daily for four years too.

    I hate it when I tell a story and leave one thing out that lets people come to the wrong conclusion. Trust me, we were not worried about my kick beforehand and neither has anyone else ever been afterwards.

  • Tom

    I think we’re all arguing the same point here (apologies if you disagree). Yes, as Alison says it’s about the swimmers. But as Northern Swimmer points out, we need unbiased officials to give credibility to results.

    I have enormous respect for the swimmers and the incredible level of training they put in. I also have respect for the officials, who have a difficult job in a competitive environment, particularly when subjective calls must be made.

    Of course, with power comes responsibility. We rely on officials to make honest calls – and I think in the majority of cases this happens. Occasionally, there are failings (some negligent, others deceitful). Whether this was the case, as described above, I don’t know.

  • David

    Greg – Good to hear that about Emily. And pleased the Herald recognized her swimming career. Remember the days the same paper gave Greg Meade those glowing write ups. Oh, and I met Selwyn Pohio at the West Wave pool last week. He still remembers the day you beat him in the final of the 400 medley at the HBPB Champs in the McCray Baths and then threw up in the pool. I remember the race too from the position of a very distant third.

  • David

    Abigail – oppps, I stand corrected. :)