Our Club Ends Its Season

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.

  • Tom

    Congratulations David (and of course, congratulations to the WAQ swimmers). It’s great to see your passion and enjoyment of the sport is still there – despite the sideshow carnival.

  • David

    Tom – Thank you.

  • Sensible Swimming

    David, let me join Tom and extend my congratulations on saeason well swum (and coached.) Great story and one that all associated with your ‘rag tag bunch’ can feel proud of. Thanks for reminding us all about the swamp that needed clearing. Those alligators have had us distracted a few times this year.

  • So proud of all of you guys! Seriously – some great swims from the shortest to the longest events. Swimming is damn hard sometimes and some of your guys went through the season knowing there were some pretty critical things being said about their training and their lives.

    Good on them for swimming so well. I know the prospect of a long build up isn’t the most enjoyable, but it’s way easier when you’re coming off some successes. I can’t wait to see what they do in the summer.