Schadenfreude, Yes Indeed

By David

For ten years Swimwatch has preached a consistent message. Above and beyond the politics of Swimming New Zealand; from day one Swimwatch has said Jan Cameron’s Millennium Institute is fatally flawed. Generation after generation of fine New Zealand swimmers will put their trust in the Millennium system and they will be let down. Swimming New Zealand will cheat on its finest athletes. The Millennium way will not work; will never work.

Over ten years Cameron received about sixteen million dollars to pursue her folly. Olympics after Olympics came and went. Extravagant promises of gold next time were published and never met. The whole thing was a huge fabrication from start to finish. But what is saddest of all is that those responsible did not pay. The sport of swimming paid. The athletes involved in the sport paid for the deception of their master’s. Just as we said they would.

In the ten years Swimwatch has had some harsh critics; people like Jillian and Jenny and Molly have railed against any criticism of Swimming New Zealand’s perpetration of elite swimmers. For years Cameron was accepted by the swimming community as a swimming messiah. Critics of the Cameron way had their character and motives blackened. How do I know this is true? As you can imagine, Cameron spent some time explaining, to anyone who would listen, the dishonesty of the author of Swimwatch. Perhaps now our critics and those who believed the Cameron nightmare will understand why we were concerned. Perhaps they will understand our fight to avoid the disappointment felt by those who represented New Zealand in London.

So who is responsible? Who created the mess that was New Zealand swimming in London? Well, first and most culpable is the boss of SPARC, Peter Miskimmin. He appointed two mates to sit in on every Swimming New Zealand Board meeting. He directly knew of and approved every one of Cameron’s plans. He could have stopped Swimming New Zealand’s folly at any time. But he didn’t. Instead his cheques paid for all that Cameron wanted. Peter Miskimmin knew what the government’s sixteen million dollars was being spent on. His hired hands sat in on every Board Meeting that approved her plans. And in spite of our advice, in spite of the experience of others, Miskimmin, with our money, paid and paid and paid. He enabled the failure of swimming in London to occur. He, above all others, is most responsible.

The Swimming New Zealand Board, senior management and SPARC advisors are responsible. They have gone but are not forgotten. Here are some of their names. Mark Berge, Humphrey Pullon, Alison Fitch, Nelson Cull, Murray Coulter, Jan Cameron, Kerry McDonald, Ross Butler, Jane Wrightson, Ron Clarke and Mike Byrne. For years they asked for and accepted the Cameron doctrine. I know most of them read Swimwatch. But we were wrong they said. Cameron knew best. London has just proved Swimwatch was right.

Ah, but I hear the critics cry, we have changed the Constitution. We have a new structure. The old Board has gone. All will be well. There should be no misunderstanding on this point. The new management structure will make no difference unless the Millennium Institute is changed. Will that happen? Probably not. The new Constitution vests Swimming New Zealand with more power than it had before. The Coalition of Regions failed to provide the sport with a strong federal structure. Instead they participated providing swimming in New Zealand with an even stronger form of central dictatorship. Power tends to accumulate power. The new Swimming New Zealand will be even more determined to exercise control over the preparation of elite swimmers. And if they do – they will fail.

Already they have extended their control into Wellington. The structure they have created there hardly merits an elite label. It is, however, a sign that the central control of elite swimming is unlikely to change.

So, we know who was responsible for the failure of London. But, who was hurt? Well some very fine swimmers were hurt. Regular readers will know of my admiration for Melissa Ingram. I’ve seen her perform and beat many of the world’s best backstroke and freestyle swimmers. She is a huge talent; well capable of winning an Olympic Championship. But she didn’t. She was seventeenth in the heats and failed to progress to the semi-finals. Her time of 2.10.63 was well short of her personal best of 2.09.13. Swimming her personal best would have been enough to place eight in the final. An American Swim Coaches Association standard annual improvement of three percent would have seen Melissa come home with a silver medal. And that is something she was well capable of and well deserved.

Melissa Ingram’s performance demonstrates best just how barren the Swimming New Zealand management of elite swimming has become; Melissa Ingram, a world class athlete with world class talent and application ruined by those responsible for her guidance. I do so hope Melissa Ingram reads Sir Murray Halberg’s book and takes to heart the despair he felt at his failure in the 1500 meters final at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. After backpacking around the South Island for a couple of weeks Halberg decided to give Olympic running one more shot. Four years later, in Rome, he won the 5000 meters. Without question Melissa Ingram is capable of the same transformation. So are a number of her team mates.

The one difference between Melissa and Halberg is a big one. Halberg had Arthur Lydiard guiding his progress. Melissa has the anchor of Swimming New Zealand. And that’s a difference not even Melissa Ingram’s prodigious talent will ever overcome. Melissa should abandon those who have let her down. In New Zealand or overseas she should find her Lydiard and go to Rio and win a race that is well within her compass.

The principles that apply so starkly to Melissa are no less true to many of her team mates. Swimming New Zealand will not deliver. Peter Miskimmin’s ten years and sixteen million dollars prove that’s true. “We told you so” and “schadenfreude” are not a phrases I like. In this case I am happy to use them if there is a chance they might bring about change and avoid the absolute disaster of London ever being repeated.