World Championships: Episode One

By David

Afternoon training had just finished. I was sitting chatting to a friend. To correct those sad readers who believe the author of Swimwatch does not have any friends – you are wrong. My companion is a friend. I hope it’s nothing serious, but he does nervously glance around the pool a lot when we are together. Today’s conversation was the same as many others – what would Swimming New Zealand do next? I was making the point that the behaviour of Sweetenham, Miskimmin, Dr Who and their friends was so fertile with gossip that writing about it could quickly lead even the most loyal reader to question the purpose and motives of the Swimwatch blog. The integrity of a fanatic is always open to question, no matter how just the cause. All I can do is assure you that I am not a fanatic – I just do not like the way Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand (not that there is any difference) run the business of this sport. I think it stinks.

The list of topics available for discussion just now is endless. New Zealand’s best swimmer has retired. A travel plan for the team to the Barcelona World Championships has been published. A list of swimmers who have joined the pathway has been distributed. Sweetenham has “modestly” circulated a memo telling us about the famous people he has met and how wonderful they think he is. There is a base part my character that would love to spend five hundred words discussing Sweetenham’s memo. The document is an insight into his sorry soul. However far more important to the future of swimming is the plan Swimming New Zealand has put together for the team going to the World Championships.

I was told about the plan today. I’m working from memory, but their proposal goes something like this.

  • June 11 Mare Nostrum Barcelona Meet
  • June 15 Mare Nostrum Canet Meet
  • Two weeks altitude training in Sierra Nevada, Spain
  • June/July Paris International Meet
  • Two weeks training camp in Spain
  • July 19 World Championships Barcelona
  • August possible attendance at FINA World Cup events

The whole thing smacks of more money than sense. Now that Miskimmin’s coup d’etat has wrested control of New Zealand swimming, his organization is going to spend whatever it takes to prove they can win a swimming race. Many swimming people are holding Miskimmin’s feet to the fire. He wanted to control the sport. He said he knew best. Well now we will see whether he can deliver. This plan for Barcelona will not do it. Whoever put this jumbled mission together had all the money in the world and decided to spend it all doing everything. What do they say about a camel being a horse designed by a committee? Well this effort is a camel – or as Wikipedia says full of “needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision.” Of course, if it was Luis Villaneva who designed the camel it should surprise no one that there are shortcomings. He’s Spanish and I suspect has very little experience or appreciation of the special factors involved in travelling from New Zealand to compete in the Northern Hemisphere. Alex Baumann is also new to the Southern Hemisphere. And Bill Sweetenham has always thought – the tougher the better. He’d have probably had the team walking from the airport to Sierra Nevada as some sort of initiative test.

Here is a sample of the shortcomings in this latest Swimming New Zealand masterpiece.

  1. There is not enough racing. The three meets included here are not enough to prepare for a World Championships. In my first book “Swim to the Top” this is how I described the number of meets required. “Always include at least five meets on a European tour. I have seen tours ranging from one meet to 15 but the way these tours work is that it takes two meets for the swimmer to adjust into full racing mode and anything close to PBs is an achievement and a good indication of better things to come. There will also be times when things just don’t go right and a five-meet tour allows for that and still leaves two meets for achieving those PBs. Toni Jeffs toured Europe twice and broke New Zealand records in meets five and six; Anna Simcic broke her world record in meet five; Danyon Loader broke his in meet five; and Phillipa Langrell set her current New Zealand 800 metres record in meet five. Shorter tours would have seen New Zealand missing out on two world records and five current national records. So five is the minimum.” For some reason Swimming New Zealand has left out the Monaco Mare Nostrum meet. I would certainly include that meet which together with the three included in the plan plus the Championships give the swimmers the five meet minimum. Six would be better.
  2. Two weeks of altitude training squashed into the plan a month before the Championships is crazy. It is probably the best example of – “We’ve got the money. What can we spend it on?” It would be possible to debate all night the advantages and disadvantages of two weeks spent swimming at the top of some mountain in Spain. My experience and the literature suggest that any benefit to sea level performances of two weeks at altitude is still most unclear. What is certain is that this high altitude training scheme suffers from the same fatal shortcoming as Miskimmin’s Millennium Program. Like every socialist ideology both programs fail to take into account the differences between individuals. Will Philip Ryan respond to altitude the same as Lauren Boyle? No one knows, but Swimming New Zealand will do it anyway. Swimming New Zealand must know that there are “responders” and “non-responders” to altitude training. That means two things: what works for one swimmer may not work for another. And altitude training may not work at all on some swimmers. It appears to be a genetic predisposition issue. But to the Stalinists that run swimming in New Zealand uniformity is a virtue. Whether you swim 50 meters or 10,000 meters, whether you have tried altitude training before and found it does not work for you – it does not matter. Baumann, Miskimmin, Villaneva and probably Sweetenham say it’s good for you – so off you go. And don’t complain or you won’t go at all. Socialist systems always work that way. And finally it is clear that even at its best altitude training is only icing on the training cake. There are so many more important things to do. Dr. James Smoliga recently published an interesting article in the magazine “Track Coach”. In it he described the fringe nature of altitude training.

Cost-to-benefit ratio of altitude training lies far behind other approaches to improved performance. Namely: improved diet, specialized weight programs, therapeutic massage, range of motion/stretching exercises, and last and most certainly not least – having a quality training program and coach! Even an athlete who does adapt well to altitude training may not experience a net benefit if all these aspects of training aren’t in order.

And so Swimming New Zealand, as we have said one hundred times before; stick to the basics, get your New Zealand house in order before you start wandering off to the homeland of one of your new employees on what could be best described as a tax payer funded junket.