Archive for June, 2013

Should SNZ Come With A Health Warning?

Friday, June 28th, 2013

By David

I’ve never understood the purpose of Swimming New Zealand training camps. For over twenty years I’ve sent swimmers to these events. On almost every occasion swimmers have returned home completely spent or physically injured. Anything good is very rare.

The best Swimming New Zealand camps involved Duncan Laing. I sent him the training planned for my swimmers. Duncan followed the program at the camp. Not once with Toni, Nichola or Jane did he stray from their planned schedule. He added his knowledge and personality to the training but the content was just what they would have done at home. Nichola and Jane performed well at two Pan Pacific Games and Toni broke a New Zealand record in Paris after spending time with Duncan Laing.

Toni walked out of a New Zealand training camp run by Bret Naylor. The training he wanted her to swim was so different to my schedules she climbed out of the pool, walked across to where I was sitting and said, “This is ridiculous. Go and tell him I’m leaving. I’ve had enough.” I did it because she was right.

However my most recent contact with a Swimming New Zealand training camp has exceeded any stupidity I have witnessed before. On the 22 May one of my swimmers was invited to attend the Swimming New Zealand National Youth Camp. This is what the Swimming New Zealand letter said.

Congratulations, you have been identified as one of the top Youth swimmers in the country. Swimming New Zealand cordially invites you to participate in the 2013 National Youth Camp – a part of the Youth and Age National Development Programme. These camps are an integral part of Swimming New Zealand’s National Development Pathway.

There will be a subsidy from SNZ to help keep costs down. However, there is a user pays component for this camp of $275 per swimmer.

I am sure you will agree, the invitation was certain to impress. With its “National Development Programmes” and “Pathways” and “top youth swimmers”, what fledgling athlete or their parents could resist. The national body had identified and selected the cream of the crop. This camp was a passport to fame. It was held last week from the 21-23 June at the Millennium Institute.

To understand the rest of this story I must tell you a little about the training my swimmers have been doing for the past twelve weeks. They have been swimming through the build-up aerobic portion of their training. Here is how I described this period of training in my first book, “Swim to the Top”.


“Build-up training is aerobic, swum at a pace within the swimmers’ capacity to use the oxygen they are getting to supply the energy they require. They are not going into oxygen debt. Runners have often described it as “moving at a pace at which the athlete can still hold a reasonable conversation”.

Any tiredness comes from the distance covered, not the speed. Because they are swimming up to 100kms a week swimmers are tired, but not puffed. Only a limited amount can be done to provide variety in steady-swimming pool work. Pull, kick and drills in all four strokes can be included but not much can be done in the way of pace variation. Everything is long and at a steady pace. Some fartlek swims are possible but the firm portions of these should not be too fast — avoid becoming anaerobic.”

So the West Auckland Aquatic’s swimmer that arrived at the SNZ National Youth Camp had been training at a relatively slow aerobic pace for twelve weeks – over 700 kilometres of long gentle swimming. That’s not to say she is exactly slow. In fact she is the current National Open Women’s Short Course 50 metres breaststroke champion. But at this stage of her preparation her speed had been put to one side while other physiological goals took priority.

And do you know the training session Swimming New Zealand gave this swimmer when she attended their Camp. Unbelievably some lunatic asked her to get into a swimming pool and swim 100×25 metre breaststroke sprints in under 18 seconds – going on an average of every 40 seconds. Yes, most certainly, Swimming New Zealand Camps should come with a government health warning. What they got the swimmer from our club to do was wrong in so many ways.

  1. No one called me to find out what training we had been doing prior to the camp. No one seemed to care whether Swimming New Zealand’s plans for country’s best young swimmers were compatible with their home training.
  2. Sprinting a young swimmer straight out of build-up conditioning is stunningly dangerous. It carries a huge risk of injury. Muscles get pulled and torn that way.
  3. Sprinting a young swimmer straight out of build-up conditioning can quickly lead to a condition called over training. Excessive fatigue and ill health can follow.
  4. Giving a young athlete a workout that, because of their current training, will certainly result in failure is gross bad coaching.

There should be no misunderstanding on what is being said here. I have no problem with 100×25 as a training session. For swimmers raised on a diet of that sort of thing I am sure 100×25 does all sorts of good things. What I do know is that for an athlete raised in an aerobic based program, 100x25s is just bloody stupid. Recognizing that truth does not require an American Swim Coaches International Level Five coaching diploma.

In fact the dangers are so starkly apparent, the lack of care so evident, one can only believe Swimming New Zealand’s coaching appointments are incompetent or simply don’t care. Well, we care Swimming New Zealand. When you invite one of my swimmers to your Millennium Institute you need to do a lot better than this. If you can’t, we would prefer to stay away in future. The best thing you did all weekend is make it positive certain that a West Auckland breaststroker has no interest in your ridiculous Millennium program. And for that we are all deeply thankful.




Too Drunk To Shut The Pop Holes

Monday, June 24th, 2013

By David

Some readers may recognize this extract from the first sentence of George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm.

According to Wikipedia, “Orwell was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism. The Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror.”

I have no doubt the motives behind Swimwatch have been the subject of debate, rumor and wild speculation. I know this because, for over ten years, I have received many emails about Swimwatch; emails that have questioned whether my parents were married on the 3rd March 1948; emails that have suggested that my IQ is well below the national average and emails that claim my name and Swimwatch are a cover for the writings of some other deranged mind. None of that is true – my parents were married, my IQ is above 100 and Swimwatch covers for no one.

When Swimwatch was established, twelve years ago, its purpose was to express happy swimming stories and to oppose bad policies and decisions. That has not changed. It is sad that the management of New Zealand sport and swimming in particular have provided such a bountiful harvest of bad stories. However that is the world Miskimmin has provided. Layton, Renford, Villanueva and Lyles may be new; they may even be pleasant company; but the Sport New Zealand doctrine they have been ordered employ has failed over and over again and for that reason Swimwatch will contest their every move and question their motives and purpose.

Proudly I can paraphrase Wikipedia, “Swimwatch is a critic of Peter Miskimmin and hostile to Swimming New Zealand directed centralism. We believe sport in New Zealand and Swimming in particular have become centralized to a point of paralysis; dictatorships built upon a Sport New Zealand cult and enforced by the imposition of financial fear.”

As sports have become increasingly dependent on government welfare, the bureaucrats running Sport New Zealand have expanded their influence and power to a point where the full time preoccupation of administrators is to action the orders of Miskimmin and Baumann. The ability to obey and massage the ego of the government’s pay-masters has become the defining concern of New Zealand sport. Even those who should know better, who should stand for independence and strength, have accepted the inevitability of state power. One of New Zealand’s most prominent sport’s lawyers and past Olympic Association Board Member, Maria Clarke, told me recently, “Sport in New Zealand cannot be delivered without Sport New Zealand”.

It was with good reason New Zealand’s largest newspaper selected Miskimmin as the most powerful person in New Zealand sport. This is what they said;

“1. Peter Miskimmin – The way the high-performance model is set up, virtually every national sporting organisation (NSO) is beholden to Sport NZ. NSOs spend the bulk of their year trying to achieve prescribed Sport NZ targets and the rest praying that they will get their reward in the form of a cheque. It’s Miskimmin’s name on the bottom of those cheques.”

And, for those of you familiar with “Animal Farm”, this little rhyme pretty well sums up the current state of New Zealand sport.

Thou are the giver of

All thy creatures love,

Full belly twice a day, clean straw to roll upon;

Every beast great or small,

Sleeps at peace in his stall,

Thou watchest over all,

Comrade Napoleon!

It is far from surprising that we have ended up in this place. The government’s wealth and a civil servant unable to resist the temptation to use it to expand his personal influence meant that the growth of State power was as certain as it was inevitable. As “Deep Throat” said to the Washington Post, “Follow the money”. Let’s take a look at a few sports and see how dependant they are on Peter Miskimmin. Let’s see what a pathetic condition the bureaucrats that work for Sport New Zealand have turned Swimming New Zealand and similar organizations into.

By any commercial measure these organizations are majority owned subsidiaries of Sport New Zealand. Without Miskimmin they don’t exist – or at least the Head Office and Millennium type parasites would disappear. The rest of us, who never see any of Miskimmin’s money, would be unaffected. Miskimmin, Baumann and their cheque book could disappear tomorrow and we’d be better off. And all the while Miskimmin wanders around New Zealand telling his adoring fans that he never gets involved in the internal workings of sporting organizations. I’ve been to two Miskimmin road show events. Both are beautifully described in Animal Farm.

“…out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs…out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side.
There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched Napoleon march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside-down.

Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything-in spite of their terror, and of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticising, no matter what happened-they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of-

“Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better!”

It went on for five minutes without stopping. And by the time the sheep had quieted down, the chance to utter any protest had passed, for Napoleon had marched back into the farmhouse.”

If Miskimmin does not get involved in the internal workings of NSOs can anyone explain to me why he appointed Sport New Zealand representatives to sit on the old Swimming New Zealand Board? Why he condoned his representatives ordering Swimming New Zealand Board members to change a vote they didn’t like?  Why he sits on the selection panel charged with appointing an NSO chief executive? Why he make frequent visits to Bike New Zealand? He’s involved all right. Again Animal Farm seems so apt.

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

Of course the Miskimmin, Baumann Empire will never last. New Zealand is fundamentally a liberal democratic society. Eventually Miskimmin and his totalitarian model will be rejected and a decentralised management structure will be put in its place. In the meantime Miskimmin will appoint clones of himself to NSO management positions – hoping they will bolster and support his reign. It is true – New Zealand sport is stacked full of Miskimmin replicas. Visit the Millennium coffee shop any day at ten o’clock and there they are, a dozen Miskimmins, dressed the same, believing the same, saying the same. And that is why Swimwatch is here. We began this story with the first sentence from Animal Farm. It is appropriate, therefore, to conclude with the book’s last sentence.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The Company You Keep

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

By David

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about the former Dominion Finance Chief Executive, Paul Cropp. There was a swimming connection. For several years Cropp was also the Secretary of the North Shore Swimming Club. At the time of his conviction, on four charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, Cropp was still a Board member of the North Shore Club.

The Serious Fraud Office, which brought the proceedings against Cropp, argued he knowingly and deliberately breached the requirements of Dominion’s debenture trust deed or that of its sister company, North South Finance. The SFO said Cropp caused or assisted Dominion or North South to make loans worth millions of dollars – without trustee consent – to related parties. Although Cropp did not stand to personally gain from the transactions, SFO lawyer Dickey said the 50-year-old had an interest in keeping the companies afloat because of the $450,000 salary he was receiving. In the end, both companies collapsed as part of the wave of finance firms that folded after 2007.

I was surprised that Cropp continued to stand for election to the North Shore Club Board while he was defending such serious honesty charges. It must have occurred to him that his presence on the Board could become a liability. But perhaps not – I’ve been told these finance guys are not short on ego. I was even more surprised that the North Shore Club continued to accept Cropp as a Board member. The Board of a club has a responsibility to protect the interests of its members. It is difficult to imagine how the North Shore Board rationalized Cropp’s presence with that duty. It is interesting that a day after the first Swimwatch story about Paul Cropp was published his name disappeared from the list of North Shore Swimming Club directors.

All this came to a head, when Justice Graham Lang sentenced Cropp to two years and seven months in jail.

It is hard to reconcile the arrogance of Cropp’s persistent efforts to be re-elected to the North Shore Board with the “overwhelming remorse” he told the Court he felt every day and night. Cropp continued to play a starring role in the affairs of the North Shore Club right up to the Club’s Annual General Meeting held one year ago on 14 June 2012. By that time the nature and extent of the accusations being made by the Serious Fraud Office were well and truly known; for one month short of two years to be precise. One would have thought that Cropp’s “overwhelming remorse” would have prompted him to play a very low key role in the Club’s affairs; perhaps even stand down while his guilt or innocence was being tested. But instead the North Shore President, Phil Mitchell, – or as I’m told he prefers to be known, Dr Phil Mitchell – decided to highlight Cropp’s profile with the following declaration – “I am reluctant to single out individuals, but special thanks must go Paul Cropp for his continued efforts as secretary and as the leader of our strategic planning initiatives.”

Clearly, remorse means different things to different people. So, it appears, does humility. Especially when you are good at something, and North Shore is good at swimming. Without being servile it is important to act with reserve and dignity. The behaviour of these North Shore leaders appears to fall short of that test; something many in the rest of the swimming nation have understood for some time.

However, there is no intention in this essay to censure Cropp. He did a really dumb thing and will now pay in good measure. Whether the mental picture we have of these finance types driving around in expensive Porsche Cayenne cars while they wait for their mansions on the Devonport waterfront to be built has any validity we will never know – and personally I don’t really care.

What I do think is relevant is the following news report of Cropp’s sentencing hearing.

“Cropp was the secretary of the North Shore Swimming Club for a number of years and Billington – that’s Cropp’s lawyer – read out a letter from the former president of the North Shore Swimming Club: “He [Cropp] is one of the most decent people I have had the pleasure to work with,” the letter said.

The former president referred to is Dr Phil again. It is hard not to see his actions as anything but arrogant. I have nothing against him supporting his mate through some tough times. In fact I admire that sort of loyalty. However there is no justification for dragging the North Shore Swimming Club’s name into Cropp’s illegal turmoil. In fact by using his previous position to rally support for Cropp, Dr Phil may be guilty of as many Code of Conduct violations as his “most decent” friend. What about: “being professional in, and accepting responsibility for, your actions or being aware of, and maintain an uncompromising adhesion to, standards, rules, regulations and policies or never acting in any way that may bring disrepute or disgrace to SNZ members.”

I confess, I am biased. My negative opinion of Dr Phil is influenced by what I have seen in one meeting and read of his views on swimming matters. For example, how can Dr Phil label a convicted thief as one of the most decent people he’s had the pleasure to work with? Especially when High Court Justice Lang Justice said he did not sense any remorse when Cropp testified during the trial. It could be that “no remorse and decent” says as much about Dr Phil as it does about his friend in the “big house”.

My prejudice however has another source. While Dr Phil was out there thanking and defending Paul Cropp, he was writing this in his 2012 North Shore Club’s President’s Report

The swimming politics that have played out over this last year have had a devastating effect on the sport, and eroded public and funder confidence in the wider governance of the sport. Suffice it to say that clubs like ours deserve a considerably better quality of service from those in positions of responsibility. We hope that the Moller report signals a cessation to the divisive patch protection politics that has caused so much damage to the sport of swimming and heralds a renewed sense of shared vision and collegiality.

This Dr Phil tirade is a crack at those who opposed Project Vanguard and supported a federal management structure: people like Brian Palmer, most members of the Auckland Board and very able and honest executives like Suzanne Spear and Bronwyn Radford. In fact a majority of those involved in NZ swimming governance did not want Project Vanguard. For Dr Phil to label these good people divisive, damaging and question the quality of their service is disgraceful; especially when he holds a convicted felon in such high esteem.     

In the UK recently UBS CEO, Andrea Orcel, told Parliament: the financial industry has become “arrogant,” needed to overhaul its culture “to put integrity over profit” and try to recover the “honesty and standing of the past.” Ms Orcel may well be pleased at some of the changes that have just been made at the North Shore Swimming Club.

Renford’s Folly

Monday, June 17th, 2013

By David

Here is an example of the way Swimming New Zealand works. Miskimmin, from Sport New Zealand, goes out and hires an Australian from rowing to run Swimming New Zealand. The Australian, his name is Renford, does a tour of New Zealand and announces in his first Radio Sport interview that the standard of New Zealand coaching is in need of serious attention. This is what he said.

One of the central themes that has come out of my Regional tour, I think, it (coaching) is an area where we need to do more work in. It’s an area where we need to put a bit more attention to. If we had the domestic talent that we needed we would have been looking in that (the New Zealand) direction. You need to hunt for the best talent you can get available and if they come from overseas then so be it.

You would be excused for forming the opinion that Renford must be pretty knowledgeable about coaching. After only eight weeks in the country he has evaluated the field and determined that there is not a New Zealand swim coach good enough to coach the national team. You would expect that the certainty of his opinion must be based on some foundation of knowledge. How else could this foreigner dismiss the quality of New Zealand’s coaching population in eight weeks?

And then the facts begin to get in the way of the smoke screen. Renford is Australian. Since 1896 his country has won 7 gold medals per million of its population. The boss of High Performance Sport, Alex Baumann, is Canadian. Since 1896 his country has won 2 gold medals per million of its population. The boss of High Performance swimming is Spanish. Since 1896 his country has won less than 1 gold medal per million of its population. New Zealand comfortably beats them all. Since 1896 we have won 10 gold medals per million of our population. The record of Laing, Lydiard, Jelley and Tonks is proudly “Made in New Zealand”.

I’ve just watched an interview with Noel Donaldson, the Australian that Miskimmin has employed to replace Dick Tonks as coach of New Zealand men’s rowing. I can see why Donaldson got the job. He’s foreign and he has spent ten minutes telling New Zealand that our rowers needed an easier training regime than the Tonks’ program. We hear the same rubbish in swimming all the time – “we train smarter”, yea right.

Renford needs to remember that the person who was in charge of swimming when we got into this mess was not a New Zealander. She was a product of Renford’s precious Australia. We actually did have a good import helping swimming back in those days. He was a pom and his name was Clive Rushton. I wasn’t in New Zealand at the time but, from a distance, it seemed that Cameron and her mates made his life and work impossible.

Did you see that Justin Grace, the New Zealand sprint cycling coach, who gave up coaching here has been snapped up by the French? A hugely patriotic and talented New Zealander just could not tolerate the crap that spewed out of Sport New Zealand any longer. The French have won this one and, in this case, good luck to them.

Miskimmin’s Olympic hockey career demonstrated almost no ability to win a match. I suspect his career in selecting winning sport’s administrators and coaches is going to be equally wanting, equally meagre.

And then Renford confirmed my suspicions. In the same interview, he said this;

By putting the best athletes together they are available to push themselves. We need to make sure the best are surrounded by the best and they can continuously push themselves.

No one with any knowledge of coaching an individual sport would say something as incredibly stupid. Renford’s declaration is so senseless; so devoid of truth that it brings into question his fitness to occupy the position of CEO of Swimming New Zealand. Certainly pursuing that sort of nonsense will condemn another generation of New Zealanders to Olympic failure and bitter disappointment. The last Australian to run elite swimming in New Zealand made similar claims – and look where that got us.

So what’s wrong with Renford’s babble?

Well, quite simply “the best pushing the best” does not work. Good athletes beating each other up day after day is the most certain way I know of killing any prospect of a successful international swimming career. Training for an individual sport like swimming is a very personal exercise. One champion’s steady pace is another champion’s anaerobic gut-buster. Any athlete who bases their preparation on the speed of others is doomed to sporting failure. The thought that the taxpayer’s $1.6 million is being spent encouraging New Zealand’s best swimmers to race each other in the Millennium pool fills me with horror and despair. No wonder no one can win anything at an Olympic Games. They’ve left their best performances back in Auckland. And now we are told, by Renford, that all that pushing, all that competing in practice, is at the command of Swimming New Zealand.

I once coached New Zealand’s two fastest sprinters, Toni Jeffs and Nichola Chellingworth. Training could have easily have been turned into the Renford dream of the “best pushing the best”. I prevented this by stressing the danger of making each training session a battle for supremacy. Both swimmers had to remember that their personal development was the goal. To do that they needed to train, not strain.

When Alison and I lived in London several very fast New Zealand runners came to stay – runners like Ann Audain and Barbara Moore. However Alison and our visitors never trained together. Why? To avoid the very thing Renford has told New Zealand justifies the millions spent by swimming at the Millennium Institute. The result? Ann broke the 5000 meters world record and won gold in the Commonwealth Games, Alison owns a national record that has stood for 34 years and Barbara won a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games.

However, for readers not inclined to believe my experience, here are some opinions you may find more interesting.

ARCH JELLEY, on the relationship between two world record holders he was coaching; Dick Quax Olympic silver medal and world record for 5000 meters and John Walker Olympic gold medal and one mile world record: “Arch also had to be careful of other runners in the squad. Dick Quax was a very strong runner and capable of big mileage. Arch had to keep Walker away from Quax otherwise Arch believed Quax may have broken Walker .”

RON DELANY, Olympic 1500 meters champion: “I didn’t really need a training partner. I was training to my own standards for my own goals.”

HERB ELLIOTT, Olympic 1500 meters champion and mile and 1500 meter world record holder: “I preferred to train mostly by myself. I found that training with somebody else was a distraction. Training by yourself, you are very conscious of the battle within yourself. You were there for a particular purpose and you stayed better focussed if you were by yourself.”

STEVE CRAM, 1500 meters and the mile world record, won the 1500 meters gold at the World Championships and the 1500 meters silver medal at the Olympic Games: “I didn’t have a training group as such. I was grateful to have a couple of guys who I did my general running with. One of them was a very average club athlete. But the important thing was I knew what I was doing. It was my training and if the lads wanted to join in, that was fine.”

JOHN WALKER, one mile world record, Olympic champion 1500 meters: “Most of my track work was done on my own because the sessions that I did, no one else could do.”

So there you are, five pretty good athletes and a top coach who go out of their way to avoid the very thing this new Australian import to SNZ says we should embrace; says we should spend $1.6 million a year to foster. Renford’s opinion is a folly; dangerous, damaging and destructive, but a pathetic folly most of all.

Before I finish, there may be a few sceptics who notice that my examples come for track and field. I can hear the SNZ dawn chorus already singing, “Ah, but swimming is different.” And that’s true. No swimmer in New Zealand would dare make the Herb Elliott confession that he or she “stayed better focussed if you were by yourself.” Swimming is full of Renford and Miskimmin cheerleaders who would banish any Millennium inmate who described swimming as an individual sport. But, the truth is that short of walking alone to the South Pole, swimming is as individual as it gets. Danyon Loader spent hours in his own lane in Dunedin’s Moana Pool; Dara Torres did 90% of her training on her own; Michael Phelps certainly did not swim in a lane with three other guys his own speed and Amanda Baird has confessed to enjoying training alone. In fact there are plenty of examples of swimmers who have exactly the same thoughts as the runners quoted above. They just don’t dare confess their treachery.

Post Script: Back to the subject of High Performance Sport New Zealand. It must be hugely difficult for anyone to have confidence in the New Zealand High Performance Sport program when the CEO sends his children back to Canada to be in the Canadian High Performance group ahead of the program their father is responsible for here in New Zealand. If New Zealand ’s High Performance program isn’t good enough for the CEO’s children, perhaps we should stay clear as well.

Comments Enabled

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Regular readers will know that the comments section here has been broken for quite some time. In an attempt to get discussion going again, we have installed a new commenting system. It is very similar to the last comment section, besides the fact that it actually works.

You can still comment anonymously, or have your comments tied to an account. If you wish to comment anonymously, indicate that you’d like to comment as a “guest”.

Comments are still moderated, so likely won’t display immediately. Apologies again that this took so long to put in place.