Ideas Above Their Station

By David

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Three books, a series of recent events and some extraordinary memories have come together this week to remind me of these lines from the Kipling poem, “If”. The three books are all biographies – Rafael Nadal, Bear Grylls and Valerie Adams. Recent events include the sale of Air New Zealand shares and the rush by some to curry favour with the Millennium cult. And the extraordinary memories involve a departed coaching giant – Duncan Laing. These events and the lives of these people reveal the futility and wantonness of the Miskimmin empire; a world best described as a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.

I have already written about how Nadal chose to spurn a Millennium Institute type offer from the Spanish Tennis Federation. Sagely Nadal decided to stay at home with the coach he knew; the coach who had nurtured the talent that was now so prized by the state machine. I have also written about the pride Bear Grylls felt when he was selected for the SAS and when he stood on the summit of Mt Everest; pride that his achievements could not be bought, were not for sale, were paid for by toil, character, courage and personal sacrifice. This from a man born to privilege, educated at Eton and the son of a British Member of Parliament.

And now I read the following report in Valerie Adams’ autobiography.

In 2008 we organized a meeting for Valerie with Minister of Sport and Recreation Murray McCully. At the time she was waiting for funding, and having to pay for travel out of her own pocket, while she was preparing for an Olympic Games. Before the meeting I told Murray he’d hear some things he might find hard to believe, and he’d wonder if what he was hearing was for real. Sure enough, in the meeting he just looked at me and I said, “I told you.” He was great in helping us shape Valerie’s way forward.

With the help of others we arm-wrestled Valerie out of the system for her to be able to do it her way, so she could work out herself what was needed in order to win. She does know how to make a high performance program work.

What more does any swimmer in New Zealand need? The world’s best tennis player says the idea of Miskimmin’s Institute isn’t worth a pinch of salt. The world’s greatest explorer says Miskimmin’s millions can’t buy success. And now New Zealand’s best athlete; the world’s best shot putter, admits she went all the way to the Minister of Sport in order to get out of the state system, do her own thing, train her own way, steer her own course.

Any swimmer approached by the Millennium sect must consider the guidance of those who have a proven record of excellence. There is no one in the Millennium Institute’s swimming program that can hold a candle to the Resumes of Nadal, Grylls and Adams. Who would you trust? Those who for ten years have spent $16 million and returned empty handed from Olympic Games after Olympic Games or three world stars who have never failed to deliver at sport’s most stellar occasions.

When the Institute comes knocking the best thing any swimmer could do is “arm-wrestled themselves out of the system, to be able to do it their way, so they can work out themselves what is needed in order to win.” That quote might not be exactly Valerie Adams’ words but it’s certainly near enough.

But perhaps there is hope. If the government believes it has no business running a power station or an airline, then just maybe it will question why it should own its own Millennium swim team. It doesn’t do swimming at all well. Lyles and Hurring may be liabilities best owned by someone else.

Which brings me the memory of a New Zealand coaching giant, Duncan Laing. Now there was a man, who did it his way; who worked out for himself what was needed to win. And do you know what? He did it without Miskimmin’s advice or his millions. Like Jelley and others he was a humble thoughtful man who took on the world and won; something no one in the Millennium’s swimming program has been able to do. Something no one in the Millennium program will ever be able to do. Two pictures say it all really. The first is a picture of the hotel in Wellington where the pampered and preened inmates of Miskimmin’s Millennium program stay when they are in Wellington. This is how the website describes their accommodation.

The luxurious suite features genuine Italian leather and high quality N.Z. made furniture – a luxurious feel. The bathroom is of exceptionally high quality with deep full sized bath and separate shower. Ideal executive accommodation that also suits business and meeting needs.   

And then there is this next photograph. This is the unit Duncan Laing’s team frequently stayed in when they came to Auckland to swim in the National Championships and Olympic and Commonwealth Games trials. You may remember one of the swimmers on Laing’s team. He won a silver medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games and two Gold Medals in the 200 and 400 freestyle at the Atlanta Olympic Games. What a difference, don’t you think?

But you probably think I’m talking about the accommodation. No, not at all. I’m talking about the results. Right now private enterprise from a cabin in Henderson’s Tui Glenn has an Olympic record way out and beyond those who frequent Wellington’s luxurious suite with its genuine Italian leather.



The successful swimming world is turning away from State run swim schools at a hundred miles an hour. It is not hard to work out why. They don’t work. They breed arrogance and self-importance. They nurture failure. Independence breeds success. And independence tells you to protect your swimming career, to do your own thing, to stay at home with the coach you know. Just ask Nadal, Grylls, Adams and Laing.

  • David

    Talking about modest accommodation. Here is the Hostel at Crystal Palace in London that has been home to John Walker, Rod Dixon, Ann Audain and Alison Wright; all world ranked at the time. I suspect world record holder, Dick Quax, has probably stayed there as well. No “genuine Italian leather and high quality N.Z. made furniture” in the Hostel; only a screaming siren at 7.00am waking everyone for breakfast. Clive Ruston has probably enjoyed the Crystal Palace Hostel in his time.

    • mister clive

      Stayed there? Sometimes it felt as if I lived there! The screaming siren indeed woke everyone; I think they used the fire alarm system linked into every room so there was no escape, even propping pillows against the speakers. The lifts were tiny (probably illegally so) so most people didn’t even bother waiting, just hoofed it up the 13 flights to your room which was inevitably high up. Racing down became an Olympic-level challenge between you and your room-mate. The food wasn’t food. The entertainment was one (small, probably three channels) TV in a common room, a table-tennis table plus Monopoly and Scrabble for those of an intellectual persuasion. The nearest ‘civilization’ (if English had a typographic irony symbol it would shine here in its almighty glory) was a good 20 minutes walk away, uphill. The uphill trek was necessary because the CP bar was way too small although regularly bumping into some field athlete who was later to be immortalized for saying, “Luke, I am your father,” makes the retrospective interesting.

      Nostalgia is definitely not what it used to be, but what else? First visit there was in May 1967. How can I be so precise? ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ was released that week and we put it on repeat over the pool speakers for the whole week. I challenge anyone to go out and do sprints with that burned into your brain for five consecutive days. At the same camp my Dad took out the national 400 free champion at 5-a-side and I mean ‘took out’! Everyone was pleased; he was an arrogant SOB. I stood on ‘the bridge’ and watched David Bedford’s 10,000m world track record, I watched Mark Spitz set a world record swimming solo and I shook hands with Johnny Weissmuller.

      Oh, and I swam the most important race of my whole career there :)

      • Jane_Copland

        I took the train down to swim at Crystal Palace a few years ago because I wanted to train long-course (I surely can’t be the only person who likes it?!) and fancied seeing the legendary pool and track myself… they told me off for wearing training fins and had half the pool cordoned off “just because” – I think they didn’t want to staff the four lanes by the windows with another life guard.

        Back to the 25m, four-lane pool at Virgin Active Moorgate :(

  • David

    Alison and I were at Crystal Palace the night Dave Bedford broke the 10,000 record. That was one hell of a run. There were no half measures when it came to Dave Bedford. But more important – what was the most important race of your career. You had some good ones. I must find out which you rate as “the” most important.

    • mister clive

      David, 1972 Olympic Trials, duh!

      Jane, the lanes by the windows were awesome when there was a major car race on the track – Lola GT’s going past almost within touching distance at 250kph+ (1960’s remember), unsilenced and screaming :))