Top Dog Says No To High Performance Centre

By David

No one will be surprised to read that I view the Millennium High Performance Centre as a waste of time and money. The millions spent on facilities, coaches and support staff produce nothing. Without exception New Zealand’s best performers have been prepared elsewhere. Danyon Loader stayed at his home in Dunedin with his larger than life coach, Duncan Laing. Valery Adams trains in Switzerland. Her brother plays basketball in the NBA and honed his trade in the United States. New Zealand’s best male and female runners, Nick Willis and Kim Smith, also train in the USA. Lydia Ko has never needed the government’s Millennium largess. Scott Dixon, Russell Coutts, Dean Barker, Sir Mark Todd, Sir John Walker, Trent Bray (world champion swimmer) and a dozen others have never been anywhere near the state run institution.

And so we know several things for sure. We know that elite sporting performance does not require a state funded high performance centre. We also know that the statistics seem to support the view that an athlete’s performance is best nurtured in their home location with a coach of their choosing.

What I have never been able to find is a super star athlete who specifically makes a comparison between the Millennium socialist method of preparation and private enterprise care. Never that is until today. Ironically my example comes from Spain. Ironic because Luis Villanueva, the person selected by Miskimmin and Renford, to promote the use of the Millennium High Performance Centre in swimming, is from Spain.

One would hope that Villanueva would know the history of Spain’s best athlete. To be Spain’s best sportsperson is no mean achievement. Spain has been the home of sporting superstars such as golf Seve Ballesteros, cycling Alberto Contador, moto GP Jorge Lorenzo, football Cesc Fabregas, Formula 1 Fernando Alonso, Basketball Pau Gasol and football Andres Iniesta. But best of them all is tennis player, Rafael Nadal; ranked number one in the world, winner of thirteen Grand Slam tournaments, Olympic Gold medalist and career earnings of $US61 million.

I’ve just read his book. It’s a good read about a person who is clearly good in ways beyond his sporting achievements. As a young tennis player Nadal demonstrated a precocious talent for tennis. And soon the Spanish tennis federation’s version of Luis Villanueva came knocking; came wanting Rafael Nadal to join their High Performance Centre in Barcelona. Here is how Nadal describes the episode.

“Around that time I had a chance to break my ties with Toni (Nadal’s tennis coach).  I was offered a scholarship to move to Barcelona to train at the High Performance Centre of San Cugat, one of the best professional tennis academies in Europe.  It was another big decision for me and the truth is I am not very good at making decisions even now.  So at moments like this I listen to what other people have to say before trying to weigh up the arguments.  I don’t like to have opinions on things until I’ve got hold of all the facts.  On this particular decision it was my parents I listened to more than Toni and they had it very clear.  Given that we had a choice, being well-off enough not to have to take the scholarship, my parents view was, “He is doing very well with Toni and besides where is a boy going to be better off than at home.”  Their main fear, never mind my tennis game, was that I might lose my bearings in Barcelona alone without my family.  They did not want me to become a problem adolescent.  Avoiding that was more important to them than seeing me achieve success in my tennis career.

I was glad that was the decision my parents made because in my heart of hearts I did not want to leave home either.  And I am gladder still today looking back on it.  Grating on my nerves as Toni sometimes was I knew I had a good thing going with him.  I was not going to find a better coach or guide.

Success might have gone to my head in Barcelona.  It never would with Toni or my family around all of whom conspired to keep me grounded.”

So there you have it. Nadal had the wisdom to say, “No”. To say no for the reasons detailed in Swimwatch over and over again; detailed on these pages since the very day Jan Cameron first came up with the grandiose Millennium scheme. And Cameron’s academy was not one of the best in Europe or anywhere else. The real tragedy was that she worked at her High Performance Centre for a decade, she processed two generations of New Zealand’s best swimmers, she spent a royal ransom and at Olympic events she won nothing. Meanwhile Nadal stayed at home, with his hometown coach and certainly did better than that.

They say, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s just fine as far as Swimming New Zealand is concerned. Let them pour millions into their North Shore void. Who cares? The really important thing is that the current generation of young swimmers do not to repeat the mistake of former swimmers seduced by a Millennium offer. When Luis comes knocking, read carefully again what Nadal thought of a similar deal and what he decided. Consider the history of failure that Villanueva is peddling. Reflect on the accuracy of Nadal’s warning. Ponder Nadal’s sporting success.

And in an unseemly rush don’t dash over to the North Shore like I hear one west Auckland swimmer has done recently. Instead politely ask Villanueva to leave; pack your swimming bag and head down to your old coach at your local pool and get stuck into the best training session you’ve ever swum. Then like a really good Spanish athlete called Nadal you too will understand the meaning of, “Grating on my nerves as Toni sometimes was I knew I had a good thing going with him.  I was not going to find a better coach or guide. Success might have gone to my head in Barcelona.  It never would with Toni or my family around all of whom conspired to keep me grounded.”

Better than that, you will have just made one of the most important decisions along the road to being a champion swimmer.

  • Misterclive

    How interesting that you have to qualify Trent’s name with “(World champion swimmer)” on a swimming blog. That says a lot (everything?) about the image and brand of both Swimming New Zealand and swimming in New Zealand. I may be partially to blame for that, in which case, I am truly repentant.

  • David

    Clive – You are right of course. If anything it’s worse now. I saw Trent at the pool on Sunday at the WAQ 50s – remember them, and thought then he should be added to the list in this story. What with Simcic, Winter, Jeff’s, Bray, Kent, Loader there was a pretty good group in those days – and not a Millennium Institute in sight.