A Bone To Pick

Wow, I have clearly been away from New Zealand for too long. Sitting here in the Red Sea port of Jeddah I have lost contact with the comings and goings of swimming in New Zealand. As recent Swimwatch posts will show I have been making an effort to catch up. My plan is to turn up at the New Zealand National Championships in April with one of my better Saudi swimmers. Actually Eyad is not from Saudi Arabia. He’s a Syrian whose family escaped the bombed out destruction of Aleppo. He is a sprinter and will swim in the 50 and 100 freestyle and butterfly events.

But in the course of trolling through various New Zealand swimming sites I came across some information that made my blood boil. You see I have some knowledge of what it’s like to prepare for an Olympic Games and have things not go to plan. Of course I have no knowledge of the deep hurt felt by a swimmer. Their hurt is personal and private; a hurt only known to them and for them to bear.

However in 1992 I was the coach of Toni Jeffs at the Barcelona Olympic Games. After winning a bronze medal in what was then the world short course championship Toni was a favourite to make a final in the Barcelona Games. She ended up 27th in the 50 freestyle. And it was not her fault. I badly misjudged the speed work portion of her training. I pushed way too hard. Nothing was ever good enough. If Toni swam a 45 second trial I demanded 42. If she did 20×100 I increased it to 40×100. This was the Olympic Games – time to go further and faster, much further and much faster. And Toni to her credit delivered.

But, by the time we arrived in Barcelona Toni was desperately unwell. My training had been way over the top. One evening in a café on the Barcelona waterfront we were having dinner and she just fell off her chair, passed out on the floor. She was run down to the point of exhaustion. Looking back on it, she did a remarkable job of swimming the length of the Barcelona Pool.

The result hurt me, because I knew it was my fault. But the result hurts the athlete far more. It is their result. The victories and the losses belong to the athlete. And for that they deserve our respect and our assurance that we will refrain from invading their joy or their sorrow. And do you want to know who taught me that? A guy called Arthur Lydiard.

A week later Toni and I were in a nearly empty Koro Lounge at Auckland Airport, waiting for a flight to Wellington. A family group was sitting not far away. The husband walked over to our table and asked, “Are you David Wright and Toni Jeffs?”

I said, “Yes, hello.”

He said, “Well I just want you to know that our family got up at 1.00 in the morning to watch you swim and you let us down.”

There was nothing I could say to diminish the swimmer’s hurt. What he said was not fair. It was not right. It was ignorant of the facts and oblivious to the pain.

I was reminded of that story when I came across a paragraph written by Lauren Boyle on the news page of her website. This is what it says:       

NOVEMBER 2016 – Radio Sport NZ enquired about having a chat, but can wait until hell freezes over for anything from me. Straight after my races at Rio de Janeiro Radio Sport aired an unjustified character attack on me by an ex Swimming New Zealand official. No apology or retraction was forthcoming. What Mr Bone would know about my illness, fightback, or for that matter anything much around elite competition, I could write on a small piece of rice paper. Age group swimming; maybe! However on a positive note I should record my appreciation for the public support I received in response to this. http://mobile.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.php?c_id=4&objectid=11692660

Of course I then clicked on the New Zealand Herald link to see what Mr. Bone had said. And here is a summarized version of what I found.

12 August, 2016   

Former national swim coach Mark Bone has launched a stinging attack on New Zealand swim star Lauren Boyle, saying she had conceded defeat before she even got to Rio de Janeiro. Boyle’s preparation has been blighted by injury and illness, but Bone said the best swimmers push through those sorts of issues.

“I got the impression going in that that she has already thrown it away. You’ve just got to close your mouth and get on with the job and see what comes out of it,” Bone told Radio Sport’s Kent Johns. “You can pull some excuses after the event. I don’t like to see excuses coming out before the event. You’ve got to get out there and lay it on the line.

“Psychologically, she had given up before the event had even started.

“They overcome adversity and they do it in spite of [illness]… You have to look at the campaign that she’s had. Swimming New Zealand has given her everything that she’s wanted – the opportunity to train offshore, all the resources. I’m disappointed with the fact she swum, I guess, as badly as she has done.

“Is it good enough for Lauren Boyle? Absolutely not.”

The comments of Mark Bone did not surprise. On several occasions I have been the subject of Bone vitriol. I have heard him publically pull apart swimmers coached by me and, I suspect, principally only because they were coached by me. It has long been my opinion that he is an unsuitable person to comment on swimming matters during television broadcasts. And I have that view, not because he does not know the sport. But because he has opinions like those reported in the New Zealand Herald. You see I’ve come across Mark Bone types before. Indeed I met one once in the Koru Lounge at Auckland Airport.