Archive for June, 2017

Accountable To The Stakeholders

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

As has always been the case nothing written here reflects poorly on the athletes. Posts like this are written in defence of New Zealand swimmers. The purpose is to identify those at fault for the constant cycle of New Zealand swimming failure.

Shown below is a list of the swimmers entered in individual events at next month’s World Swimming Championships. The current world ranking of each swimmer is also shown. The information needs to be viewed with some caution. The rankings are changing all the time as countries, especially the United States, hold their World Championship trials.     

Bradlee Ashby (200m individual medley), 22nd

Gabrielle Fa’amausili (50m freestyle, medley relay), 20th

Helena Gasson (50m butterfly, 200m individual medley, medley relay), 24th and 34th

Daniel Hunter (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 45th

Corey Main (200m backstroke, 4x100m freestyle relay), 25th

Sam Perry (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 64th

Emma Robinson (800m, 1500m freestyle), 29th and 29th

Matthew Stanley (200m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 29th

Clearly it is going to take a major improvement for the current rankings to change into medal winning performances. It can be done. Peter Snell was ranked 25th in the world prior to the Rome Olympic Games. Four of these swimmers have a ranking the same as or higher than 25th. We will see whether any of them can win from that position. I hope so.

However if, as seems more likely, no one manages to convert a current world ranking in the twenties, thirties, forties and sixties into one, two or three who is to blame? Well it is certainly not the swimmers. Like generations before them they have diligently gone about the bidding of the national federation. The Millennium program dates back to the days when Helen Norfolk left Christchurch, seduced by the hard sell of Millennium success, through to swimmers who have come and gone like Tash Hind, Penelope Marshall, Hayley Palmer, Amaka Gessler, Hannah McLean, Samantha Lucie-Smith, Mellisa Ingram, Alison Fitch, Daniel Bell, Glen Snyders, Corney Swanepoel, Cameron Gibson, Gareth Kean, Dean Kent, Moss Burmester, Michael Jack and many others.

No one will convince me there was not a World Championship or Olympic Medallist in that group of names – of course there was. But it did not happen. And if it does not happen again in Budapest eight more names will be added to the list. And the New Zealand federation will wander off looking for the next eight promising juniors to lure into the Millennium Institute.  

How long is the litany of destruction going to continue? When are those responsible going to be held to account? After all someone is responsible. Failure on this scale has a parent. But who is it? Well there is a fundamental policy problem. The policy was prepared by the CEO of High performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Baumann, and was then implemented by the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill, and his Board. The policy is called “Centralized Training”. It has been promoted and financed for twenty years without success.

Today fear and ignorance prevail. The Board of Swimming New Zealand does not have the courage to stop the hurt their policy is causing. They do not know enough to plan and try something different. They depend on Baumann for so much money they will do whatever he says – even if it does mean eight more names go over the cliff. Yes Mr Baumann, no Mr Baumann, three bags full Mr Baumann. At least that’s the way it seems.  

The alternative, constantly promoted here, is to strengthen the country’s decentralised training structure; strengthen the New Zealand club program. There are several benefits of a decentralized approach. Since coaches have liberty to coach their teams according to their own plans, the sport experiences a wide variety of ideas, rather than a central body being presumed to have all the answers. In most cities, parents can shop around for age group programs, meaning a team must generate results to stay in business. It is a better, stronger and more comprehensive approach than the doctrinal nonsense followed by Antares Place just now. And even a weakened version of the decentralized approach gave New Zealand Moss, Kingsman, Jeffs, Simcic, Langrell, Kent, Loader and Bray. Swimming New Zealand wouldn’t mind having the competitive record of that group around just now – five Olympic medals, six world medals and five world records. They will never match that record with their ridiculous Millennium program.

It is relevant to ask what the New Zealand Coaches Association is doing about this problem. A few months ago there was a swimming pool full of froth and bubble as the Coaches Association said it was going to insist on a more proactive role in the affairs of the sport. The Association called for submissions and beat its chest in frustration. Things, they said, were going to change. But nothing has happened. It has long been my view that the Association does not have the fortitude or leadership to effect reform. Sadly they appear to have chickened-out again.        

And so, let’s see what happens in a month’s time. But if, as appears likely, the team returns with no medals, then there should be a call for the Board of Swimming New Zealand to stand down. The vision they have been charged with includes “exceptional results”. Their mission is to produce “world class performances”. Their goal is to “achieve podium results” through “targeted campaigns aimed at winning medals”. In their vision, their mission and their goals this Board has failed to deliver. They have pursued a policy of failure for too long. Good practice and the names of the victims of their policy demand that this Board shows accountability to its stakeholders by accepting responsibility for the failure and standing down. We will see.      


The Extent Of The Challenge

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

In a month the Swimming World Championships will begin. We have been given the normal assurances by the Swimming New Zealand Board that the New Zealand results will be better than ever. Before every international event the message coming from the Board is the same. “Boy, are we going to kill it this time.” And after the event the Board Chairman either seriously addresses the media, promising a full inquiry into why swimming has not progressed or assures everyone that the team’s performance had, in some way, been “the best ever”. It is becoming as predictable as Christmas.

There have been more tax payer funded inquiries into the malaise at SNZ than I can remember. In the recent past millions have been spent on reports from Sweetenham, Ineson and Moller. And it’s still a mess. Especially when they could have read Swimwatch for free.     

If New Zealand had actually swum “the best ever” as many times as Swimming New Zealand’s spin, we’d be beating the United States by now. In fact the country’s “best ever” result, at an event of this standard, was at the Atlanta Olympic Games, 20 years ago when Danyon Loader won two Gold Medals.

For this Belgrade 2017 World Championship the lead up by SNZ has been no less positive. Here are some of the quotes from the Head Coach Jerry Olszewski and others.


  • The nine swimmers to attain individual qualification in the pool is the highest number since 2005.
  • Jerry Olszewski was pleased with the promise of the team.
  • Basically all of this team and a number who just missed teams we have a healthy group of swimmers as we prepare for Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
  • The young swimmers are exciting for the future.
  • Swimming New Zealand is confident in the swimmers they have in the high performance system as well as their youth program.


And the Board Chairman Bruce Cotterill joined in the songs of praise.


  • This has been the most successful swimming era since the mid-1990s. We won five world championship medals. In the aftermath to London we had eight top-50 athletes, of whom four were seen as Rio targets. Post-Rio we’ve got 16 in the top-50 of whom 12 look capable of going to Tokyo. ”
  • “I think we’ve got the right coaching in place and a new facility [at the Millennium Institute].”


In the last two years, in support of this confident outlook, you and I have paid Cotterill 2 million tax payer dollars. Like obedient puppies Swimming New Zealand have persevered with the Baumann policy of centralized preparation. For twenty years the policy has not worked but evidently it is going to work this time. The predictions of success have not changed.

Let’s look at the results of the last three World Swimming Championships. Then we will have a basis on which to make a comparison.   


Number of Swimmers on Team: 12

Number of Gold Medals: 0

Number of Silver Medals: 0

Number of Bronze Medals: 0

Number of Finals: 4

Number of Semi-Finals: 5

Average Place over all team members: 19th

NZ Position on Medal table: Did not appear


Number of Swimmers on Team: 14

Number of Gold Medals: 0

Number of Silver Medals: 0

Number of Bronze Medals: 3

Number of Finals: 6

Number of Semi-Finals: 5

Average Place over all team members: 19TH

NZ Position on Medal table: 27th

2015 KAZAN

Number of Swimmers on Team: 8

Number of Gold Medals: 0

Number of Silver Medals: 2

Number of Bronze Medals: 0

Number of Finals: 2

Number of Semi-Finals: 1

Average Place over all team members: 23RD

NZ Position on Medal table: 20th


Number of Swimmers on Team: 11

Number of Gold Medals:

Number of Silver Medals:

Number of Bronze Medals:

Number of Finals:

Number of Semi-Finals:

Average Place over all team members:  

NZ Position on Medal table:

The numbers appear to highlight three trends. First, the extent to which swimming in New Zealand has relied on Lauren Boyle. From 2011 when she made up the bulk of the finals swum, to 2013 when the three bronze medals were won by her and in 2015 when she won the two silver medals. Certainly the improvement from not being included on the medal table to 27th and then 20th is all down to Lauren Boyle. Her performances papered over a lot of cracks that remained unaddressed because of her efforts.

Second the performance of the team apart from Lauren Boyle has got worse. From an average place in each swimmer’s event of 19th in 2011 and 2013 this dropped to 23rd in 2015. Of course Lauren Boyle is not going to be at this meet. She wisely decided to get her hip repaired in advance of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. We will now get an insight into what swimming in New Zealand is going to look like in the post-Boyle era. We will see whether Cotterill has spent our tax dollars wisely. We will be able to measure again whether the centralized coaching policy works.

Ironically swimmers that have done best have had the least to do with Swimming New Zealand’s centralized Millennium program. Boyle spent most of her time in the USA or Australia, Mains trains in Florida and Snyders has Salo in Los Angeles as his coach. Swimming New Zealand have no shame. They think nothing of claiming credit for swimmers trained thousands of miles from Auckland as proof that their policy of centralization is working.   

When the 2017 Championships end we will complete the table shown above. We will see whether the Cotterill and Olszewski confidence that New Zealand swimming is on the up and up is well founded. Or is their opinion as delusional as it has been prior to every other recent World Championships and Olympic Games?

PS – You never can tell with Swimming New Zealand. If they come out with some superlative, always check. They are masters of alternative facts. Even Trump could learn from these guys. Their published claim that, “the nine swimmers to attain individual qualification in the pool is the highest number since 2005” may or may not be true. What I do know is that in 2011 ten swimmers competed in individual events. In 2013 nine swimmers swam in individual events. In the 2016 Rio Olympics nine swimmers swam in individual events. And when I went to school nine and ten are the same as or more than nine.


CLIVE RUSHTON (27 October 1947 – 11 June 2017)

Monday, June 19th, 2017

I was not in frequent contact with Clive. I checked back on my emails and discovered we exchanged 16 messages in the past twelve months. He was a bloody good guy – no question. Clive had a quality in common with all great coaches, men like Lydiard, Jelley, Laing and Schubert. They could argue with you in the toughest, most uncompromising terms and it was never personal. You always felt you were on the same side. Like the others, Clive also had another quality that made him difficult to argue with – a thing called brains.

In fact it was brains and trust that made him such a good national coach in New Zealand. The worst feature of Jan Cameron’s rise to power was the difficulties she put in the path of Clive Rushton. As a team, the two of them could have achieved stunning results. But with Jan that was never going to happen.    

I met Clive in his first week as New Zealand’s National Coach. At the National Championships a well-known Auckland official had cheated on one of my swimmers. I protested her behaviour. It would not be uncommon for officials to close ranks at that point and admit no wrong. They do it all the time. Just look at the Kilbirnie Pool depth issue. But on this occasion, without fear or favour, Clive Rushton did the right thing. I have no doubt that in his short time in New Zealand he had heard all sorts of stories about what a trouble-maker I was. But, all that was put to one side. The official’s error was corrected. I liked Clive immediately – not because he had taken my side but because he chose to do the difficult,, the unpopular and the right thing.     

A few weeks later he came to dinner at my home. We had a memorable evening – good wine, good food and good stories about sport. Clive told us he had won a competition between officials on the British Team; who could get into the Barcelona Olympic Pool using the most novel fake pass. Some managed to get through using passes made out of toilet paper, but Clive won. He carefully burnt a slice of toast and scrapped off the Olympic logo and text. He attached an official cord on to his toast pass and walked into the arena. The Olympic security guards were done by a slice of toast.

Shortly after our dinner my daughter, Jane, broke the New Zealand short course open 200 metre breaststroke record. We thought she might be able to break it again and arranged for her to swim a trial in Palmerston North. I told Clive that Jane was going to make the attempt. When we arrived at the pool I was staggered to see Clive walk in. He had driven from Wellington just to support Jane’s swim – a measure of the man. He frequently demonstrated the same caring respect. When swimmers had some behaviour problems at the Yokohama Pan Pacific Games Clive sent out the best discipline letter I have read. It simply said, “I know what happened. It must not happen again. If it does there will be real trouble.” Twenty New Zealand swimmers were openly and honestly put on notice. That letter deserved and earned all our respect. 

Just before I left to coach in the US Virgin Islands I called Clive to let him know I was leaving. He was supportive and used a phrase I will forever associate with him. “Coaching is best done under a palm tree.” he said. He could well be right.     

A few years later I followed Clive to Saudi Arabia. He had also lived in Jeddah and was an enormous help introducing me to the local sporting hierarchy. Fitting into such a different culture comes with its share of problems. I was lucky to have the assistance of Clive Rushton. A triathlete we both helped with her swimming was the daughter-in-law of the Saudi oil giant CEO, Amin Nazer. That was a way of life we both found novel and deeply interesting.    

For several months I have been writing a third book about swimming. It is due to be published later this year. Sadly I have had to change the caption on one of the photographs. This is what the caption said, “After several failures at finding a national coach Swimming New Zealand would do well to invite Clive Rushton back. He was and still is acutely aware of the reforms needed to lift the performance of swimming in New Zealand. And he is qualified and capable of getting the job done.”

In an ironic twist, that I know Clive would love, I have just read the email sent out by the NZ Coaches Association telling us about Clive’s death. Only New Zealand swimming could spell the ex-national Head Coach’s name wrong in his obituary. It is “Rushton” not “Ruston”. In their obituary I notice that Clive Power has some kind words to say about Clive Rushton. The feeling was mutual. Here is a line from an email Clive Rushton recently sent me that speaks volumes about the qualities Clive Rushton respected and admired.

“Clive Power is no nonsense, no BS, ‘old’ (aka effective) school approach to hard, focused work, is exactly what New Zealand swimmers need.  

And a second email discusses Clive Rushton’s feelings about Swimming New Zealand.

“I have received very nice emails from some of the coaches saying “come back” and, as you know from business; the producers need someone they trust. That probably outweighs every other factor. Of course there has to be an expert and solid grounding in the relevant aspects of the sport but, once that is acknowledged, trust comes out at the top of the list in my book. I don’t think there is much trust anywhere at the moment, is there?”

You were a trusted mate Clive. Farewell and thank you. The sport of swimming, and especially swimming in New Zealand was better for your time here.         



World Peace

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Most readers will be aware there are political problems in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has fallen out with Qatar and has convinced four other members of the GCC to impose sanctions on Qatar. And I think I know the reason why and how to solve the problem. It all has to do with swimming.

Let me explain – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a regional political organisation comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). You see, after a year in a boutique slum hotel in Saudi Arabia, I know all about the GCC. Every year the pinnacle of GCC unity is expressed in an annual swimming championship. Other sports pale in comparison. At the annual GCC Swimming Championships honour is at stake, big time. Saudi Swimming had a prince member of the royal family in charge and employed a New Zealand CEO in an effort to win the championship. Sadly it has never worked.

Year after year Kuwait wins the championships, followed closely by Qatar, then the UAE, then Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Oman usually trails the field. I learned early in my stay that a country like Saudi Arabia is not at all happy with fifth place. The biggest country, the leader of the Arab world finds it difficult to accept being beaten by minions like Qatar and Bahrain. Millions of oil dollars are spent sending swimmers around the world, employing foreign coaches and paying swimmers a living allowance. And it has never worked. Championships come and go and Saudi Arabia is fifth again.

Vision may be the problem. The CEO has bought himself the most massive American SUV. I swear his wife must have prepared a cushion with embroidered kiwis to lift him above the steering wheel.

Unable to beat their GCC partners in the pool, I am convinced, the Saudi authorities decided to stop the competition. Someone filed a complaint with FINA about Kuwait. The accusation was that Kuwait was winning because they were importing foreign swimmers. FINA agreed and Kuwait was banished from the championships. Saudi Arabia was now up to fourth place. One more place and a bronze medal would be theirs.

So now you know why Qatar has been expelled from the GCC. After years in the wilderness, in the 2017 GCC Swimming Championships, Qatar will not be able to compete and Saudi Arabia will be the third placed nation. Saudi Arabia is edging up the table. Honour is being restored.

It seemed important to convey this information to world leaders. Perhaps they could pressure Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain swimmers to swim slowly and let Saudi Arabia win. Saudi Arabia could have its victory without the disruption to travel and commerce caused by the current ban.

I took my plan to 10 Downing Street. Unfortunately Theresa May was out at the Berlitz School learning Irish. I didn’t have much luck in Washington DC either. Rex Tillerson was too busy removing dandruff from Donald Trump’s suit and Kelly Ann Conway was receiving a fair and honest award from Fox News. I did see the Education Secretary, Nancy de Vos, who said she was pleased that global warming was not affecting the life cycle of glaciers in Kuwait.

Normal world leaders in France and Germany did seem taken with my plan. Sufficiently so that through their diplomatic efforts I believe Saudi Arabia could well win the 2017 GCC Swimming Championships. And the world will be at peace again.  

Post Script – GCC Championship results are a sad reflection on the standard of swimming in the area. It is terrible that Saudi Arabia is unable to win a competition where the men’s races (there are no women) are won in very slow times. For example in 2016:

800 Free 8:52.80, 100 Free 52.78, 200 Fly 2:13.43, 400 Free 4:14.38, 1500 Free 17:14.94, 100 Breast 1:07.20, 200 Back 2:09.60, 50 Fly 24.90.    


West Wave Waffle

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Just about everyone has read or heard the fitness slogans demanding greater effort. Expressions like “Go hard or go home” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “No pain, no gain” and “Success is earned with blood, sweat, and the occasional tear.” Many gym walls are papered with these calls to greater effort. Many trainers include them in their instructions.

I’ve seen some stunning displays. In one pool a group of middle aged, often overweight patrons gathered each Saturday morning for the health benefit of an hour of aqua-aerobics. What followed was an amazing cocktail of high intensity interval exercise. It was very dangerous. Every week I expected someone to pull up with a heart problem. Dive into the pool, climb out, run around the pool, faster you guys, dive back in, climb back out, do 10 push-ups, climb the diving tower and leap into the pool. And through it all the instructor demanded more effort. “Wake up. Work out. Look hot. Kick ass. Sore as hell and back for more.” she screamed.

The effect on the patrons was terrifying; bright red, gasping for air they staggered from one task to another. And as they left I frequently heard the instructor say, “That was great. Really made them hurt this morning.”

It was all so senseless, so dangerous, so nothing like the exercise I knew these people actually needed. For thirty years I have been fortunate enough to discuss swimming and athletics with some of the world’s best coaches; men like Arthur Lydiard, Arch Jelley and Mark Schubert. Between them they have coached a score of Olympic gold medal winners. Not once have I heard them berate their athletes with slogans of hard work and toil. Instead they have advised caution. Instead of, “Don’t stop. Keep going. Push harder.” These men had more sensible advice.

In my own coaching career I have been fortunate enough to coach swimmers and runners to Olympic Games and World Championships, a Master’s World Record Holder, 81 National Champions and 68 National Records and I would never dream of subjecting any of them to the abuse I have seen in aqua-aerobic and gym classes around the world. Without doubt cruelty of that type will never be successful and has no place in an exercise program.

But the reason I am writing this post is because I have just been to the Auckland Council’s West Wave Pool in Henderson, New Zealand. And I have witnessed the pinnacle of exercise stupidity. On their wall they have a prominent poster advertising their fitness classes and the heading says:


There can be no excuse that justifies that message. The West Wave Pool is a Council facility. They have a duty to know better than this. Their own Bylaws (the Health and Hygiene Bylaw 2013) puts it better than I ever could:

“The council may revoke a code of practice that –  (a) relates to the operation of commercial services that pose an associated health risk to any persons using or accessing their services, products or business operation.”

The Bylaw contains the following clarification:

“When you plan an event you are responsible for the safety of everyone at the event.”

Well, “train insane or remain the same” most certainly does “pose a health risk” to many West Wave patrons. At this point I could discuss the physiological reasons training insane is dangerous. Instead, let me use four examples of athletes whose training I know well: John Walker, Peter Snell, Rhi Jeffrey and Toni Jeffs. Two of the runners because I knew their coaches very well and the two swimmers because I was their coach. All four were medalists at world events. All four trained about 576 times a year. Anaerobic, insane training sessions were run or swum in 24 training sessions a year; 4% of the time. If race days are added to the insane training load the two swimmers competed on about 50 days a year – 100 races. And so combined the “insane” work load for these competitors was about 74 times a year – only 13% of their annual training. The other 87% was “train don’t strain”. And remember these were world class athletes, not 50 year old, 110 kilogram, West Wave patrons wanting to lose a bit of weight.       

The poster is insane. Whoever put it on the wall is not being “responsible for the safety of everyone”. It is difficult to comprehend how a paid exercise professional could possibly think this is a suitable message. If the West Wave Pool is going to offer fitness classes in their pool or gym they need to ensure their staff is aware of the rules associated with safe training. A poster like this suggests considerable staff training is required. And required quickly before someone hurts themselves trying to “train insane”.