CLIVE RUSHTON (27 October 1947 – 11 June 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.         



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