Archive for August, 2017

Hamilton Expediency or Principle?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

In 1995 the New Zealand National Championships were held in Hamilton at the Te Rapa Pool. I was concerned about the location. At the time I was coaching New Zealand’s two fastest sprinters, Toni Jeffs and Nichola Chellingworth. Both swimmers were favourites to qualify for the Atlanta Pan Pacific Games team. Swimming New Zealand rules required the qualifying time to be swum in the Championship final. My concern was that the Te Rapa pool was so shallow (1.1m) that Toni and Nichola would have to seriously alter their start to a much slower shallow dive. Asking them to qualify in that pool was like asking a track sprinter to qualify running uphill along a muddy path.

I decided to protest the pool depth and ask for recent times done in deep pools to be accepted as qualifying swims. Within an hour my protest and request were both rejected by Swimming New Zealand. The injustice was distressing. I contacted my lawyer in Wellington. He suggested that we prepare a Court injunction ordering the Championships be stopped until a fair trial’s venue was found. I agreed. Papers were prepared and a court appointment on the afternoon before the beginning of the Nationals was arranged. I called Swimming New Zealand and explained that we had decided that a court should test the fairness of their decision. I told them my lawyer had advised that our injunction was likely to be successful. Two hours later I received a call from Swimming New Zealand. A very grumpy Board member told me that because of the pool depth issue, qualifying swims prior to the Championships would be eligible for Pan Pacific Games’ team selection.

Toni ended up not swimming in the Championship trials. On our way to the pool on the first morning of heats we were involved in a serious car accident. Toni was in Waikato Hospital with a cracked vertebra. Nichola missed the qualifying time in the 50m Championship final. However her swim two weeks before in winning the Australia Age Group title was fast enough and she was selected for the Pan Pacific team. Her speed plus the threat of the injunction had worked.

Now let’s wind forward 22 years to 2017. Swimming New Zealand have finally realised that diving into shallow swimming pools is dangerous and slow. Twenty two years too late they have published something titled “POSITION STATEMENT – DIVE ENTRIES”. In it the CEO of Swimming New Zealand says this.

With recent changes to the Health and Safety Act increasing the accountability on facility owners and operators to provide safe ‘workplaces’, an increased focus is being seen by swimming pool operators in relation to how swimmers are diving into pools for both competition and training.  This increased focus is particularly relevant to pools with shallow depths of less than 1.4m.”

The statement then publishes a list of minimum depths required for pools where swimmers dive. Interestingly the Te Rapa pool in Hamilton does not comply with Swimming New Zealand’s new rules. At both ends the pool is too shallow. At 1.15m the Swimming New Zealand rules tell me that only pool deck dives are allowed. What that means is that no starting block dives are allowed at either end of the Te Rapa pool.

That must be a concern to Swimming New Zealand because in four weeks on the 15 September 2015 the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships are scheduled to begin in the Te Rapa pool. It will be interesting to see whether Swimming New Zealand comply with their new rules and protect the health and safety of their members or hold the meet in Hamilton anyway. My bet is that expediency will win over principle. In the case of Swimming New Zealand it always does.

I’m picking the meet will go ahead as though the new rules had never been printed. And every one of the 3500 dives will be further evidence of the hypocrisy characteristic of the sport’s administration. They say stuff with no intention of following through; a confusion of empty words without substance or meaning. However should anyone be interested in testing their integrity I still have the injunction papers prepared 22 years ago for this very pool. Change a couple of dates and they are ready to go. My guess is the likely decision would be the same as it was 23 years ago. The buggers just never change.     

PS – There have been a number of claims and counter-claims about the depth of the Hamilton pool and the height of the starting blocks. I have been sent two photographs taken at the pool – one of the “glass-wall” 50m start end of the pool and the other showing a rugby player climbing out of the pool taken at the other 100m start end of the pool. These photographs clearly show signs advising that the pool depth is 1.15m at both ends of the pool. This is the evidence used to support the arguments advanced in this post. 

The 50m end of the Te Rapa pool, displaying the depth sign on the side of the pool.

Andrew Hore at Te Rapa, via Getty Images. The sign indicating depth is beside his left leg.


Lauren Boyle On Funding

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Lauren Boyle’s decision to retire from competitive swimming was a significant event. For
years Boyle carried the reputation of New Zealand swimming. Many thousands of dollars
were paid into the Swimming New Zealand bank account on the back of her efforts. As she
added bronze and silver World Championship medals and world records to her personal
resume Swimming New Zealand administrators used her success to add to their income.
I don’t know Boyle all that well but my guess is she knew she was being used to feather the
head office nest but she carried on with dignity and class supporting her sport. She seemed
to me to always do what she thought was right; even if it meant putting to one side her real
feelings. She occasionally swam at the pool I coached at and would join in for photographs
with our club’s junior swimmers. There was sincerity about the way she participated in the
photographs. There was never any impression of the famous person doing their duty; a top
But I have a Lauren Boyle story. Three years ago I was scheduled to have a routine
ultrasound scan at the Waitakere Hospital. The technician asked if I was David Wright the
swimming coach. I said I was and we got into a discussion on swimming. As I often do I
talked too much. He seemed interested in my views on Swimming New Zealand and so I
expanded my theory that New Zealand’s best swimmer, Lauren Boyle, was being exploited
by the organization. Boyle, I said, was a class act but was being let down by poor and
bloated administration. At that point the technician explained that it was probably time to
come clean. He was Lauren’s boyfriend and was interested in how I viewed her position. It
was a lovely moment and an enjoyable exchange of ideas.
Actually I should have known better. Many years ago I was doing a Sunday run around the
20 mile Waitakere circuit. I caught up to a runner ahead of me. We ran along discussing
training ideas. I was a Lydiard disciple and made it clear that, in my view, Lydiard was not
being treated fairly by the sport. Eventually we got back to Titirangi village and parted
company. My companion thanked me for the company and asked my name. I told him. He
said he was pleased to meet me. His name he said was Gary Lydiard; Arthur’s son. “Wow” I
thought “Just as well I was a loyal Lydiard fan.”
But back to Lauren Boyle. I see there is a report out today with her views on the funding of
New Zealand swimming. The report covered a number of factors affecting swimming in New
Zealand. As she usually does Boyle framed her views with care and diplomacy. She clearly

has an interest in getting her point across but in a way that causes the least amount of
I do feel her effort to say the right thing in ways that avoid upsetting those in power is a lost
cause. The power elite in Swimming New Zealand will not be changed by suggestions and
subtle arguments. Reform in this national sport’s organization requires open assault; a
sledge hammer wielded zealously. These are not people influenced by reason and debate.
These are people who only understand two things – money and power.
In the extract below I have copied key points from the Boyle interview; points that I believe
Boyle has identified correctly and presented especially well.
Lauren Boyle says rather than highlight a lack of funding, a spotlight could be shone on
sporting bodies instead. The money comes from High Performance Sport NZ into the NSOs
[National Sporting Organisations] and if there are problems at the NSO level, like a lack of
quality managers or decision-makers, then, I don't know, maybe.
"NZ sporting bodies seem to have the knack of building an infrastructure that serves the
institution at the very least as well as it serves the customers, who are the athletes.
"In my opinion, you cut managerial resources, not the pool-deck interface, but that's hard to
What Boyle seems to be saying is that too much money goes on feeding the bureaucracy
and not enough gets spent on swimmers. If that is her point then I could not agree more. I
remember the day when Swimming New Zealand was one lady, called Donella Tait, working
part time out of two rooms in the old Dominion Building in Wellington. And there are several
important truths about Donella Tait and her sole charge time in Wellington.
1. I received far more communication from Donella Tait than I ever have from the
current Swimming New Zealand. Mind you that would not be difficult. I have had no
communication from the current management.
2. The standard of swimming when Donella Tait was on her own included world record
holders, Olympic medallist, World Championship medallists, Pan Pacific Games
medallists, Commonwealth Games medallists and world short course finals
3. Today the Swimming New Zealand staff profile page has 20 names and with Lauren
Boyle retired the organization has no world record holders, no Olympic medallist, no
World Championship medallists, no Pan Pacific Games medallists, no
Commonwealth Games medallists and no world short course finals medallists.

4. In the case of Swimming New Zealand we are paying for 19 additional people for
what – a worse result. It seems Lauren Boyle is right “NZ sporting bodies seem to
have the knack of building an infrastructure that serves the institution at the very least
as well as it serves the customers, who are the athletes.”
Laruen Boyle’s swimming career as a competitor and as a person was an unqualified
success. She performed amazingly well and conducted herself with poise and control. With
this sort of quiet diplomacy it could be that Lauren Boyle may be about to do her sport in
New Zealand just as big a service in retirement as she did in swimming.


Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

I see the qualifying times for next year’s Commonwealth Games have just been published. In my years involved in swimming I have complained about many subjects, but never about qualifying times. My attitude has been, “They are what they are – shut up and just swim them”. But this set of times is different. For a Commonwealth Games, they are unbelievably tough. Just look at these tables that compare them with other relevant times. The Commonwealth Games times in the table are the “consideration” times. The “automatic” qualifying times are even faster.

Women’s Events
Event Comm. Games World Champs National Record
50 Free 24.73 25.18 25.01
100 Free 53.92 54.90 53.91
200 Free 1:57.13 1:58.68 1:56.82
400 Free 4:08.16 4:10.57 4:03.63
800 Free 8:32.10 8:38.56 8:17.65
50 Back 27.96 28.52 27.81
100 Back 1:00.24 1:00.61 1:00.22
200 Back 2:09.29 2:11.53 2:09.13
50 Brst 30.82 31.22 31.21
100 Brst 1:07.06 1:07.58 1:09.26
200 Brst 2:25.80 2:25.91 2:29.73
50 Fly 26.02 26.49 26.30
100 Fly 57.96 58.48 58.51
200 Fly 2:08.15 2:09.77 2:09.84
200 IM 2:11.89 2:13.41 2:12.12
400 IM 4:40.11 4:43.06 4:39.07
Men’s Events
Event Comm. Games World Champs National Record
50 Free 22.21 22.47 22.31
100 Free 48.74 48.93 49.43
200 Free 1:46.82 1:47.73 1:47.09
400 Free 3:46.96 3:48.15 3:47.67
1500 Free 15:02.12 15:12.79 15:15.50
50 Back 25.38 25.29 25.24
100 Back 54.20 54.06 53.32
200 Back 1:58.83 1:58.15 1:57.15
50 Brst 27.66 27.51 27.06
100 Brst 1:00.16 1:00.35 59.78
200 Brst 2:10.56 2:11.11 2:10.55
50 Fly 23.82 23.67 23.40
100 Fly 52.13 52.29 51.61
200 Fly 1:56.76 1:57.28 1:54.15
200 IM 1:59.29 2:00.22 1:59.24
400 IM 4:18.68 4:17.90 4:17.72

So, what does this tell us about the Commonwealth Game’s consideration qualifying times?

  1. The times for 13 of 32 events (41%) are faster than the current open national record for the event.
  2. The times for 26 of 32 events (82%) are faster than the qualifying times set by Swimming New Zealand for the 2017 World Championships.

For anyone who knows anything about the workings of Swimming New Zealand the conclusions are obvious.

Although the basis of these times was published some time ago publishing the hard numbers is clearly a knee jerk reaction to the disastrously poor performance of the New Zealand team at last month’s World Championships. The people running Swimming New Zealand have very limited vision and, as a result, are easy to read. They have been stung by the results. As we predicted they have blamed the swimmers and have decided that this time around, at the Commonwealth Games things are going to be harsh, hard and unpleasant. What is needed, they have decided, is some tough love; some really tough love.

My guess is that someone at High Performance Sport New Zealand has threatened even more severe funding cuts and this is the Board of Swimming New Zealand’s reaction. It is all about appearances. The Board want to be able to say to High Performance Sport New Zealand that they have seen the problem and this is the tough stuff they have done about it. To the Swimming New Zealand Board, it does no really matter whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, as long as there is some fake news story to pass on to their masters. “We saw there was a problem,” they will say, “and this is what we’ve done about it.” If it sounds good that will be enough.    

As I say, it is a knee jerk reaction and like most knee jerk reactions it is fatally flawed. Qualifying times for various international events are, or should be, a part of a long term strategy for getting the best Olympic result. The thinking should be done years ahead and should be based on a progression through Oceania Games, World Cups, Commonwealth Games, Pan Pacific Games and World Championships to the Olympic Games.

I have coached swimmers who have competed in all those meets and made finals in five of the six championships. An all cases we progressed step by step from one level to the next.   

But this set of qualifying times is not part of any long term strategy or carefully thought out plan. This is just a reaction made in a state of panic, revenge and spite. This is amateur hour in the extreme. The publication of these times is further proof that those responsible for the organisation have no idea about elite swimming.  For as long as Swimming New Zealand is run by people who publish this sort of rubbish the sport will falter and fail. The careers of young New Zealand swimmers are being badly managed. The thinking represented by this sort of qualifying criteria is the problem. The people on the Board of Swimming New Zealand have no plan, no purpose and no idea.

For example I see that Brent Layton is one of the Swimming New Zealand selectors. Now that Swimming New Zealand has decided to give wider decision making discretion to selectors this position is important. And so what on God’s good earth is Layton doing as a selector? What does he know about world class swimming? What talent has he ever demonstrated in picking world class athletes? His Swimming New Zealand bio tells us his swimming experience is limited to some age group and master’s swimming.

For several years I flew myself in a Piper Arrow around New Zealand. That did not qualify me to select who Emirates should employ to guide their A380 between Auckland and Dubai. Layton’s position is even more ridiculous than that. Remember too he’s the guy who said Craig Lord and I had no credibility when we attempted to have the organization that Layton ran, tell the truth about the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool and protect the health and welfare of its members.

What a mess the organization has become. Every week there is a new scandal. Publication of these times is this week’s evidence that they have no idea. And yet when this sort of decision making has the inevitable consequence of damaging the sport even further, the Swimming New Zealand Board will dodge the role it played in causing the damage. Well, these times are damaging. The good ship “Swimming” is about to hit another iceberg and the buck for that stops with the Board of Swimming New Zealand.

Oh no, you may be thinking, that message of failure cannot be right. But it is. Let me explain why. The qualifying times mean that to achieve them every swimmer will have to be swimming at their very best. In most cases better than their best. Good enough to set a new Open National Record. Swimming the qualifying time will be a huge effort; a special peak performance. And what Swimming New Zealand is wanting is for the same swimmer to repeat that effort, or better two or three months later. And that is physiologically impossible. It just will not happen. The combined skills of Lydiard, Jelley, Schubert, Bowman and Salo could not pull off a feat like that.  

The only way two peak swims like that can happen is either for the second swim to be so close to the first – a week or two – that the peak that produced the qualifying swim continues on to the Games – the US program their trials this way – or for the gap between qualifying and the Games to be long enough – six or seven months – for the athlete to prepare again for another supreme performance. The six months gap strategy is risky and by no means certain. It is unusual for swimmers to produce back to back national record seasons.

And so you see, these times combined with the trial’s timetable impose physical conditions that ensure failure. Swimming New Zealand has set conditions that fail to take into account training and performance factors that cannot be ignored. This plan and these times will produce disappointment and failure at the Commonwealth Games just as certainly as the altitude camp hurt the World Championship team. Sadly all that will be left is for us to say again – we told you so.        

PS – I see from the Facebook page “NZ Swim” that Swimming New Zealand has recorded the Glen Ashby 200 IM record as having been swum on the 26 June 2017. It was actually swum on 26 July 2017. Swimming New Zealand really is a flying circus.             


In Their Own Words

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Four years ago, at the New Zealand Short Course Nationals, I submitted a protest about the decision to start races from the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. I pointed out that the depth of the pool was below the minimum required by FINA Rules. The protest was declined. I was just making trouble, they said. There was no problem with the pool depth.

A few months later the question of the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool came up again when a swimmer from the Raumati Club was hurt diving into the pool. I wrote another Swimwatch article asking how serious an injury had to be before Swimming New Zealand would act to protect its members. Of course there was no response from Antares Place.

And then in 2014 Lauren Boyle broke the world short course 1500 meter record in the Kilbirnie Pool and Swimming New Zealand signed a record application form confirming that the pool complied with all FINA minimum standards. Clearly that was not true. The record was fine. Boyle received no advantage from swimming in a shallow pool; in fact probably the opposite. It would have been so easy for Swimming New Zealand to tell the truth and add a note explaining that the swimmer received no advantage. The record would have been ratified and Swimming New Zealand would have been honest. Instead Swimming New Zealand went with the lie.

Clearly the argument was a thorn in the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Brent Layton’s side. In the 2015 Swimming New Zealand Annual Report this is what he said.   

“A lowlight was the attempt by bloggers and media commentators to discredit Lauren’s 1500m freestyle record by claiming the pool was too shallow. The FINA handbook is clear. For the conduct of the Olympics and World Championships the minimum depth is a rule that must be observed. For the conduct of other FINA meets, like the Oceania Championships, the minimum depth is a requirement, unless FINA provides a dispensation. In all other instances, the minimum depth is a guideline and not a rule. Guidelines are not obligations, they are recommendations. The credibility the opinions of these bloggers deserve is clear; absolutely none.”

The blogger he refers to was me and the media commentator was Craig Lord a journalist for The Times in London. Of course what Layton said was nonsense. No one was attempting to discredit Boyle’s record. We were just trying to get Swimming New Zealand to tell the truth – and look seriously at the dangers involved in diving into the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. As Swimwatch said at the time if complaining about the signature of Boyle’s record saved one serious injury then the complaint had merit.

But our efforts were in vain. Instead of addressing the problem Swimming New Zealand blamed us – “The credibility the opinions of these bloggers deserve is clear; absolutely none.” Well we now know that’s not quite right.  

Because you see a month ago Swimming New Zealand published something titled “POSITION STATEMENT – DIVE ENTRIES”. In it the CEO of Swimming New Zealand says this.

With recent changes to the Health and Safety Act increasing the accountability on facility owners and operators to provide safe ‘workplaces’, an increased focus is being seen by swimming pool operators in relation to how swimmers are diving into pools for both competition and training.  This increased focus is particularly relevant to pools with shallow depths of less than 1.4m.”

The statement then publishes a list of minimum depths required for pools where swimmers dive. We were right all along. It is bloody sad that it took four years, a change in the law and a tirade of personal abuse aimed at people like me before Swimming New Zealand decided to protect the health and safety of its members. With the publication of this policy Brent Layton’s opinions and management of this issue have been shown to have no credibility. I guess it’s too much to expect an email apology and the return of my protest fee. After all Swimming New Zealand have now confirmed the protest was lawful and binding.

These events highlight an issue relevant to the current management of swimming in New Zealand. We have witnessed decisions being taken and statements being made that are now proven to be flat-out wrong. Layton and Renford made bad decisions. There replacements today do no better. Which is why the structure of Swimming New Zealand has to change from a compromised autocratic elite form of governance to a regional federal democracy. Federal management would have never have allowed the Kilbirnie Pool error to continue for this long; would never have demonstrated the arrogance that prompted a hard earned world record to be ratified by telling an senseless lie.     

PS On the 2 September the Wellington Short Course Championships will be held in the Kilbirnie Pool. It will be interesting to see which end of the pool they chose – shallow or deep?        


How Did We Get Here?

Monday, August 7th, 2017

In my last Swimwatch post I discussed the poor performance of New Zealand in the 2017 World Swimming Championships. With good reason I recommended that the Swimming New Zealand Board resign and new ideas and a fresh approach be given a chance to guide the direction of the sport.

Essentially what this means is that the current very central control of the organisation by the Swimming New Zealand Board be replaced by a genuine regional, federal structure. Power and responsibility for performance needs to be devolved down to the people who can actually effect change. Currently people like Cotterell, Miskimmin and McKee who know little and can actually do even less have all the power and the money. In a federal structure their influence would be placed in the hands of people like Jeremy Duncan, Labara Gennadiy, Brigitte Mahan, Martin Harris, Andy Adair, Gary Hollywood, Sue Southgate, William Benson, Emma Swanwick, Judith Wright, Thomas Ansorg, Igor Polianski, Monica Cooper and many others.

Swimming New Zealand should have been governed by a federal structure for several years. In 2011 there was a focussed effort by the NZ swimming Regions to federalize the sport. Instead the opposite happened. A constitution was approved that centralized the sport into an authoritarian oligarchy. It is worthwhile looking at how that happened. In 2011 we were so close to really good reform and it was snatched away. We know the result has been an unbroken series of competitive failures. How did this happen? Who let federal reform slip from our grasp? Who out-maneuverer the reformers and imposed the current discredited and failed structure? Here is what happened.

In 2011 the push for federal reform was being led by the Auckland CEO, Brian Palmer and Bay of Plenty administrator Bronwen Radford. Opposing Palmer and Radford was Sport New Zealand CEO, Peter Miskimmin. Palmer and Radford had done a remarkable job of cobbling together an amalgamation of Regions demanding change. There was a popular demand to move away from central control to federal regional based governance. The Regions had asked for a national special meeting to reform the sport: to introduce democratic federalism. Miskimmin’s vision (called Project Vanguard) of a centralized elite program based around one pool in Auckland was a lost cause – and Miskimmin knew it.

And so he made a decision to call Palmer and invite him to a meeting in Wellington. At that point I knew our reform movement was in trouble. Palmer called me the night before the Wellington meeting to discuss what was likely to happen. We talked on and on until 12.30am. Over and over I warned Palmer that he was walking into a trap. He would be wined and dined – not literally, Palmer is a Mormon and does not drink – and conned into accepting a compromise. I told Palmer he was walking into a lion’s den of bureaucrats. Promises would be made, threats would be hinted at and in the end what we wanted would be lost. Palmer said I had nothing to fear. He could handle it. The movement for reform had not come this far to be lost to some smooth talking Wellington civil servants.

Palmer’s apparent contempt for the people he was dealing with gave me even more cause for concern. These were skilled operators; taking them lightly was extremely foolish. I felt Palmer would be seduced by the charm of Wellington power. Difficult reforms such as this one demand personal courage and an irrational lack of concern for personal safety. I hoped all would be well, but after that phone call, I was concerned Palmer would be eaten alive. Our reform would be lost.

And that is what happened. When he got back from Wellington I called Palmer to find out what had happened. Unlike the night before he was now extremely guarded. He said he could not talk much because all those attending the meeting had accepted a condition of secrecy. I asked whether he thought that was appropriate for a sport that was owned by the membership. Didn’t the membership have a right to know the content of the sport’s most important meeting in one hundred years? Palmer was clearly embarrassed. He ducked and dived. I’m sure he knew that I would see the conclusion of the meeting as a betrayal of all we had fought to achieve.

Over the days that followed the truth emerged. Palmer had backed away from the reform plans and had accepted Miskimmin’s proposal for what became the Moller study and report. Palmer told me that he had no option. If he had insisted on federal reform lawyers would have been called in and court cases would have been the result. All that may or may not have been right – who knows? What we do know is that Palmer folded. He accepted Miskimmin’s position and agreed to the Moller study. In six hours in Wellington Palmer’s decision to abandon the cause and appease Miskimmin began events that have resulted in six years of Swimming New Zealand pain.

A year later the Moller Report was produced and accepted. Far from recommending the federal structure the Regions wanted, Moller recommended even greater central control; an even greater autocratic government. By this time the Regions were tired and beaten up from the fight. They would accept anything in the cause of peace. And at a Special General meeting on 28th July 2012, by a vote of 35 in favour and 13 abstaining, the Mollar plan was approved; the inevitable conclusion of the Wellington 2011 abdication was completed.

The 2011 meeting in Wellington sowed the seeds for the defeat of Regional influence on the sport. When leadership was most required it was not provided. It was a serious error that has had long term serious consequences. The vote at the Special Meeting accepting the conclusion was merely rubber stamping the obvious. It is relevant to question some of the votes at the meeting. The New Zealand Swim Coaches Association voted for the Moller plan. Surely they must have been aware that a central structure was going to rob their members of power and influence. The organisation responsible for the health of coaching voted for its evisceration. Bay of Plenty, the home region of one of the leaders of the reform movement Bronwen Radford, voted for the Moller plan. That was strange about face. And finally Southland, a Region that has always justifiably prided itself on its independence voted in favour of Moller. Had those three votes been different Moller would have lost.

Palmer’s 2011 meeting set in motion events that would hurt swimming in New Zealand for a generation. Last week at the World Championships we began to learn just how serious. None of us, including Swimming New Zealand, know just how far further down the bottom will be.