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.             


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