Thomas Ansorg

Today was Thomas Ansorg’s last day as the Head Coach of the North Shore Swimming Club. He is retiring to his home on Great Barrier Island. As he was leaving the pool this morning he stopped to say good-bye. It is important swimming in New Zealand recognize his departure and thank him for the quality of his contribution.

Although I don’t know the details of his coaching career the bit I do know makes for impressive reading. He spent 10 years coaching at the Wanderers Club in South Africa before coming to New Zealand in 2002 as Head Coach of North Shore Swimming. Four years later in 2006 he was appointed Swimming New Zealand’s high performance coach. He spent another four years in that position before accepting the Head Coach’s job at North Shore Swimming. He has been Head Coach at the club for seven years until today.  

That career summary does not reflect the quality and uniqueness of his work. Good God, for eight years between 2002 and 2010 he survived with Jan Cameron as his boss. To the best of my knowledge no one else has ever matched that feat. In fact if Thomas hadn’t done it I would have sworn on a stack on bibles that keeping Jan happy for eight years was impossible. However not only did he keep Jan happy he did it in the Swimming New Zealand Millennium environment. That’s about as easy as lighting a fire in a bucket of water. A dozen others have tried and lasted a few months. Thomas did the job well for eight years – bloody unbelievable.

“How did he pull that off?” you may be asking. In my view he did it because of a German quality in his personality. He is tough and he is deadly straight. Most New Zealand coaches try and keep the peace. We don’t lie but we try and find a nice way to say difficult things. Thomas tells it as it is. There is no room for doubt. I think Jan liked that. I certainly have found it a refreshing quality in a New Zealand swimming world full of political clap-trap.

I recall a real problem swimmer in my club. One of my other swimmers described her manner of communication as “text-speak through a five dollar bottle of wine”. Much to my relief she decided she wanted to join the North Shore Club. Thomas knew of her reputation for trouble. He agreed to an interview, asked her the relevant questions and then said that he did not think she was what the club was looking for. I know of very few coaches in New Zealand who would firmly reject an open national swimmer. Most of us would try and make it work and cause unnecessary damage in the process.

If only Thomas had accepted the swimmer. She ended up staying at my club and was nothing but trouble.

In the 15 years Thomas has been involved in New Zealand swimming he has been an Olympic coach at three Games – Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and Rio in 2016. He has coached at three World Championships – Montreal in 2005, Melbourne in 2007 and Rome in 2009. And he was Commonwealth Games coach in Melbourne in 2006. He has been the personal coach of 15 New Zealand Olympic Game’s swimmers.

In the years Thomas has been Head Coach at the North Shore Club, the club has dominated New Zealand swimming. At junior, age group and open championships the club has consistently won the national points championships. By any standard his contribution to New Zealand swimming both nationally and internationally has been huge. But for me two things stand out.

Thomas has not always been treated well by Swimming New Zealand. I can recall occasions when he has been accidentally left off team announcements. Before the Rio Olympic Games he was the only domestic club coach of a team member. And yet he was not even invited to the press conference called, in Thomas’ home pool, to announce the team. He told me he didn’t care, but it must have hurt. Even his retirement seems to have been ignored. So far the Swimming New Zealand website has no recognition of his service and no thanks for his efforts.

Forthright straight talk has also been a characteristic of the Thomas international career. It is very easy for good swimmers to get ideas way above their station. I’ve seen and heard Thomas keep his swimmers well grounded. No one became a prima donna when Thomas Ansorg was around.  

Let me finish with a story about how good Thomas was as a coach with a story about the one and only time swimmers coached by me beat his team. It was the 4x50m freestyle at the Auckland Relay Championships. We had a good team – Olympic Gold medallist Rhi Jeffrey, NZ Open Medallist Jessica Marston, NZ Open Gold Medallist Jane Ip and NZ Open Relay Gold Medallist Lara van Egten. Our team swam above themselves and we managed to sneak the win ahead of the Thomas coached North Shore club.

You know when someone is very, very good when the one time you manage to beat them stands out as a highlight in your own career. And that race was a highlight for the four swimmers and their coach.

Thank you Thomas for your coaching career, for your advice and for your friendship even when your Swimming New Zealand bosses must have been warning you about the dangers of talking to that coach from west Auckland. Enjoy Great Barrier Island – you’ve earned it.          


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