New Zealand Swimming at the Commonwealth Games

Since 2002 New Zealand’s swimming performance at the Commonwealth Games has been pretty average. Four Games have come and gone and New Zealand has won just two gold medals. The New Zealand taxpayer has invested about $20 million in swimming in that period for just two wins. At $10million per gold medal those two medals must be among the most expensive even won anywhere, by anybody. Counting medals of any colour, New Zealand swimmers have won sixteen medals. That is still well over a million dollars per Commonwealth Game’s medal. On the basis of that record alone the Board of Swimming New Zealand should acknowledge fault and resign.

Because, you see, there is no way that result is the swimmer’s fault. Generation after generation of New Zealand swimmers have loyally followed their master’s orders. Good swimmers of considerable talent have come and gone. Swimmers at least the equal of anything produced in Australia or the United Kingdom have given the sport their all. And sadly they have come up almost empty handed. Why is that?

Well the problem is those at the top have no idea what they are doing. Their record over the past twenty years says clearly they have no idea what they want or how to put together an internationally successful program. If they did, why haven’t they done it already? They have had long enough. Young swimmer’s lives are not transformers for the Board members of Swimming New Zealand to play with. The Board’s record of waste is such that common decency says they should move aside, resign and give others with more knowledge the task of putting things right.

The table below shows New Zealand swimming’s medal record over the past four Commonwealth Games. Para swimmers have not been included as they were not part of the earlier Games in this table.

  2018 2014 2010 2006 2002
Number of Swimmers on Team NA 15 12 9 12
Number of Gold Medals NA 1 0 1 0
Number of Silver Medals NA 1 4 1 1
Number of Bronze Medals NA 0 2 4 1
Total Medals NA 2 6 6 2

Comparing the results from the last two Commonwealth Games appears to show that the New Zealand swimming results are getting worse. In 2010 only six swims were not fast enough to qualify for a semi-final. Four years later, in 2014, eleven swims were not fast enough to progress. The table below shows these numbers. As a broad generalization it would be fair to say that in 2010 the bulk of New Zealand’s swimmers made it through to the Commonwealth Game’s semi-finals. By 2014 the bulk of the swims were not making it out of the heats. And that’s not good.

I have often thought the Head Coach, David Lyles, paid for that backward step. Certainly the 2014 performance was not good and must have influenced the decisions made at that time. Swimming New Zealand argued in Court that Lyles lost his job because of restructuring and the Court agreed. Swimming New Zealand told the Court a fine tale of management reorganization. Swimming New Zealand said the way forward required a new approach and different talents. That much was certainly true. Problem was – it is the Board’s approach and the Board’s talents that should have been in question.

I suspect that the Board of Swimming New Zealand had no idea what their restructuring was supposed to be or what it was going to achieve. One thing is certain, whatever it was, it hasn’t worked.

Games Heat only Semi Final Final Bronze Silver Gold
2014 11 3 11 - 1 1
2010 6 10 9 2 4 -

How do the swimming results at the Commonwealth Games compare with other sports – especially track and field athletics? Well in the past three Commonwealth Games swimming has won two gold medals, athletics has won four. In the past three Commonwealth Games swimming has won six silver medals, athletics has won eight. In the past three Commonwealth Games swimming has won six bronze medals, athletics has won five. In the past three Commonwealth Games swimming has won fourteen total medals, athletics has won seventeen. Track and field it seems has done our sport like the proverbial dinner.

And so I guess the important bit is what does the past mean for the Commonwealth Games next April. The signs are not good. Long-time reliable stalwarts, Lauren Boyle and Glen Snyders, have retired. There are some good swimmers still competing. Bradlee Ashby and Corey Main appear to stand out. But right now I can’t see anyone winning a race. My guess is two or three bronze medals will be it.

The extent of the swimming problem is highlighted by the news this week that Australian Cate Campbell lowered the world short course 100m freestyle record by 0.33 (0.7%) to 50.25. The world is progressing faster than we are. The women’s 100m freestyle at the recent New Zealand short course national championships was won in 54.19. New Zealand’s best swimmer is 3.94 seconds slower than the world. In a 100m race New Zealand’s fastest swimmer is now more than 7 meters behind. Cate Campbell is out of sight – in a different world.

It does appear that there’s bleak; and there’s bleak. But bleakest of all for the Swimming New Zealand Board. This time there’s no Head Coach to blame, no new restructuring plan to fob off the members, no gifted foreign recruit to employ. This time it’s all down to them. This time the buck really does stop with them. There isn’t anyone else.





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