Archive for April, 2018

Jan Cameron 1947-2018

Monday, April 30th, 2018

 The most influential figure in recent New Zealand swimming history died this past weekend. Swimwatch readers will know that I disagreed totally with the centralised policy Jan imposed on swimming in New Zealand. But that in no way detracted from my admiration for her ability and drive. I think she was wrong but exceptionally able; a powerful force and a colourful personality. Here is how Wikipedia describes her years in New Zealand.

Cameron moved to New Zealand with her husband and in 1991 she began working as head coach for the North Shore Swimming Club, turning it from a club with little money and no resources to one that attracted New Zealand’s elite swimmers. 

In 2001, she began working as a national coach at the newly built Millennium Institute of Sport and Health (now AUT Millennium) at the Auckland University of Technology, and in 2008 she was appointed as the general manager performance and pathways at Swimming New Zealand. 

In September 2011 she resigned from this position, nearly three months after the release of the Ineson report initiated by Sport New Zealand, which described the high-performance culture of Swimming New Zealand as “negative” and “dysfunctional”

At a time like this I think it is important not to hide from the mistakes. Cameron does not need to have her legacy sanitised. It is what it is – good and bad. And so let’s briefly consider the negative. The last time Swimwatch mentioned Jan Cameron was not exactly flattering. On September 6 2011 this is the Swimwatch report on the influence of Jan Cameron.

I have already apologized to Ineson in Swimwatch and do so again now. I can see why he is an Olympic Gold medallist. He does have courage. He reported on Swimming New Zealand honestly and without favour. He did our country proud in Montreal, Canada and again when he tabled this Ineson Report. For Cameron to turn around and dismiss Ineson’s work as “rubbish” is rich beyond belief. Of course it is typical of the dismissive attitude she takes to anyone who crosses her path. Yet another of my county’s best athletes has just earned the Cameron label of “rubbish.”

Jan Cameron – you have used our time, you have exploited the talent of our best athletes, you have spent our money – and you have failed to deliver. Your nepotism and rough shod management has caused embarrassment and hurt. We are done with you and those who supported your Millennium folly. We are moving on to a future that, I hope, does not include you. Leave swimming alone and I promise Swimwatch will never mention your name again.

That is the negative. So what is positive about Jan Cameron’s twenty years in New Zealand? There is no doubt that very few individuals, maybe no one, would have been capable of taking the struggling, inconsequential North Shore Swimming Club of 1991 and turning it into New Zealand’s best and most powerful club. Sure, Jan had the help of talented coaches like Donna Bouzaid along the way but the driving force behind an impossible transformation was Jan Cameron.

And of course in making that transformation Jan coached and guided the careers of many of New Zealand’s best swimmers. They were the beneficiaries of an outstanding coach. Standing on the side of a pool coaching Jan was first class; tough, uncompromising, thoughtful and brave – all the qualities necessary to achieve her goals.

During these years one story was reported to me that explains the power of Jan’s personal qualities. I hope I have the basics right. A North Shore Club official was accused of serious financial mismanagement associated with a local school. The same official was also alleged to be misbehaving with a senior North Shore female swimmer. I was told that the first Jan knew of this was when the official appeared with a gun in the girl’s changing room at training threatening the swimmer that, unless she agreed to run away with him, he would cause her harm. I am told Jan marched into the changing room, disarmed the official, threw his gun into the pool and called the police. It takes a special person to act like that; to demonstrate that personal bravery.

Jan brought the same fearless bravery and certainty to her coaching and administration. The policy of centralization that she went on to promote hurt her legacy. The passion that she offered was peerless. I have always thought it sad that New Zealand in those days did not better recognise the twin talents involved in the sport. Clive Rushton was the SNZ High Performance Manager and Jan was the National Coach. The potential of that team was something New Zealand had not seen before and certainly has not seen since. The union of Jan’s determination with Clive’s thoughtful direction could have done wonderful things for swimming in New Zealand.

Sadly the SNZ Board did not have the ability to bring together two powerful personalities. Instead they allowed dissent and conflict to exist between the two. Eventually Jan won and New Zealand was left with Jan’s irresistible force imposing her centralized philosophy without restraint. The qualities that could have enabled her to do for New Zealand what she had managed for the North Shore Club were misapplied and wasted. But that was never Jan’s fault. That was because no one in SNZ could manage her strong personality.

And so at the end of Jan’s life I am torn and confused. On the one hand I am full of admiration for a person of outstanding personal courage, talent and drive. And on the other hand I am sad and distressed that it was misdirected and mismanaged by a weak and incompetent Board of Swimming New Zealand.

For The Good Of The Community

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

 A younger Rhi at work & play

My name is David Wright. I am an International Level Five USA Swimming coach. I have coached in the United States, the UK, the Virgin Islands, Saudi Arabia and New Zealand. One of the good swimmers coached by me in that time was Rhi Jeffrey. Rhi is currently the Head Coach of the Cannon Ball Swim Team based in the Portsmouth Indoor Pool, Portsmouth, NH, USA. You can read about the team here

I have no idea what the allocated pool space arrangements are for Rhi and her Cannon Ball Club. However I have just read a Facebook post that says this.

The fight to keep our pool space continues. We are meeting with a city council member and others who have been part of the process to try and plead our case to bigger ears. If that fails, we will be making an appearance at the city council meeting on Monday. If you would like to support Cannonball, please try and make that city council meeting at 7 PM at city hall in Portsmouth. Otherwise, if you would like to do something to help, a letter of support or recommendation (either about myself or any of my kids) would be great to add to our case. If you have an interest in writing a letter for us, please DM me through FB or shoot me an email to WE REALLY NEED YOUR HELP! Swimming has been cast aside for far too long and the only way to move forward is together with ALL of our voices!

Of course I am not going to get involved in the detail of what pool space the club should have. I don’t know enough to wade in on that subject. What I can do though is assure those responsible for making those decisions that they currently have access to a huge swimming talent; a talent with the skills to pass her knowledge on to those she tutors.

I coached Rhi for a year in the United States and for two years in New Zealand. Before and while she swam in my team she was a 2004 Olympic Gold Medallist in the 4×200 Freestyle Relay, 5 time Olympic trial qualifier in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016, 2 time 2003 World Champion in the 4×100 Relay and 4×200 Freestyle Relay, American record holder in the 4×200 Freestyle Relay, 6 time NCAA finalist and a 2 time NCAA All-American, 8 time Florida High School State Champion and 4 time New Zealand National Championships medallist.

You get to know a person when you travel with them through that sort of journey. You share their victories and their defeats. You see them through amazing highs and terrible lows. You have a front row view into their character. It is not without reason that Rhi is an Olympic Gold Medallist. Normally success at that level requires huge integrity and resolute strength of character. Without question, in Rhi’s case, that is true.

A year and a half ago when I heard Rhi had been appointed Head Coach of the Cannon Ball Club I thought, “Wow, there goes one lucky team. Just sit back and watch it prosper.”

You see Rhi is a natural leader. Swimmers are drawn to her larger than life personality. In my Florida and New Zealand squads she was the team leader, dispensing encouragement and discipline. And the teams accepted both without question or dissent. It is a skill completely separate from her knowledge of things swimming. It is a skill that means she can communicate and inspire. Rhi’s knowledge of swimming is made effective but her leadership skills.

But more than that, Rhi cares. She is a good person. In my team in New Zealand one of Rhi’s best friends was a girl of modest ability. Rhi recognised her work ethic and encouraged and supported her career. Rhi showed that you don’t need to be an Olympic swimmer to earn her support and encouragement. I am sure this swimmer swam well above herself because of Rhi’s attention.

In the three years Rhi swam with me I frequently made use of Rhi’s swimming knowledge to solve other swimmer’s coaching problems. Rhi provided that help willingly and in the process contributed hugely to the success of our team.

And so I would encourage those responsible for the allocation of this pool space to consider carefully providing Rhi with the lane space she needs. Whether the purpose of a community pool is to be a venue for constructive recreation or to deliver an alternative activity for the town’s young and old or to provide tuition in elite swimming skills Rhi will not let you down. Give her what she needs and I am sure your town will be a better place.

Follow The Cash

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

 I was asked today if I knew the amount of money paid to elite sports people by their federations. In particular what amounts were spent by swimming, athletics and cycling? I had no idea but went to the three Annual Reports in search of answers. The numbers are not easy to find. Because the reports include different amounts in different categories making a comparison has its difficulties.

What do the numbers show?

  1. At $268,148 swimming only spends 17% of the $1,584,479 spent by athletics on their best competitors and 21% of the $1,251,673 spent by cycling. Another way of saying the same thing is that athletics spends six times more that swimming on supporting their best performers and cycling spends 4.5 times more. That is a huge gap.
  2. As a percentage of the government funding of each sport swimming and cycling are similar at 19% of government funding. Athletics is well ahead at just under 50%.
  3. As a percentage of total funding athletics provide their best competitors with 30% of their total income compared to 14% for cycling and 8% for swimming.
  4. The high amount but low percentage spending by cycling reflects the very large amounts that sport spends on other things. I suspect that is caused as a result of paying for costs associated with the new velodrome.

The table below shows my best guestimate of the numbers taken from the annual reports.

Swimming 2017
Funding $ Received $ Paid to Athletes % Paid to Athletes
SNZ Funding 1,413,158 268,148 19%
Total Funding 3,546,861 268,148 8%
Swimming 2016
Funding $ Received $ Paid to Athletes % Paid to Athletes
SNZ Funding 1,659,030 272,430 16%
Total Funding 3,808,704 272,430 7%
Athletics 2017
Funding $ Received $ Paid to Athletes % Paid to Athletes
SNZ Funding 3,565,114 1,584,479 44%
Total Funding 5,343,103 1,584,479 30%
Athletics 2016
Funding $ Received $ Paid to Athletes % Paid to Athletes
SNZ Funding 3,512,124 1,679,993 48%
Total Funding 5,188,059 1,679,993 32%
Cycling 2017
Funding $ Received $ Paid to Athletes % Paid to Athletes
SNZ Funding 6,676,472 1,251,673 19%
Total Funding 8,736,282 1,251,673 14%
Cycling 2016
Funding $ Received $ Paid to Athletes % Paid to Athletes
SNZ Funding 6,973,938 1,358,064 19%
Total Funding 9,318,084 1,358,064 14%

Even the most strident critic of Swimwatch must admit that these figures don’t look good for Swimming New Zealand. Athletics and cycling spend six and 4.5 times more than swimming on looking after their best performers. The figures seem to support the argument that Coterill and company are pretty good at looking after themselves but not so good at caring for the poor buggers flogging up and down a swimming pool.

Of course it has to be admitted athletics and cycling have more stars to support. Now that Boyle has gone there is no one in swimming that comes close to Adams, Willis, Walsh, McCartney or Gill. But even taking this into account the figures are stunningly extreme. The comparison makes the sport of swimming look like third-world embarrassing poverty.

It is not as though the other sports are over-paying their competitors. Both athletics and cycling still spend thousands more on administration than they do on the people doing the work. And that’s not right. Not by a country mile. Just look at this next table to see how well the fat-cats in the office look after themselves.

Sport Spent on Administration Spent on Competitors Total Spent
Swimming 1,145,010 268,148 1,413,158
Athletics 1,980,635 1,584,479 3,565,114
Cycling 5,424,799 1,251,673 6,676,472

Athletics is clearly operating with the best set of priorities. However that’s not saying much. $2million spent around the office water cooler is way too much money. Swimming is simply embarrassing. Critics of Swimwatch need to pause, take a step back, breathe deeply for a minute and look at the numbers. Is this really the way they want the sport to be run? Is this how Perry, Hunter, Mains, Stanley, Ashby, Clareburt, Gichard, Doyle, Gasson, Transom and others should be treated? No I don’t think so.

But the sport that is going to have problems is cycling. The gloss of a good Commonwealth Games and a flash new Cambridge facility will only last so long. Soon the realization that the sport is spending $5.4million on itself and only $1.2million on the guys on a bike will have an effect. It seems that cycling is over-investing in bricks and mortar and under-investing in those that push a pedal. Exploiting the workforce will soon find them out. Just look what happened to swimming.

This week the NZSCTA Conference was held in Auckland. Did anyone ask President Sutton what he has done to correct these figures? Does he even know these are the figures? Does he care? He should. He coaches one of the swimmers being exploited and abused by those in power. Or is he too concerned with being mates with the inmates of Antares Place that the best interests of Bronagh Ryan don’t count? Sutton probably knows that by the time she realises how badly she’s being treated she’ll probably be about to retire. But Steve Johns will still be there – so buying him coffee is clearly more important.

Every figure says that the sport is being badly served by those in charge. It just beats me why people like Sutton and the administrators in the regions don’t do something about it.

Testosterone Or Talent?

Friday, April 27th, 2018

 Not for the first or the last time I disagree with IAAF president Sebastian Coe. I read today that he has published rules for female athletes with high natural testosterone levels, From November 1, the IAAF will limit entry for all international events from 400m through the mile to women with testosterone levels below a specified level. Women with elevated testosterone must reduce their level for “six months (eg: by use of hormonal contraceptives)” before being eligible to run.

Sebastian Coe, said the governing body must “ensure a level playing field where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors. Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes.”

Coming as no surprise at all, Coe was supported by Dr Stephane Bermon, who works in the IAAF medical and science department. She said “There is a performance advantage in female athletes with DSD (Differences of Sexual Development) over the track distances covered by this rule, Research over a decade showed 7.1 in every 1000 elite track and field athletes had elevated testosterone levels – 140 times greater than the female population.”

The new IAAF rule could yet be challenged at CAS.

I hope it is challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and like the last time CAS ruled on this matter, Coe’s male prejudiced bigotry is exposed and dismissed. These women are not cheats. This is not a group of East German swimmers being marched to a medical room in Potsdam for weekly injections. This is 7 women in every 1000 elite track and field athletes who were born with higher testosterone levels. They were born with an advantage. So what?

Show me any elite athlete who was not born with an advantage. Not necessarily testosterone but advantages of some sort. In my experience most elite athletes are not normal. From birth they are blessed with superior skills and talents. Of course the most successful then work incredibly hard to maximize their skills. But the circumstances of their birth gave them a natural base receptive to that hard work.

Coe says that he wants to “ensure a level playing field where success is determined by talent.” Natural testosterone is a physical talent. Certainly just as much a talent as being tall is to playing basketball or having a superior oxygen transfer system is to marathon running.

Rhi Jeffrey worked amazingly hard to win a gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games. But it would be silly to deny the fact that she always possessed talents of size and power and feel of the water that were superior to an average club swimmer. Should she have been banned because of her physical advantages? No of course not.

I remember when Alison was running in Scotland. There was a woman who was known as an amazingly hard worker. I was told she regularly ran 120 miles in a week. But she could never beat Alison. Just watching the races, Alison was always going to win. The difference was something they were born with, some impossible-to-describe talent. Should Alison have been denied the chance to compete because it was unfair? No of course not.

Apart from Coe himself I doubt there is a person alive who would not acknowledge that Coe also had inherited talents that allowed him to excel. Should he have been banned because of those talents? Should he have been told to take a pill to weaken his performance? No of course not.

NBA player, Yao Ming, was 7feet 6inches tall. That clearly gave him an advantage over his shorter competitors. Should he have been ordered to undergo spinal surgery to satisfy Coe’s call for a level playing field? No of course not.

And finally in the 1960s Sir Peter Snell had a series of physical tests. Maximal oxygen uptake was determined by a run to exhaustion on a horizontal treadmill. Snell’s max V02 of 5.502 L/min. is the highest reported for a runner. Moreover, he was able to maintain an uptake exceeding 5.25 L/min. for the final 3.5 minutes. Clearly Snell had physical advantages. Clearly this was not a level playing field. Clearly a tablet should have been ordered that brought Snell’s maximal oxygen uptake back to the level of everyone else. What a load of nonsense.

Kenyans living at altitude in the Rift Valley appear to receive an advantage from training in their home location. Does Coe plan to order them to migrate? Is David Rudisha’s world 800 meters record going to be disallowed because his home training location provided physical advantages over Coe’s home town of Sheffield? Fortunately for sport the playing field is never level.

The problem with all these sorts of debates about sex is they are always about women. Should Laurel Hubbard be allowed to compete? Dick Quax was hot-to-trot on that issue. I suspect Quax’s reaction had more to do with Laurel’s father’s politics than sport. Is Caster Semenya cheating? You seldom hear the same sexist debates about men’s participation. Bigots like Coe have a 19th Century view that women must comply with their stereotype or be banned as fairground freaks.

When Alison was at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and Toni Jeffs swam in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games they had to have sex tests. This involved a swab from inside the mouth that was then examined for X and Y chromosomes. They both passed. However the tests highlighted to me the potential humiliation and psychological harm to women. I’d heard stories of women being banned on the basis of a sex test and then later giving birth. For these individuals the failed test must have been as devastating as it was unfair. Wikipedia ends their entry on the subject of these tests by saying:

“Sex verification tests can create sex and identity crises, demeaning reactions, social isolation, depression, and suicide.”

Eventually sport caught up with the civilized world and physical and chromosome tests were discontinued. But the bigots of course were just drawing breath for their next assault on women. And lo-and-behold here it comes – in the form of Sebastian Coe. Now we are going to count the level of testosterone.

I remember a friend of mine – I won’t mention her name – who was invited to compete in an event in South America. She was directed into a room for what she thought was going to be the mouth swab test. Instead she found herself standing in front of this row of three men and one woman. One of the men, who I’m told was smoking a cigar, ordered her to remove her clothing for a physical sex examination. My friend exclaimed, “I will if you will,” and turned and left the room.

As far as I’m concerned Sebastian Coe has shown himself to be a 21st century version of three dirty old South American perverts. Like their test, Coe’s too, will soon find itself relegated to a shameful section of athletic history.

Avoiding Teenage Dropout

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

 The German publisher of my two previous swimming books has sent me the final book-ready version of my latest manuscript. This is the last opportunity to check for errors and omissions. After this the manuscript will be sent to the printers in the United States. In a couple of months the finished book will be on sale.

I have mentioned this latest book before. It is called “Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers”. The book examines the extent of the world-wide drop-out rate for swimmers between the ages of thirteen and eighteen – it’s about 80%. Clearly that is a stunning and shocking universal statistic. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you live in the United States or Europe or Australia or New Zealand the drop-out rate is the same. What is it about swimming that leads to such a destructive statistic?

And so the balance of the book looks at the factors likely to cause the problem and discusses measures that can be taken to improve the sport’s retention of young swimmers. In particular the book discusses problems in the following areas.

Coaching – are there coaching errors that contribute to early drop-out? Do coaches make errors that can cause so much hurt that young swimmers give up and move on to something less damaging?

Coaches – are there behaviour characteristics in the approach of a coach that turn young swimmers away from the sport?

Parents – do parents play a role in the 80% drop-out rate? What types of behaviour contribute to teenage drop-out? The book discusses events from my coaching career where parents have behaved badly.

Environment – are there aspects of competitive swimming that inherently contribute to young people becoming disillusioned? Are there steps that administrators and federations can take to diminish the hurt and make the sport more interesting and attractive?

Having examined possible problems in each area the book then discusses potential solutions.

For example the book examines different coaching strategies with a view to determining whether some are better suited to retaining young swimmers and preparing them for senior competitive swimming. In addition to recommending good coaching content, the book recommends training techniques coaches should avoid. Coaching recommendations are made covering the aerobic, the anaerobic and the speed and racing periods of training.

The role of parents is, of course, very important. Here too the book not only looks at things parents should avoid but recommends strategies and behaviour that can assist young swimmers stay in the sport.

There is much that administrators and federations can do to reduce the drop-out rate. A variety of these are discussed.

But the book is not just about the problem of avoiding early drop-out from the sport. It is ironic and pleasing that many of the solutions to early drop-out have the double benefit of assisting retention and improving competitive success; two birds with one stone.

The book concludes with a chapter on the subject of retirement. Inevitably that is a subject that must be faced by everyone. It can be a traumatic moment. For ten or more years many swimmers have filled all their spare time involved in this activity. All sorts of advice has been offered on how to train, how to race, what to eat and even how long to sleep. The transition to “normal” life does not receive the same attention – and it should. Hopefully this book will assist those about to move on from competitive swimming to other activities.

If you do get a copy of the book I hope you find it interesting and useful. I would appreciate any comments good or bad. They can be sent to me at this email address

The book is called, Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers. It is written by me, David Wright. The publishers are Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd. Maidenhead, England. And the ISBN number will be ISBN 978-1-78255-140-9.