A Fun Sort Of Sad

 Barry Magee and Ababe Bikila Rome marathon 1960

This morning I’ve been watching the Commonwealth Games marathon. It is always a dramatic event. This one was no exception. The race was being led by a hugely courageous Callum Hawkins from Scotland. For several years Alison represented Scotland in track athletics and cross country, so it’s not difficult to guess who we were supporting. Then, only two kilometres from the finish, and with a two minute lead things went terribly wrong. Hawkins became completely spent and collapsed on the side of the road.

It was a terrible sight; a brave man lying helpless, unable to even stand up. Thankfully I’m told he is recovering. Another runner from Scotland, Robbie Simpson, won a surprising bronze medal.

Clearly the heat on the Gold Coast has had a huge influence on the marathon result. It reminded me of the occasion I was discussing the Rome Olympic marathon with Bronze Medallist, Barry Magee. To avoid the hot Rome sun the marathon was run late at night. It was won by the Ethiopian superstar Abebe Bikila. I asked Barry if he was helped during the race by being able to see Bikila up ahead. Barry smiled and said, “David, have you ever tried to see an Ethiopian in the dark?”

But back to swimming. Yesterday I was at the Millennium Owen Glenn Pool. I go there four times a week to supervise Eyad’s training. He has just completed a good eight weeks of aerobic training. His weekly average distance has been a creditable seventy kilometres. That’s a pretty good improvement from the twenty kilometres a week he was swimming in Saudi Arabia. He is now beginning the speed portion of the season and should be ready to swim well in the National Championships in early July.

But yesterday was special. Two swimmers from the old days came up to have a chat. The first was Ross Anderson. He is fifty years old this year but looks 20 years younger. He was a fantastic swimmer. He swam in the Seoul Olympic Games and won a bronze medal in the 4×200 freestyle relay at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland. He was coached by his father, also Ross Anderson, at the West Wave Pool in Henderson. Ross senior was a huge personality. When I became Head Coach of Ross’s old West Auckland Aquatics club I really felt as though I had inherited the memory of Ross senior. I had a duty of care for something he had nurtured into the best club in the country. I will forever regret that things turned out the way they did. I will forever hold it against those who set out to destroy the legacy of Ross Anderson senior.

This is what I wrote on Swimwatch in 2010 when I became West Auckland Aquatics Head Coach.

Back in those days our team always sat with Coach Ross Anderson and his West Auckland Aquatics swim team. Little wonder he was New Zealand’s best coach. He was a man who saw the big picture better than most. No matter what the controversy or gossip when we walked in the door of the Henderson Pool there was always a cheery wave and a, “Come and sit with us, David.” He had a great team too; John Steel, Johnny Munro, Ross Anderson Junior, Paul Kent, Nick Sanders, Craig Ford and Georgina Hall. Now there’s a list of characters. The place and the meet will not be quite the same without Ross Anderson. I just hope we can do a good job with the team that I still think of as being his.

When Ross Anderson junior began swimming yesterday all the old class was immediately obvious; the ability to swim a length of the pool in half a dozen strokes less than anyone else, the cultured feel for every stroke, the impression of effortlessness. It does the heart good to see swimming so very well done.

And then a female voice said, “Hello David. How are you?” Oh my God from the same era of Auckland swimming, from the same West Auckland Aquatics club, it was Georgina Hall. She was another great swimmer coached by Ross Anderson senior. She won several New Zealand open breaststroke championships. In fact, in May 1992 she was written up in the NZ Sports Monthly as one of New Zealand’s four most promising young athletes.

In those days our Wellington club used to combine with Ross’s West Auckland Aquatics for a summer training camp at Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsular. Because most of my Wellington team were girls, the Auckland girls were coached by me and my Wellington boys were included in Ross’s training group. As you can imagine, I often told Ross that Georgina’s breaststroke success was entirely the result of the week of my coaching in Whitianga.

“Wow it’s been a long time. What are you doing here?” I asked Georgina.

“I have two daughters in the school group at the end of the pool,” said Georgina.

It’s amazing how difficult that is to process. The last time I spoke to Georgina she was probably sixteen or seventeen years old and here she was telling me she had two school children of her own. Hardly seems possible.

I was delighted to have a chat with a terrific athlete and a delightful person. West Auckland Aquatics may have been dealt a sad and lethal blow by miserable swimming politics but the legacy of Ross Anderson lives on in some very fine and happy people. Thank you Ross, thank you Georgina, it was fun to catch up.

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