A Wrap Of The Weekend

During the weekend two stories were posted on Swimwatch that merit further discussion. Let’s deal with the best bits first. There is a swimmer called Paige Schendelaar-Kemp. She is 19 and swims for the Howick Pakuranga Club. She was recruited a year ago and swam at Florida State University. Her coach was the master’s world record holder, Ozzie Quevedo. I was interested in her progress. When I lived in Florida I coached Ozzie for a couple of years.

Anyway, Paige has returned to New Zealand and was swimming in the Auckland Open Championships this weekend. Let me tell you what happened. On Friday night she swam the 50 freestyle. She ended up seventh in a relatively modest time of 28.44. However I was impressed. I said at the time, she may have only placed seventh but was clearly the best swimmer in the pool.

On Saturday she swam the 200 freestyle in another modest time of 2:15.34. Her swim seemed to confirm the impression of a huge talent, struggling to find her best form. On Sunday her 100 freestyle heat swim was 1:01.41. Again she looked like the best swimmer in the pool but lacked the fitness to prove it. And then, in the final, her true class could not be hidden any longer. She went into the race ranked fourth, turned in second, in the same time as she had swum in the 50 on Friday, and won the race down the second 50 meters. Her time was 59.08. I have never seen raw talent like that since the days of Toni Jeffs and Rhi Jeffrey. Some people are born to do this swimming business better than others. Paige seems to be one of those. Oh, I know there are dozens of faster swimmers than 59.08 but that is not the point. It takes real class to tear a field apart in the way Paige went about her work. It was professional. It was tough. It was swimming, maybe not at its fastest, but certainly at its best. It was a privilege to sit and watch. So thank you Paige. I do hope your career continues to prosper. A talent like yours deserves to succeed. Besides I want to enjoy watching a few more second 50s like the one you swam last night.

The greatest irony of the weekend came in the form of a report that, ex Cycling New Zealand Head Sprint Coach, Anthony Peden has accepted a position as Head Sprint Coach for the Chinese national team. All I could think was, “Miskimmin does it again.” Remember when Miskimmin built his Cambridge cycling palace. The Head Coach then, Justin Grace, wasn’t good enough for the Miskimmin Empire so he was dropped. France and then the UK snapped him up and a couple of years later British Cycling went home from the Rio Olympics with a bucket full of medals coached by Miskimmin’s cast-off. And now the hugely successful Peden hasn’t been gone for a week and already he has a job with the Chinese. If I was a young, talented New Zealand cyclist, would I prefer Grace, Peden or Miskimmin to be available in New Zealand? Miskimmin’s going to come third in that race. I just wish it was Miskimmin, and not Peden, on his way to Beijing. I’d go to the airport to watch that flight leave. The facts seem to scream the obvious. How come everyone can make these good coaches work well except for Peter Miskimmin?

A senior Auckland coach did question the validity of the Swimwatch story on the quality of the Friday evening session of the Auckland Championships. I was told there were good reasons for most of the items mentioned. I’m sure that’s right. However good excuses fail to erase the overall impression of a poorly attended meet, poorly managed. As I said to the coach, a person whose ability I respect enormously, if the performance of their swim school had declined by half of the change in the Auckland Championships they would have been out of business years ago. Individual items can be debated late into the night. The impression of general decay is hard to escape. As I was being dropped off on Saturday Alison said to me, “Where are all the cars? Remember when there was not a spare parking space anywhere during the Auckland Championships?” She was right. Now there is enough room to hold the Monaco Grand Prix in the vacant car park. It would be interesting to know the number of national open records broken during the weekend – or even Auckland open records. My guess is none. It seems that quality and quantity are falling together. And good reasons cannot excuse that away.

And finally Paul Kent tells me he has not been “won over to the well-behaved side”. He still has his rebellious moments. I’m delighted to hear that good news. The thought of an angelic Paul singing in a celestial choir was beginning to keep me awake at night. The idea of him poking Ross Bragg with his Devil’s pitchfork is much more comforting.

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