Cool Counties

Two New Zealand swim meets are my favourites; the Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Championships in the Gisborne Olympic Pool and the Counties Age Group Championships held in the Papatoetoe Centennial Pool. I have just spent the weekend at the Counties Meet. Why is it a favourite?  Why is it better than anything put on by the Auckland or Wellington Regions or Swimming New Zealand?

Well the location helps; the picnic atmosphere of grassy banks, sun umbrellas, canvas camp chairs, bar-b-ques and big shady trees. It is simply a nice place to be. The meet is run efficiently without being officious. Results are posted on time and medals are made available quickly after the event. Best of all the two bosses of Counties Swimming, Geoff and Jeannie Sibun, actually welcome me to the meet. They seem to be happy to see me and my swimmers back for another year. That’s more than can be said for a few other places around New Zealand.

Actually I’d like to dwell on the contribution of the Sibuns. For a hundred years it is the Southland, Otago, Canterbury, Nelson, Wellington, Manawatu, HBPB, Taranaki, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Counties, Auckland and Northland Sibuns who have made New Zealand swimming. When there was a meet to be organized the Sibuns did it. When there was money to be raised the Sibuns arranged a sausage sizzle or applied for approval to run a raffle. When there was a prize-giving to be planned the Sibuns sent out the invitations and hired the hall. When the Annual Meeting was due the Sibuns prepared the accounts and wrote the minutes. Best of all the Sibuns did it for the love of the sport.

The Sibuns built New Zealand swimming. And they built it without a flash Antares Place office, without one hundred thousand dollar salaries, without corporate SUV motorcars and without “executive spreadsheets” to plan their “corporate strategy” “going forward”. What annoys me more than you can imagine is the feeling that the occupants of Antares Place are living their bloated lifestyle on a hundred years of Sibun toil. What upsets me even more is to go to a Counties meet and watch the Sibuns at work and know that Antares Place offers nothing but ridicule for their effort.

You don’t believe me? Let me tell you about Brian Palmer when he was Executive Director of Swimming Auckland. One evening, after I’d spent the day at the Counties Championships, Brian called. When he heard I’d been at the meet, in his most condescending, self-important voice, he said, “Oh and what’s life like in the provinces?” And that’s pretty typical of the Antares Place “pink socks and white shoes” set. Certainly I have as much admiration for all the New Zealand’s Sibuns as I have disgust for the Johns and Francis crew.

Besides, I know what the Regional Sibuns do. I can see it in the meets, in the fundraising and in the grass roots administration. What happens in Antares Place – I have no idea. I’d put a dollar on the fact that if Antares Place disappeared none of us would notice the difference. A couple of Sibuns could do whatever it is Antares Place do better and at a million dollars a year less cost.

I especially enjoy the traditions preserved at the Counties Meet. Things like the march-past of competitors before the meet begins. This year it was particularly colourful. A team from Tonga saw to that. Not every meet will benefit from these traditions. At West Wave a team march past would look as fake as all can be. The putrid atmosphere at West Wave contaminates everything that’s healthy and good. At Counties however these things are all excellent. Why – because they are not fake. They are genuine and sincere. They make for a great day out.

This year I was pleased to see that the Counties appeal is spreading. In previous years teams from Counties and Waikato have made up the bulk of the competition. This year, in addition to the Tongan team and the normal Waikato teams, there was a healthy number of swimmers from Auckland’s United club. The word is getting out. Good things are happening in Counties.

Here, for example, are half a dozen things that Counties does better than Auckland – things that make all the difference in the world.

  1. In the open grass spaces around the pool young swimmers can play and enjoy the time between races. Who knew, for example, how well HPK swim caps can perform as Frisbees or that two old tyres make perfect bowling balls.
  2. The officials are miles more friendlily.
  3. The food provided to officials is better – also by miles.
  4. The music is better. Spectators and swimmers even sing along – Poi E, Sweet Caroline, Waltzing Matilda, the Beatles.
  5. Buying a cup of coffee takes about half an hour less time. Oh, and the coffee is better
  6. Swimmers, spectators, coaches and officials can get in and out of the same bloody door.

So how did Eyad get on? Not as well as in the Anthony Mosse meet last weekend is the answer. I think we are going to have to do some work on his long course swimming. The transition from short to long course seems to be causing him a problem. Next weekend Eyad will travel to the far north to take part in the Bream Bay meet. There are some good swimmers coming out of Northland these days. Let’s hope they turn up and give Eyad a swim for his money.

In the meantime here are Eyad’s Counties results.

Event Personal Best Time Last Weekend Place
100 Free 54.10 58.38 5
50 Fly 26.25 27.66 1
50 Free 24.47 25.42 1
200 Free 2:06.23 2:10.21 5
50 Breast 32.71 34.02 3


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