Archive for January, 2019

Pole Dancing

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

Swimming was always my sport. I wanted to be good at track athletics but my results on a track were never as good as in a swimming pool. Oh, I was part of my high school team that won the Hawkes Bay Secondary School Cross Country Championship. But track success was always more elusive than swimming wins.

Typical of my track career was my final mile race before heading off to school in the United States. I was in the Seventh Form at Otorohanga High School and was determined to win the school mile championship and qualify to run in the Waikato Inter-Secondary Schools Championships. Instead of catching the bus to school I began running the six miles (10 kms) to school and six miles home every day. For six months I never missed a day and added two 10 mile (16 kms) runs on Saturday and Sunday for a total of 80 miles (132 kms) a week.

I was fit and confident I could beat David Bayley who normally won the school mile championship. However, instead of using my fitness I allowed the race to dawdle through three and a half laps and then got outsprinted by Bayley in the home straight. There would be no Waikato Inter-Secondary Schools Championship for me. But then a surprise. I had entered several fill-in events including the senior discus. Wonder of wonders I spun around the circle, like I had seen on TV, and hey presto, I was the school discus champion and on my way to Rotorua for the provincial championship.

I never expected my discus career would challenge East German World Record holder, Jurgen Schult. And so it transpired. My school throw had been a one-off. The Rotorua throw was meters shorter and at the bottom of the field.  I was last. My track and field career was about to end on a very sad note. I wandered around the Rotorua field feeling very sorry for myself and then noticed that meet officials were taking entries, at the meet, for the pole vault. I entered the Waikato Secondary Schools Pole Vault Championship.

I had never competed in a pole vault event but I couldn’t do worse than the discus. Besides, it is not as though I had never pole vaulted. Frequently when I was out hunting I carried a Lancewood pole to vault over fences. It was easier and quicker than climbing. Vaulting was also a convenient and dry means of getting over small streams.

And just consider the advantages. The competition would fill in the day. Meet officials were providing sophisticated metal poles that looked a lot more useable than even my best Lancewood version. And the bar was set at the opening height. That didn’t look too daunting especially when I mentally compared its height with the international vaulting I’d seen on TV. This, I thought, should be fun.

The first round went well. I cleared the opening height on my first vault. Another competitor missed three attempts and was eliminated. Already I was guaranteed a finish better than the discus.  The bar was raised and again I cleared the height on my first attempt. Two competitors missed their three vaults and were eliminated. This was good. I was now guaranteed at least a sixth place finish.

The bar was raised three more times and each time I cleared the height on my first vault. The field was now down to two – a competitor from Hamilton Boys High School and me. A silver medal, at least, would be mine.

I was confident I could clear a few more heights. After-all the bar still wasn’t nearly as high as I’d seen the athletes vaulting on TV. I also knew I wasn’t going to win. The Hamilton competitor had a coach and, for some reason, was putting white powder on the pole. What was that for? The bar went up again and I cleared it on my first attempt. And then the Hamilton competitor missed. Wow I thought, “How did that happen?”

Normal programming was resumed on his second attempt. He cleared the height easily. The bar was raised and again I cleared it on my first attempt. The Hamilton competitor missed his first attempt and his second and his third. Wow, unbelievable, I’d won. I was the Waikato Inter-Secondary Schools Pole Vault Champion.

The officials asked if I’d like to try for some higher heights. Sure I said, after all the bar still did not look as high as I’d seen on TV. The officials went back to raising the bar. Then I was accosted by my High School PE teacher. He’d been told that I’d won the event and the last height I cleared was a Waikato Inter-Secondary School record.

The silly bugger told me about the record and instantly my approach changed. The bar was higher than I thought. I must have been wrong about the athletes on TV. I missed my next three attempts. I’ve never forgiven that teacher. I swear if he had kept his mouth shut I could have gone higher. Never mind I was the champion.

PS – I didn’t know Alison at the time but she had her own Waikato Inter-secondary Championship in 1963 competing for Fairfield College.  She won the Junior Girls 75 yards sprint. Years later when she was one of the best in the world at 1500 meters she still spoke fondly of the benefits of 75 yard sprinting; a lot easier, she said, than three and a three quarter laps. I told her she was lucky to know the guy who’d won a Waikato pole vault championship. Everyone knows how tough and good looking those pole vaulting guys are.

Golden Moments

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

From 1990 I have been fortunate enough to coach some amazing personalities. The list is too long to begin naming names. I can say the toughest swimmer was Jane and not because she was related to the coach. Tough? Jane was as hard as a rock – seemingly indestructible. She swam 800m when she was three years old and 100×100 on 1.30 at thirteen. She first qualified for the Open Nationals at twelve. The bigger-than-life personality of all time was Olympic Champion Rhi Jeffrey. I even had Committee members warn me about Rhi joining the team. You will never control her they told me. I ignored their advice. Controlling swimmers is not my job. Besides who would want to suffocate Rhi’s most enjoyable feature – her personality? That feature made every day an adventure.

I’d better stop there or I’m going to get into telling you about Skuba, Andrew, Abigail, Eyad, Alison, Tiffany, Toni, Nichola and a handful of others. But I do want to tell you about a swimmer I coached in Florida. His name is Jonathan Golden. He was a very good swimmer but was not a competitive swimmer when he swam with me. He was in his forties and used swimming five times a week for general fitness.

The reason I want to tell you about Jonathan is because of the fun he brought to the pool deck. He is a successful lawyer working for a major asset management company. He is also the owner of the most stunningly high IQ. Walking into the pool at 6.00 am you just never knew what Jonathan was going to come up with. Certainly you knew it was time to start running very fast to keep up with his lightning fast wit.

Jonathan especially enjoyed, my daughter, Jane’s left-wing politics. I enjoy that about her as well. He took to referring to her affectionately as “The Communist”.

But the principal feature of life with Jonathan was the number of times he would say something so outlandish that others around him simply missed the joke. Master running coach Arch Jelley has the same skill. Frequently I would only click on to the meaning of what both of them had said, way too late to suggest I had kept up.

Jonathan was on the Committee of our Florida club. Also on the Committee was a qualified accountant. She did a first class job as club Treasurer. The club’s monthly accounts were on time and immaculate. Sadly though she also had all the unfortunate features attributed to accountants.

You know what I mean. Question – what does a husband say to his accountant wife when he can’t get to sleep? Answer – Darling tell me about your work.

Or, question – what do you call an accountant who always works through lunch, takes two days holiday every two years, is in the office every weekend, and leaves every night after 10 p.m.? Answer – Lazy.

At Jonathan’s first club Committee meeting he had made a valuable contribution to the items on the agenda. It then came time to sit through the accountant’s report. We had received the financial schedules three days earlier so the accountant’s long explanation of the numbers was somewhat tedious and unnecessary.

On this occasion a major item in the accounts was the purchase of two stationary exercise bikes. We got them to add to our pool gym for swimmers to use during their warm-up prior to a weights session. The accountant explained how much we had paid and the discounts she had negotiated. She then made a fatal mistake and asked if there were any questions.

Jonathan brightened up and asked, “Are the two stationary bikes going to be treated as fixed assets?”

It was obviously a joke, a play on “stationary”. But not to our accountant it wasn’t. She proceeded to give us a twenty minute tutorial on the definition of fixed assets and why the bikes could not be included as current assets. I could tell by the end of the tutorial Jonathan was wishing he had better control of his wit. Sadly some people, in Jonathan’s own words, have had their personality surgically removed.

Thank you Jonathan for all your help in the five years I was coaching in Florida. Thank you for all the fun. Thank you for your annual Super Bowl parties. They are all Golden fixed assets in my coaching accounts.

Anthony Mosse Meet – Good & Bad

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Swimming Auckland held its annual Anthony Mosse swim meet last weekend. I was pleased with Eyad’s results. It has only been one week since he completed his long distance conditioning training. What that means is a week ago he was working through his regular Saturday morning’s 100×100 on 1.25. Clearly it is a big change to move from that sort of training to sprinting 50m freestyle. Experience suggests that about five meets are required to reach a peak after a fourteen week aerobic and anaerobic conditioning period. Expecting too much after one week can lead to serious disappointment.

With that in mind I was pleased with Eyad’s results shown in the table below.

Event Personal Best A. Mosse Time Place
100 Medley 1.02.03 1.00.53 PB 2
50 Free 23.64 23.89 2
100 Free 51.71 52.52 3
200 Free 2.01.14 2.02.28 2
50 Fly 25.54 26.26 3
50 Breast 30.12 30.73 4
100 Fly 57.61 58.31 2

It has been a long road for Eyad from the discrimination and hostility of being a Syrian refugee – a road not made any easier by some sports authorities in New Zealand. However he has persevered and is succeeding.

The Anthony Mosse meet reflected the best and worst of swimming in New Zealand. That is not a surprise. It is hard for a major meet not to reflect its environment. I thought the number of entries (2727) and the management of the meet were good. Okay the meet might not be up to the Ft. Lauderdale Invitational’s 6900 entries but for a New Zealand competition 2727 is a good size. Whoever was responsible for managing the meet did a good job of getting the events through efficiently and on time.

So what went wrong? Well there are three things I would criticise.

Last year I complained about the number of disqualifications. New Zealand swimming is a disqualification paradise. In 2018 Anthony Mosse officials disqualified 82 swimmers. I thought that was bad; certainly much worse that I have ever seen in the UK, USA, Europe, Asia or Australia. Clearly my concern a year ago had no effect. I know that because this year, in 2019, the number of disqualifications increased to 112. That’s a 36% increase in one year – well done Swimming Auckland. Kicking swimmers out of a race is one thing Swimming Auckland has got better at. Increasing the misery of swimming by 36% obviously turns someone on.

112 disqualifications from 2727 entries is a DQ rate of 4.1%. Florida has a similar meet to Anthony Mosse. It is called the Ft. Lauderdale Invitational. Last year the Florida meet had 6900 entries and 56 disqualifications. That is half the number disqualified compared to the Anthony Mosse meet from two and a half times more entries. The Florida DQ rate was 0.8%.

That does not mean USA officials give bad swimmers a pass. Although I imagine there are Swimming New Zealand officials who will say that the New Zealand DQ rate is the product of bad coaching. If swimmers were taught to swim properly there would be fewer disqualifications. That is rubbish. New Zealand coaches teach swimmers as well as overseas coaches teach. Young New Zealand swimmers are as technically competent as overseas swimmers. The problem is not the coaches or the swimmers. The problem is the standard of officiating. New Zealand officials are too tough. Their idea of a fault would be ignored in Australia, Asia, Europe or the USA especially when the average age of the swimmers being disqualified at the Anthony Mosse meet was 11 years old; a hugely impressionable age.

The important question is, does the harsh DQ rate at a young age have a negative result?

Last year I said that the excesses of New Zealand judges would eventually cause a decrease in swimming membership. No sport can afford to hand out that amount of misery and not expect some retaliation. Swimmers are not going to put up with being kicked out of a race for whatever some badly trained official thinks is a fault. There are better things teenagers can do with their time. Women’s rugby and women’s football are growing at a hundred miles an hour. At least, in those sports, referees are taught to stay out of the way. It’s not hard to figure out why swimmers go off to other sports when their experience of swimming involves huge effort and considerable discomfort to be rewarded with a DQ – all that effort for nothing.

At the Anthony Mosse meet what that meant was that of the 2727 entries only 256 (9.4%) came from swimmers aged 16 or older. At 20 years or older, an age when swimmers can really start to achieve, only 41 entries (1.5%) came from those swimmers. The 41 entries came from 2 women and 6 men aged 20 years or over. With no senior swimmers, swimming is in deep, deep trouble. Imagine rugby without the All Blacks. That’s Auckland swimming.

My final complaint is the bloody doors to the pool. For some reason, whether it is a command from the Council management or the meet officials I have no idea, someone has ordered swimmers, coaches and officials to enter the meet through the back door. That door is then locked when the meet starts and everyone has to leave through the front door on the other side of the building. What that means is that anyone who parks at the back of the pool near the entry door has to walk for miles to get to their car after the meet. Anyone who parks near the front door has to walk for miles to get into the meet but does have a short walk at the end. Whatever way, a long walk cannot be avoided.

For most of us that is inconvienient but is not a serious problem. However for disabled officials or swimmers it is blatantly cruel and probably illegal. Only at West Wave would they invent a rule to punish the disabled. Only at West Wave would they go out of their way to make the experience of a visit as nasty as possible. Over the years I have visited 191 swimming pools in countries all over the world. In my opinion the worst pool by far is West Wave. It is a disgrace. The malice of its meet door rule says all you need to know about the pool’s management. Swimming Auckland should move its events to the Millennium Pool. Staff members are friendlier, the pool is cleaner and you can enter and leave through the same door.

By Royal Appointment

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

 The Punch Bowl in Windsor Great Park

Many readers will have seen the news that the 97 year old Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a car accident. It looked quite serious. The Duke’s Land Rover was hit by another car and flipped on to its side. The Duke was a bit bumped and bruised but fortunately escaped without major injury. He has been admitted to hospital but the news says it’s just for observation.

The incident was of particular interest because Alison and I happen to know the Duke of Edinburgh. I admit “know” may be an exaggeration. Let me explain and you can decide.

When Alison was running for New Zealand we were living in England. Our home was in Windsor, on Kings Road, and backed on to the 5000 acre royal estate known as Windsor Great Park. Alison ran up to 100 miles a week in the Queen’s park, around what must be the best training ground in the world. Up the Long Walk, past the Queen Mother’s Royal Lodge, down Rhododendron Walk, past the Totem Pole, around Virginia Water, across Smith’s Lawn, through the Dip, past the Game Keeper’s Lodge, back around to the top of the Long Walk and home, ten traffic-free miles of grass, flowers, trees and fresh air.

Alison usually took our black Labrador, Tweed, along on her runs. Actually Tweed had a royal connection. We bought her from the Game Keeper at Floors Castle, home of the Duke of Roxburghe. I went to his estate to buy cattle for the Galashiels’ meat plant and ended up with a Labrador puppy, a sad but probably accurate reflection of my career as a livestock buyer. I was told that a male puppy from the same litter as Tweed was bought by the Queen and lived in Windsor.

Running through Windsor Park twice a day meant that Alison occasionally came across members of the royal family. Princess Anne used Smith’s Lawn to practice her eventing skills. On one occasion our Labrador, Tweed, had just gone on heat. Princess Anne’s male Labrador found this too much to resist and came bounding across for a closer inspection. Princess Anne rode up alongside the two Labradors and in her sternest royal tones asked, “Sasha, are you quite mad?”

We never met Prince Charles but did watch him practicing night-time helicopter landings on Smith’s Lawn. It was an eerie sight. There are no lights on Smith’s Lawn. It was pitch black with just the huge bulk of the royal helicopter landing and lifting off over and over again. My respect for royalty increased. I’d seen Prince Charles play polo on the same lawn and here he was piloting a helicopter.

We did see the Queen quite often. She was frequently out riding as we ran through her backyard. She always had what obviously were security officers riding with her and on one occasion Princess Margaret. I especially remember that occasion because as the royal party rode by the Queen said a friendly, “Good morning.” Clearly she recognised us as regular users. Alison replied with her own, “Good morning.” Wow, we were mates of the Queen.

However the royal family member we encountered most was the Duke of Edinburgh. He was frequently out training for his horse and carriage competitions. Alison came across him far more frequently than me. The Duke’s morning training coincided with the time Alison was doing her morning run. It seems that both the Duke and Alison realised that passing each other every morning without saying anything was a bit silly. The Duke initiated contact with a wave and a greeting. Alison replied and it became a regular feature of their daily contact.

The occasion I remember best was on a very wet Saturday morning. There were deep puddles of surface water everywhere. Halfway up the Long Walk a Range Rover approached from the opposite direction. As it drew alongside we could see the Duke was driving. We were about to wave when the Duke took both his hands off the wheel and began to make breaststroke movements with his arms. Clearly the man has a sense of humour.

I am not a rabid royalist. Far from it. But in my fleeting contact with the Queen and her family and with three years of Political Science study, I am firmly of the view that the people involved and the means of rule they represent are first class. Would I prefer them to the individuals involved in any presidential system I can think of?

Are you kidding me? Queen Elizabeth or Donald Trump? Queen Elizabeth or Vladimir Putin? Not much doubt about the correct choice there. Besides consider this advantage. The Queen’s family know how to swim breaststroke.

I Agree With Him

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Almost everything I dislike in a human being comes in one, gift-wrapped parcel, called Michael Noel James Hosking IV. The New Zealand broadcaster is way too right-wing for my taste. New Zealand can do without his reactionary opinions. In my view he is arrogant and self-important. His constant need to appear on the pages of doctor’s surgery cheap magazines and his spikey hair style are objectionable and cheap. I even signed the petition to have TV1 remove him from the Leaders Debate before the last New Zealand general election. I read articles written by him to reinforce my opinion that this must not be the country we ever become.

You can imagine therefore my shock when I read the Hosking column in this today’s NZ Herald and found myself agreeing with his every word. Shock is barely adequate to describe my reaction. Astonishment mixed with horror is a better description. So what caused this visceral reaction? Here is a much abridged summary of what Hosking had to say.

From hockey to football to cycling .. many a claim was made by aggrieved upset and angry players towards management and coaches over the way they were treated.The complaints ranged from the specific to. in the case of Hager and women’s hockey, the particularly vague.

All sports though, partly because of the day and age we live in, and the growing fear that telling it like it is may offend, responded with the obligatory review.

Jobs were lost, shortcomings were highlighted and promises of a better tomorrow were made.

But – and here is why all sports fans should be worried – just what exactly have the Black Sticks achieved?

The culture wasn’t broken, it was just that the team had a bunch of people who didn’t like the way they were treated. And instead of the old approach of “if you don’t like it you know where the changing room is” we now need inquiries.

Because nowadays every upset is serious, every tear needs wiping, every grievance needs an inquiry.

But as hockey, like cycling and football, spent lord knows how much energy and money investigating the numerous agitations, what was so dangerously forgotten was the very reason these teams exist.

To win.

Elite sport is not about fun and giving it a go, it’s about winning.

So the upshot here, is those that couldn’t hack it, whined, got listened to, and as a result they’ve lost their coach.

And where has that coach gone? England – the current Olympic champions.

How will New Zealand hockey explain their approach and attitude when we next meet England (which isn’t far off) and get spanked because they’re a side that likes winning more than we do – and likes to hire the talent that can drive that philosophy.

Will they be happy to say, ‘we may have lost, but at least all our players felt included?’

In bending over to accommodate the world’s current fascination with touchy-feely political correctness. We run the risk of forgetting how to win, or worse, even wanting to.

Regular Swimwatch readers will notice an unnerving similarity between this Hosking article and several Swimwatch posts. Probably my only negative thought about what Hosking has to say is his opinion that, “Elite sport is not about fun and giving it a go, it’s about winning.” In my experience it is perfectly possible “to have fun and give it a go” and win at the same time. The most severe coaches, me included, do occasionally smile.

What Hosking does not do – probably because he has limited practical involvement in sport and does not know – is shoot the blame for New Zealand’s sporting malaise at the guilty individual. That is the guy at the top, Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of Sport NZ. Miskimmin created the bureaucratic environment where all that “touchy-feely” stuff prospers. And Reviews are a staple item in the Miskimmin business diet. In swimming Miskimmin ordered three Reviews before he got the one he wanted. The problems Hosking rightly identifies are not going to change without New Zealand sport getting rid of Peter Miskimmin. It may take a while but eventually even Hosking will come around to seeing that’s true.

I can’t imagine Hosking was ever a serious participant in competitive sport. That hair cut is way too expensive to get wet in a pool or messed up in the bottom of a rugby ruck. My guess is he was probably a library monitor while the rest of us were out running the school cross country. His Wikipedia page says only that, “Hosking attended Linwood College” in the period when sporting or academic triumphs were likely. Besides Hosking has never seemed to me to be the sort of person who would fail to mention sporting successes if they did exist.

However, in this NZ Herald article, Hosking has identified a genuine problem. Elite sport is a tough world. It can be fun but it can’t be easy. It is not for babies. One of the serious short-comings in Miskimmin’s world is the power he has given to trendy bureaucrats. Just look at Cotterill, Johns and Francis in swimming. In my opinion, they are trendy, opinionated and ill-informed. They know nothing about the coalface of the sport; nothing about digging for coal, so they emphasise stuff at the fringes of sport, things like feelings and political correctness. They know nothing about swimming 100×100 on 1.25 so they focus on the fringe matters where everyone is an expert.

So thank you Michael Noel James Hosking IV. Your article does nothing to make me like you anymore but you sure got the measure of the problems in sport in New Zealand just now and have hopefully made it better by bringing it to public attention.