Archive for May, 2019

Terenzo Bozzone

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Before I start this post I need to be very clear. In no way do I have anything to do with Terenzo’s training for the triathlon swim. This post is not an effort to gain reflected glory from a superb triathlete. However I did want to write something. Because since Terenzo had an awful crash on his bike – he was hit by a truck – I have sat beside the Millennium Institute pool and watched him work his way back to fitness. And I have been deeply impressed. Patiently, without fuss or excuses, he has lifted himself back from a broken man on the side of an Auckland road to something like pre-crash fitness. Peter Snell wrote a book about his running career. He called it “No Bugles No Drums”. The same title describes Terenzo’s climb back to fitness.

Several times he has joined in with Eyad’s training. Usually he picks the training sessions that suit his ironman event. Main sets like 100×100 or 4×1500 or 6×1000 might be a real grind for sprinter Eyad but are bread and butter to one of the world’s best ironmen. When Eyad has 50×15 or 10×25 Terenzo goes off to tackle a more suitable session. There are two things I enjoy watching Terenzo swim with Eyad.

First, Terenzo has been a fantastic influence on his sprinting mate. They are both competitive human beings, competitive in the very best meaning of that word. Eyad enjoys the challenge of taking on the ironman in a long session of 400s and Terenzo refuses to surrender when the session is 100s or 50s. They laugh and joke about Eyad’s better turns and Terenzo’s dominant aerobic fitness. It is competitive in the best possible way. Competition without turning training sessions into a grudge match. Competition that builds rather than tears apart. The association is good. Terenzo is great for Eyad’s fitness and Eyad is great for Terenzo’s speed. It works.

And second, watching those who are genuinely good at something is always fun. I don’t care what it is, good performers are a wonder. I know nothing about typing but just watch a really fast typist. That is incredible. My knowledge of music is nil but I am no less impressed by the skill of a fine pianist. When Alison was running at her best watching her power through 5×400 in under 60 took my breath away. A few years ago Jane did a 600m breaststroke time-trial in a couple of seconds under 8 minutes. I was supposed to be her coach and stood there asking myself, “How does she do that?” The final 25 meters of a good Rhi Jeffrey 200 was like watching a jet boat rip through the Shotover rapids. Just watch Dick Quax run around Windsor Great Park or John Walker run a mile and you will see what I mean.

Well, let me tell you for nothing, Terenzo Bozzone has the same quality. The first day I watched him swim with Eyad I said, “I can see why you are one of the world’s best triathletes.” That didn’t take a genius to work out. Can John Walker run? Can Oscar Peterson play a piano? Can Nureyev dance? Well Terenzo Bozzone doing triathlon swimming is just as obvious.

What they do is incredible. The other day I timed Terenzo doing a session of long course 10x400s. He said he wanted to descend the set without pushing too hard, with about 30 seconds rest between each 400. Sure enough he started the set at 5.12 and ended it at 4.40 and everyone descended a few seconds. How do they do that? What stopwatch inhabits their brain? I don’t know. The good ones have a knack for making the impossible look ridiculously easy.

Terenzo’s early races on the road to recovery have been pretty good as well. Two triathlon wins in Australia followed by a 7th place in the World Ironman Championships in Spain and a 4th triathlon in Vietnam. He heads-off in a week or so to Cairns for another event before building-up for the Hawaii Ironman later in the year. Terenzo is a class act. He should do well.

So thank you Terenzo for swimming with Eyad occasionally. Thank you on behalf of Eyad for making the distance sessions tougher and easier. And thank you from me for adding to the enjoyment of being at the pool. It’s great to watch good people do good things. And Terenzo certainly fits that description.

PS Don’t tell Eyad I said this but I’m convinced Eyad also has that, impossible to describe, quality. His talent has had a difficult start to life, overcoming the difficulties of being a Syrian training in Saudi Arabia. But he is on the straight and narrow now and I suspect will soon have the critics asking, “Where did he come from?”


2019 Auckland Swimming Championships

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

Another Auckland Championship is about to begin. It runs from Wednesday through to Sunday this week. Someone has had the courage to change the location from West Wave to the Millennium Institute. That’s a good move. West Wave is showing serious signs of age. It was built in 1989. The past 30 years have not been kind. If my experience is anything to go by the cooperation Auckland Swimming will get from the Millennium staff will be miles ahead of the unbelievable cartel that calls itself management at West Wave.

Attending a swim meet at West Wave has become a real chore. Rules that make no sense combined with a facility that has all the appeal of a pensioner’s mobility frame does nothing to inspire elite performance. Changing location is a step in the right direction.

Inspiration to excel will not come from a better facility run by better staff on its own. Swimming needs a shot in the arm; something to excite attention; something, dare I say it, controversial. How I fondly remember the days when TV1 used to call me and ask if Toni Jeffs was swimming in this event. If the answer was yes TV1 News would send a camera out to West Wave to film the races. They did that because she was a bloody good swimmer; a bronze medallist in the World Short Course Championships, but also because there was an interesting story to tell. Toni was sponsored by a strip club; she crossed out the “no alcohol rule” before signing her SNZ athlete contracts; she questioned officials tucking into free wine and cheese while swimmers struggled with burnt two dollar sausages and flat orange cordial. Of course TV found that interesting. Add to that the antics of Paul Kent who once vented his frustration at an official by famously throwing a chair into the pool; and John Steel who was swimming captain of the UCLA team; and the brooding, tattooed Nick Sanders, clearly New Zealand’s fastest freestyle sprinter. There was a sport television loved.

Coaching too was a different world. Lincoln Hurring, Ross Anderson and Judith Wright. Even Jan Cameron and Tony Keenan were personalities that didn’t get pushed around by anyone – certainly not anyone from Swimming New Zealand. To be fair there are signs that some independence is on the way back. Jon Winter, William Benson and others in places like Whangarei, Matamata, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Invercargill show signs of singing “The Internationale”. It is long overdue. Winning a decent swimming race is going to take more than hanging on to the coat tails of the tired as West Wave crew that run Swimming New Zealand.

And it is not as if there are not great stories to tell. Take Eyad for example. How many New Zealand swimmers come from families who were bombed out of their home in Aleppo? How many swimmers escaped on their own to live in another country as a refugee? How many refugees have been treated as well by their host country and as badly by their swimming federation? It is a good story, a story that needs to be told. But is Swimming New Zealand going to do that? Not as long as he’s coached by me they are not. Never mind – their loss.

But Eyad is not the only swimmer with a story to tell; a story that gives the sport a personality; a story far more important and interesting than the size of Bruce Cotterill’s ego or Steve Johns corporate SUV.

I don’t know a fraction of the stories some of our best swimmers have to tell. But I’d love to know more about the initiative shown by Emma Godwin to start her “Give-a-little” page to raise the $5,300 Swimming New Zealand asked her to pay to get to the World Short Course Championships. That’s an important story.

I’d like to know how the swimmer from Raumati is getting on who lost her teeth diving into a race that Wellington Swimming insisted should start in the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. Her misfortune changed Wellington swimming. It is a story that should be told.

How have Christchurch swimmers survived the Canterbury earthquakes and Mosque shootings? There are stories with huge human interest.

Am I the only member preparing to face Swimming New Zealand in Court? How many fires is Steve Johns fighting? What is the real story behind Liz van Wellie, Toni Jeffs and Jon Winter’s Manchester Commonwealth Games’ experience? How did Paul Kent get on coaching in Saudi Arabia? There are a hundred and one good stories to tell, stories that give the sport life.

They are not the sanitised froth favoured by Cotterill, Johns and Francis. They do not revolve exclusively around the inflated egos that populate the offices of Swimming New Zealand. They are real, important and interesting. Let’s see what we can do about making that change for the good later this week.

Waitemata Health Fun & Games

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

I’ve written before of my admiration for the New Zealand public health service. In the last four of five years New Zealand hospitals have sewn a skin graft onto my leg, repaired an infected toe, cut out three skin cancer lesions and done a patch up job on my kidneys. I still get regular attention for my kidneys from the Apollo Drive clinic.

That might sound like a burden to carry through life. But far from it. In fact I quite look forward to my visits. They are a relaxing few hours that I can prepare Eyad’s training or write this Swimwatch story. And if I get bored, the emergency bell will bring any number of nurses running to save my life and relieve my boredom. .

Actually the nurses are incredible. They are an amazing international mix. There are several from the Philippines. Where would the New Zealand Health Service be without nurses from the Philippines? Let me tell you – no one steps out of line when an Apollo Drive nurse from the Philippines is on your case. There are two in particular. I’m not going to name them. I’m too scared to do that.

But let me tell you, there is no doubt about who is in charge. “David, if you don’t do what you’re told I could well increase the flow on this machine to 350.” When I’m struggling to handle a reading of 300 that threat works every time.

“David,” they say, “Alison is a lovely person. Do you treat her properly?” Clearly they think medical care extends to family counselling.

I see the population of the Philippines is 104.9 million. That means there are roughly 52 million females and 52 million males. Now there is a group of chaps I feel sorry for. If these nurses are anything to go by there must be 52 million Philippine blokes in desperate need of a male liberation movement.

Actually I’m being a little unkind. They are actually wonderful healthcare providers who go well beyond the call of duty. The other night I left the lights of my car on all day. When it was time to head for home the battery had died. As I sat waiting for the AA to arrive, two Philippine nurses stood in the freezing cold to keep their patient company.

Two weeks ago was the Apollo Drive clinic’s five year anniversary. A few minutes into my treatment Subway sandwiches were offered to each patient. Donald Trump can prattle on about the wonders of American health care – but I bet you’d struggle to get free Subways in an American hospital.

But there is more than Philippine nurses. There are several Indian nurses. They tend to be quieter than the Philippine version. It would be difficult for them to out-talk their Philippine mates. But the care they provide is just as professional and considerate. One lovely lady was looking for a swim school for her three children. I recommended the Millennium Institute Swim School. The children were enrolled and I’m told are making great progress.

Reception is staffed by a couple of born and bred NZ natives – at least I think they are. They do a huge job of getting patients by taxi to the clinic and home again. They also patiently listen to my stories of coaching Eyad and my despair at the antics of Swimming New Zealand. Patience is at a premium to do their job. They both have it in heaps.

The doctor in charge is from Ireland. She has the most wonderful Irish accent. I have a bad habit of listening to the accent rather than the words. I’m beginning to think she suspects I have a hearing problem. I am forever asking, “Sorry, could you say that again.” Once you get to seventy you can get away with that sort of thing.

We are a fortunate nation. The health care that looks after us is first class.  The staff members are a credit to their profession. Of course good health is important. No one wants to have a health problem. But if you do need care – the Waitemata Apollo Drive clinic is a bloody good place to be, and it’s a bundle of fun as well.

One Of New Zealand’s Best

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

I spent this morning at the North Shore Swimming Club’s Golden Homes swim meet. I’ve said before that I like the way the club run this meet; a million swimmers crashing through a hundred events. It is all go from dawn to past dusk. Brilliant. Eyad has had two swims so far; the 50 butterfly and 50 freestyle. They were his first two races of the 2019 winter season. I was not expecting anything too extraordinary. In the end Eyad did better than I expected. For example his 50 freestyle PB is 24.47 and this morning he swam 24.65. That was fast enough to win his heat. It was also close to his PB in his first competition and after only two weeks of the speed period of training; a good sign for the future.

And so all is well on the Eyad front. But another event lifted my spirits this morning. I was sitting in the Wholefood Café with Eyad and Shannon eating potato wedges and drinking green tea. I have to be careful these days to keep my wedges away from Eyad. He is convinced the salt is bad for my health and has been known to bin what’s left of the bowl when it’s still half full. Another enjoyable feature of my life being slowly denied.

However this morning I was enjoying hearing about Shannon’s interesting start to life – born in Australia, early years in China and the United States before arriving in New Zealand – when a lady about the same age as me came up to our table and said, “Hello David, how are you?”

I looked closely, “Who was this?” I thought. And then it was clear and she looked the same as fifty years ago. But before I tell you her name let me reveal her swimming resume. Because here is a New Zealander that really could swim a bit.

Her Wikipedia page barely does her career credit. This is what it says.

 She is a former swimming representative from New Zealand.

At the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games she won the bronze medal in the women’s 220 yards backstroke. During the Games she competed in a variety of events including the 110 yards backstroke, 440 yards freestyle and 440 yards medley relay.

She competed at the previous British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth where she came 7th in both the 110 and 220 yards backstroke.

But I remember her as far more than those inadequate few lines. I remember her winning countless New Zealand Championships. I remember her at an after-meet party at my first “big” competition, the North Island Championships in New Plymouth. She was the life of the party and surrendered the spotlight to huge applause after performing a dance on the top of a dining room table. I was in awe. “My God”, I thought, “This is clearly what it takes to be one of the world’s best swimmers.” I remember her training in the Freyberg Pool in Wellington. Tough? Believe me as tough as anyone before or since. And without a shred of mercy for any of us who gave signs of training weakness.

This is in the decade when Dave Gerrard was swimming and winning 200 butterfly events; when Ballie, Halberg and Snell were running around the Waitakere Ranges; when Colin Meads was becoming the World’s best and toughest rugby player; when Fred Allan – “the Needle”, was moulding the All Blacks, when Barrie Devenport became the first to swim Cook Strait and when Rusty Robertson coached a New Zealand coxed four to win an Olympic Gold medal in Mexico City. To be tough in the 60s meant being really, really tough. Well this lady fits right in with that list of names.

And here she was saying hello this morning – lovely, quiet, unassuming and at the meet to watch her grandchildren swim. Her name? Margaret Macrae.

It is men and women like Margaret Macrae and Judith Wright and Lincoln Hurring and Dave Gerrard that gave swimming in New Zealand its character. Long before the jackasses that populate Miskimmin’s corporate world today, these men and women gifted us a sport to be proud of – a sport that today we cannot match.

We all owe them plenty. So thank you Margaret for saying hello. I was in awe in New Plymouth. I still am.

The Price of Freedom

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

I barely know anyone who would not be appalled to hear me say, “Leave Israel Folau alone. Of course he should be free to play rugby; compete in the World Cup; take on the All Blacks.” For American and UK readers Folau is a very good Australian rugby player who has the bad habit of saying outrageous stuff on social media. His most recent outburst said, “Warning: Drunks. Homosexuals. Adulterers. Liars. Fornicators. Thieves. Atheists. Idolaters. Hell awaits you. Only Jesus saves.”

Australian Rugby has found him guilty of a “high level breach of the professional players’ code of conduct”. The three-person panel has now retired to decide on a sanction for Folau. For the good of sport, for the welfare of rugby and for the health of our way of life I hope Folau gets off. But before you start throwing bricks through my living room window let me explain why.

Of course what Folau said is impossibly disgusting. Of course it has no Christian merit. It has no Muslim merit either, or Hindu or Buddhist or any other faith that I’m aware of. As a person his words show Folau to be a sanctimonious, dumb bigot, hooked on the Old Testament and well short of the glory of his God. Folau needs to remember that in his religion God’s son said, in Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

The Quran gives Folau the same message. In 39.54 the Quran says, “O My Devotees, who have committed excesses against their own selves, do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Surely, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed He is the most Forgiving, the Merciful.”

And so I have nothing but contempt for what Folau said. His attack on members of the gay community and others is despicable. It shows him to be worthy of nothing but our absolute contempt. He may be a good rugby player but he certainly falls short of the standards required of a decent human being.

Being gay is not a sin. Linking gays with thieves and liars is vile and shameful. Being as rich as Folau is puts him at more risk of Christian wrath than any of those he nominates for eternal damnation.

BUT – I defend without qualification Folau’s right to express his opinions without sanction by the Australian Rugby Union or anyone else.

My opinion on Folau was first settled in 1988 in the United States. I know United States’ law is not New Zealand or Australian law but, in this case, what the American Supreme Court decided has a message for us all. The case is called “Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46”.

Known for its explicit pictures of nude women and political satire, Hustler magazine printed a parody ad that targeted Jerry Falwell, a prominent Christian fundamentalist televangelist.

The Hustler parody included the transcript of a spoof interview, where, misunderstanding the interviewer’s question about his first time drinking Campari, Falwell casually shares details about his first sexual encounter, an incestuous rendezvous with his mother in the family outhouse while they were both “drunk off our God-fearing asses on Campari.” Finally, the interviewer clarifies that he’s asking if Falwell had tried Campari, again, Falwell answered, “I always get sloshed before I go out to the pulpit. You don’t think I could lay down all that bullshit sober, do you?”

Of course Hustler’s parody was disgusting. But the American Supreme Court decision contains lessons for the Australian Rugby Union. This is what the Court said.

“At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty – and thus a good unto itself – but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions.” The First Amendment envisions the sort of robust political debate that takes place in a democracy.

The Court held that the First Amendment gives speakers immunity from sanction with respect to their speech unless their speech is false and made with “actual malice”. Although false statements lack inherent value, the “breathing space” that freedom of expression requires in order to flourish must tolerate occasional false statements, lest there be an intolerable chilling effect on speech that does have constitutional value.”

It may sound incredibly arrogant but I agree with the American Supreme Court. Although Folau’s thoughts and ideas are repugnant and have no place in any society, although Folau would be better off in a shed preaching his hate to likeminded bigots, although seeing him on a rugby field turns my stomach – more important by far is “the freedom to speak one’s mind. It is not only an aspect of individual liberty – and thus a good in itself – but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole.”

And so I am hoping Folau gets off this charge. He will not be a better person because of it. But his country, his sport and all of us everywhere will be better and stronger as a result.