Archive for July, 2019

“The Opportunity To Show The World How Good They Are”

Friday, July 19th, 2019

The title of this post is a Steve Johns’ quote published by Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). It’s Steve Johns’ idea of showing support for the New Zealand team about to start the World Swimming Championships in South Korea. Clearly the CEO of SNZ has no idea how to discuss an athlete’s chances in the week before a championship. What you never say is anything remotely associated with showing the world how good you are.

The arrogance of that thought is stunning. It may be an interesting look into the soul of it’s author. The pressure it puts on the swimmers is unnecessary and damaging. Not to mention how easy it is to misinterpret the quote if things go badly. Good can mean good or bloody awful.

Besides which the implication of Steve Johns’ arrogance is not true. Next week New Zealand is entered in 16 individual events and two relays. Now, I know the psych sheets need to be read with a grain of salt. However the average New Zealand entry is placed 29th. With only eight swimmers making a final New Zealand’s average chances are not looking good.

The best chance is Lewis Clareburt in the 400m IM. He is ranked 11th. The gap between his best time and making a final is only half a second. To win it would take an impossible PB of 14 seconds.

The next best is Erica Jane Fairweather ranked 18th in the 400m free. The gap between her best time and making a final is 4 seconds. To win it would mean beating Olympic Champion and world record holder, Katie Ledecky, who is 12 seconds faster.

And the third closest is Ali Galyer in the 200m back. The gap between her best time and making a final is 3 seconds. To win it would mean beating the Italian, Panziera whose best time is 4 seconds faster.

Like all generalisations what I’m about to say has many faults. But it is interesting to note that on average New Zealand swimmers are 2.8% behind the 8th placed swimmers in their events and 4.9% behind the world’s best. What does that mean? The American Swim Coaches Association tells us that a good average rate of improvement is 3% per annum. That suggests that on average New Zealand’s best swimmers are 11 months training behind making a final and close to two years of improvement behind winning a world championship.

Here again the closest to making a final is Lewis Clareburt who is only 0.2% away from making a final. Even he, however, is almost a year away from winning his best event.

ASHBY Bradlee 100m Back 54.48 29
100m Fly 53.75 42
200m IM 1:59.59 21
CLAREBURT Lewis 400m IM 4:14.27 11
EDWARDS Chelsey 50m Free 25.88 40
FAIRWEATHER Erika Jane 200m Free 1:59.37 26
400m Free 4:09.33 18
GALYER Ali 100m Back 1:01.61 40
200m Back 2:09.77 19
HUNTER Daniel 100m Free 49.11 33
50m Fly 23.87 37
PICKETT Michael 50m Free 22.34 38
REID Zac 400m Free 3:50.61 24
800m Free 7:57.40 24
STANLEY Matthew 200m Free 1:48.34 34
THOMAS Eve 800m Free 8:41.31 24
AVERAGE - - 29
RELAY Men’s 4x200m Free - -
  Women’s 4x200m Free - -

That’s the theory of it all. Let’s see what happens. However there is one improvement SNZ could make today. Steve Johns could leave Gary Francis to wish future New Zealand teams well. Gary knows how to do that. Steve Johns clearly does not. That’s a failing fact he has just shown the world.

Is Hanging Breathless On Thy Fate

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

 Swimwatch seldom strays into the world of politics. The blog was started to discuss swimming matters. It is fair to say we have remained loyal to that cause. However this week a crime was committed, far removed from a swimming pool, but so heinous, so repulsive that it should not pass without mention. What I say will have no effect. The perpetrator will not even know my opinion. But, by joining many millions of others who despise Hitler, Stalin, Putin and Kim Jong Un, I will feel better. At least I am another voice added to the chorus of contempt.

You see I like the United States. I’ve spent a lot of time there. I went to High School just outside Green Bay, Wisconsin. I graduated with a good high school diploma. The Green Bay Packers football team bought me my senior class ring. I played football. I traveled by bus from New York to Los Angeles. I drank root beer and ate apple pie. It’s difficult to be more American than that.

I also had high school mates who were drafted to fight in Vietnam and went off to die. One of them said to me before he left Wisconsin to join the Tet Offensive, “David, I don’t understand. It took me 12 years to learn to play football. I’ve had two weeks of unarmed combat training and they expect me to fight the Viet Cong who have been fighting all their lives. How does that work?” Oh, so incredibly sadly, it didn’t. A roadside mine brought another valuable human life to a pointless end.

Many years later I spent two years coaching in the US Virgin Islands. Armed with an O1 visa and green cards, Alison, Jane and I were United States residents. Jane was on a swimming scholarship at Washington State University and I was coaching a club team on the island of St Croix.

And then I accepted a job as a club coach in the Florida town of Delray Beach. That’s a few miles north of Fort Lauderdale and very close to the distasteful opulence of Trump’s Mar-a-Largo retreat. We stayed in Delray Beach for five years.

After eight years living in the United States you can imagine there are many valuable memories; the intellectual brilliance of lawyer Jonathan Golden, the warmth of the Westerman family, the care the of Myrvang family, the generosity of the Foltz family, the acceptance of the Jeffreys, Skuba and Andrew’s trust, Jamie’s talent, Rhi’s class, the fun of Tiffany and the friendship of a dozen others. One of the leading lights of the Delray Beach master’s swim group, Leslie Worner, was the ex-girlfriend of the lead-singer for the Grateful Dead rock band. There were so many good, honest, caring, warm hearted people. But in my view they share a common problem.

Quite simply the guy they have as President is a moron. We’ve known that for a long time. But this week the moron exceeded our worst expectations. He told four Congress women that if they criticized him they could go back to where they came from. Ignoring the fact that three of the four women were born in the United States, ignoring the fact that all four were freshman representatives eager to learn the best qualities of good government; ignoring common decency, what a disgusting, low-life thing to say.

I felt it because he was talking to me. I’d been an immigrant into the United States. I had been critical of parts of the country I did not like. I was critical of the guns that kill more school children that in any other country in the world. American health and American democracy are in serious need of reform. A country with America’s wealth has no excuse to rank below 20 in healthcare and democracy.

But for all that I did not expect to be spoken to by a disgusting example of American vermin like that. Telling immigrants (not that three of these were) to go back to where they came from is despicable. Imagine me telling Eyad to go back to Syria. Truth is New Zealand is lucky to have him. Truth is every one of us in New Zealand and most of those who live in the United States are immigrants from somewhere. My ancestors came from Scotland. Every Maori came in canoes from somewhere in the Pacific. Donald Trump’s father came from Germany. His wife came from Slovenia. Only Trump would be guilty of a racist slur that insulted everyone.

But what makes his behavior even worse is when he spewed his insult all over the White House Rose Garden his audience applauded. What has America become? In the symbol of American power, the White House, Trump is able to invite a group who will applaud his naked racist vomit. Thank God my time living there is over. I deeply hope that in 2020 the country I knew replace this moron. Because while he is there the words of John Winthrop are meaningless, “We shall be as a city upon a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”

One desperately sad irony is that one of the Congress women Trump invited to leave the United States was a black American. It is disgusting to recall that Trump’s white population chained her ancestors into ships and forced them to come to the United States, to work in the fields and build the White House. Because of Trump’s white population they had no option but to be in the United States. And now instead of thanking them for their contribution, instead of paying reparations like any descent society, Trump orders her back to Africa.

America get rid of him. Get rid of him in 2020 before he contaminates you all. And here to uplift our spirits from the sewer Trump has created, is the verse from one of America’s greatest poets, Henry Longfellow, and the source of the title of this post. Read it slowly. What a contrast.

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!

Sail on, O Union, strong and great!

Humanity with all its fears,

With all the hopes of future years,

Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

We know what Master laid thy keel,

What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,

Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,

What anvils rang, what hammers beat,

In what a forge and what a heat

Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!

Fear not each sudden sound and shock,

‘T is of the wave and not the rock;

‘T is but the flapping of the sail,

And not a rent made by the gale!

In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,

In spite of false lights on the shore,

Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!

Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,

Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,

Our faith triumphant o’er our fears,

Are all with thee, — are all with thee!

Perfect Para Puzzle

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

I have explained on several occasions that my knowledge of the para classification system is close to nil. Oh, I know a swimmer classified as 1 is seriously physically disabled and a classification of 10 is the mildest category of physical disability. I know that qualified, competent inspectors examine swimmers to allocate a disability category. Clearly the honesty of the allocation process is of the utmost importance.

The table below gives some idea of the time gap between the world records for category 1 and category 10 for women’s freestyle events.

Women’s Event Category 1 Category 10
50 Free 51.33 27.37
100 Free 1:50.48 59.17
200 Free 3:59.02 2:08.64

Being graded up or down a category makes a huge difference to a swimmer’s likelihood of success. This becomes serious when swimmers are being financially rewarded according to their competitive success. Cheating pays. There is a huge financial temptation to fake a more serious disability in order to secure better funding. Here is another table to illustrate that point. The table shows the average per category change in the world record times for each of the three events shown in the table above.

Women’s Event Per Category Change
50 Free 2.40 seconds
100 Free 5.13 seconds
200 Free 11.04 seconds

In other words, on average the difference between breaking a world record as a level 6 swimmer and a level 5 swimmer at 50 freestyle is 2.40 seconds. Clearly in this example there is a huge incentive to be classified as level five. A swimmer swimming two and a half seconds slower gets the same financial reward as if he or she had been classified as level six and was two and a half seconds faster.

It is no secret that I have little respect for the integrity of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). Their behaviour over the report into complaints about my coaching has been a perfect example of crass dishonesty. For example the SNZ Chairman told the Stuff news website, “If you’re talking to people that are saying that hasn’t happened, then those people haven’t talked to me, and I’m not aware of it”. The extent to which Cotterill and SNZ are prepared to lie and have their lies published nationwide is illustrated best by this assertion. Cotterill says he is “not aware” I am claiming interference in my privacy. He is “not aware” I am asking for a copy of the Marris Report. The truth is that Cotterill has been told about my claim for a year (since 1 August 2018) by me, then by the Privacy Commissioner and finally by the HRRT. What Cotterill is saying is not true. It is a lie told for the purpose of avoiding providing access to my personal information.

The question is, I guess, would an organisation that is prepared to lie so badly and obviously in one area find any difficulty in fiddling a one category change to a para-swimmer’s categorisation? If Cotterill is prepared to lie about me for financial gain is he also prepared to allow the organisation to manipulate a few para classifications?

We need to keep in mind that SNZ has recently created a new position to look after their interest in para swimming. Why did they do that? It can’t be because Para Sport New Zealand (PSNZ) was doing a bad job; it was not. And please don’t tell me it was because of SNZ’s love and admiration for para swimmers. My guess is the truth is SNZ wanted to hitch a financial ride on the huge success of New Zealand’s para swimmers. SNZ wanted to muscle in on the successful job being done by PSNZ. Given the apparent willingness of SNZ to shoulder PSNZ out of the way in order to grab a share of PSNZ’s money pie, the question needs to be asked again. Would SNZ find any difficulty in fiddling a one category change to a para-swimmer’s categorisation?

When SNZ’s able body international results are non-existent, when successful para swimming can financially secure the life-style of those who work for SNZ, I ask again, would SNZ find any difficulty in fiddling a one category change to a para-swimmer’s categorisation? Are the good people who compete in para swimming being used by SNZ, an organisation with suspect honesty? It is a scary thought – without an easy answer.

Sadly it appears SNZ is not alone. Since I last wrote on this subject I have received comments from all over the world.  It seems to me the problems associated with para classification are clouded in mystery and medical confidentiality. It is impossibly difficult to know what’s going on. Everything may be honest and above board. We just do not know.

For example one of the most confusing cases appears to be the Australian para swimmer Lakeisha Patterson. Wikipedia tells me she has been consistently classified as S8 while competing in the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, the 2106 Rio Olympic Games and the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. That seems straight forward enough. However an email tells me that in 2014 Patterson was classified down from S9 to S7. That is a huge change. She then moved again to S8. Then, for some reason, in 2019 another email tells me she has been regraded up to S9. What’s going on there? Have her numerous disabilities suddenly improved? Was the original classification of S9 or S7 wrong? Whatever the reason, Patterson now needs to swim an average of 22 seconds faster over 200m freestyle to achieve the same level of performance, as she did in 2014 when she was classified as S7.

I appreciate that swimmers with a disability are entitled to their medical privacy as much as anyone else. However when there are significant amounts of tax payers money being paid in grants and competition costs the demand for confidentiality has to be balanced by the public interest in knowing how its money is being spent. When it’s SNZ doing the spending, “Trust us,” is not sufficient.

Take the Australian Patterson example again. Recently I’ve heard she has been inflicted with early onset Parkinson’s disease and the associated symptom Micrographia (very advanced). But over the years I’m told there have also been reports of a stroke, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, a clawed hand, a palsied arm and a dead leg. I wish there was a formal means of knowing what problems had gone into a classification. Patterson and every other para swimmer deserve that.

I’m not at all sure how to solve this type of para problem. Certainly somehow or another the perception of illnesses being invented in order to accommodate a swimmer’s wish to feed at the government’s money trough needs to be addressed. The way things are just now is no good for anyone. Clean para swimmers do not deserve to live under a cloud of suspicion not of their own making. Cheats should not be able to hide behind the medical secrecy and misinformation that clouds much of the current para classification process. Not everyone is a Sophie Pascoe whose disability is obvious. When swimmers have less obvious problems classification needs to be honest and publically transparent. Taking the word of SNZ would be extremely foolish. And that’s the problem. There are no consequences for classification cheating in para sport, you just get moved. That’s an environment SNZ just love. That’s an environment that puts taxpayer dollars at far too much risk.

Hayley Calls A Holt

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

I was interested to read about a tiff between TV journalists Hayley Holt and Scotty Stevenson. Their debate was reported on the Stuff news website. Here is the link.

Stevenson was delighted with the coverage of the New Zealand men’s netball team that played and beat the Silver Ferns. He could not resist having a moan about the poor coverage the men’s team got on other occasions. Holt’s response was best summarised, in her own words as, “Welcome to our world.”

I agree with Holt. It is beyond belief that a male journalist can sit there and argue that men are a disadvantaged sport’s news species. The history of broadcasting sport is hugely biased in favour of men. That’s not only true of history. It’s true of the present as well. The headlines promoted on Stuff sport today are two stories about the cricket World Cup, one story about Tom Walsh and a story about Sean Marks – all male, nothing about Venus Williams or a hugely talented 15 year old at Wimbledon. Why would they merit a mention when there is men’s sport, real sport, to talk about?

It is not so very long ago – in my lifetime – that the Chairman of Athletics New Zealand was reported in the Wellington Dominion newspaper as saying, “No woman should be selected for the Olympic Games if a good man was available.” Indeed welcome to Holt’s world.

Many of the best athletes I have coached have been women. Toni Jeffs won a bronze medal at what was then the World SC Championships, Nichola Chellingworth represented New Zealand at the Pan Pacific Games, Alison Wright ran for New Zealand and the United Kingdom, Jane Copland represented New Zealand at the Pan Pacific Games, was New Zealand national champion and open record holder and Rhi Jeffrey was an Olympic Gold Medallist. For a few years our club only had three swimmers – Toni, Nichola and Jane. We used to joke that only national champions were allowed to join.

What I learned most from the experience of coaching all those good women was the unbelievable difficulty women faced in sport. It was not fair or right when I began coaching and it certainly is not right now. Compared to men the path for women is strewn with troubles. Hayley Holt is right. TV coverage is biased in favour of men’s sport, monetary rewards are thousands of dollars less for women and acceptance of many good women is grudging and qualified.

But the worst aspect of all is the universal put downs practiced by men – the guys in the gym who condescendingly express their hushed concern that the weights lifted by girls in the gym might not be good for them “as women”. If I’ve heard that said once by the male “lycra-set”, I’ve heard it said a thousand times. The males in the pool who risk a heart attack to avoid a woman passing them. A male swimmer passing them is rewarded with, “You’re training well.” A female gets a sour look that clearly says, “Who does she think she is? Another one of those women’s lib sorts”. The construction workers who can’t see a women out running without screaming some sexist crudity. I know several women who have given up running in public in order to avoid a cacophony of wolf-whistles and offers of sexual services.

Make no mistake the difficulties faced by female athletes are a hundred times worse than men. That is a sportswoman’s reality. When I hear men like Stevenson moaning to a woman about the coverage of the men’s netball team I am embarrassed for my gender. The media balance remains embarrassingly tilted in favour of men. If anything we are still very much in an era where positive discrimination is necessary to redress the prejudice of the past. New Zealand has a proud history of paying reparations in an effort to make amends for racial sins of the past. In education, social welfare, criminal justice and health, efforts are being made to correct a biased and hurtfully racist past. We are not perfect but we are trying. Compared to the lot of black America, New Zealand’s reparation efforts are exemplary.

The same principle applies in women’s sport. There are reparations to be paid. Women merit compensation. Stevenson needs to walk in Hayley Holt’s shoes for a day. Instead of moaning about a men’s netball team not getting enough coverage his time would be better spent working on better coverage for all women’s sport. That is where the real problem lies.

Hayley Holt says, “Welcome to my world.” Sadly I don’t think Stevenson has a blind clue what she’s talking about.