Rather a Rebel Than a Slave

The “Swimming World” magazine has just published a story, written by Craig Lord. It discusses the transition that has taken place since the pioneers of women’s swimming first participated in Olympic swimming. It is well worth a read. Here is the link.

https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/ethelda-bleibtreys-pioneering-world-record-100-years-ago-this day/?fbclid=IwAR3RWWhACpcC_voXxxmerp2twD_07q_y0g13eXnZwD7knpCSBSd9qd9GsqE

The occasion that prompted Craig Lord’s attention was the 100th anniversary of the first women’s world record over 440 yards freestyle set by, American, Ethelda Bleibtrey. It is not until you read this stuff that you realise the amazing, catastrophic and disastrous prejudices women have had to overcome to take part in sport. It is unbelievable.

For example in the same year Bleibtrey broke the 440 yard record, she was arrested in New York for removing her stockings before wading in for a swim. The charges accused her of “nude bathing” and indecency.

In 1912 the Australian Federation decided it was pointless sending women to the Olympic Games. Evidently the Australian public forced a change of heart. Two women were picked to represent Australia as long as they paid for themselves. One hundred and seven years later and Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is doing the same thing. The only difference is, in this enlightened era, SNZ is making men pay for themselves as well. Only SNZ would achieve equality by moving everyone backwards.

Craig Lord’s story is well worth reading. But it is not just in the USA and Europe that bigotry ran riot. New Zealand has had its fair share. It is not so very long ago that the President of Athletics New Zealand was quoted as saying, “No woman should be selected for the Olympic Games if a good man was available.”

It seems like only yesterday that the IAAF was telling the world women were unable to compete over distances longer than 800m. The woman’s world record, held by Paula Radcliffe, for a marathon is 2.15, so I’m not too sure what happened to their 800m theory. In swimming the Neanderthals who run the Olympic Games still do not allow women to swim 1500m. Evidently anything longer than 800m is too tough for their delicate femininity. Their sexist rules seems oblivious to the reality that Katie Ledecky’s world record time of 15:20.48 would have won the men’s event at every Olympic Games up to and including 1972.

Every world or national record is a major achievement. But it seems that some records more dramatically lift the sport forward. The most obvious example is Roger Bannister breaking four minutes for a mile. Here is a table of records I think have had a profound effect on woman’s freestyle swimming.

Event Achievement Name Time Date
100 Free First under a minute Dawn Fraser 59.9 1962
200 Free First under two minutes Kornelia Ender 1:59.78 1976
400 Free First under five minutes Lorraine Crapp 4:50.8 1956
400 Free First under four minutes Frederica Pellegrini 3:59.15 2009
800 Free First under ten minutes Jane Cederqvist 9:55.6 1960
800 Free First under eight minutes Not done yet. World record Katie Ledecky 8:04.79 2016

Those are swimmers who have improved the world freestyle standards. But what about New Zealand? Here is the same table for when these records occurred in New Zealand.

Event Achievement Name Time Date
100 Free First under a minute Rebecca Perrott 59.3 1976
200 Free First under two minutes Lauren Boyle NA NA
400 Free First under five minutes Judith Wright 4:53.0 1970
400 Free First under four minutes

Not done yet. NZ record

Lauren Boyle 4:03.63 2012
800 Free First under ten minutes Judith Wright 9:55.1 1970
800 Free First under eight minutes Not done yet. NZ record Lauren Boyle 8:17.65 2015

Just look, for a moment, at the three names on the New Zealand record table – Rebecca Perrott, Lauren Boyle and Judith Wright. Rebecca Perrott we all know won a gold medal in the women’s 200 metres freestyle at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and was fourth in the women’s 400m freestyle at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Lauren Boyle competed at three Commonwealth Games and three Olympic Games and held the world short course 1500m record.

But in an unusual way, Judith Wright, the first NZ woman to swim under five minutes for 400m and ten minutes for 800m, is most remarkable. You see besides moving swimming forward in the pool she went on to own and manage a highly successful swimming business – the Waterhole Swimming Club. Here is how the Stuff website recently reported the Waterhole’s 30th birthday.

The Waterhole Swimming Club is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Coaching director Judith Wright started the club in 1980 and has spent years tutoring young west Auckland swimmers like former New Zealand champion Daniel Ryan.

The Commonwealth Games representative says the club has come a long way since its fledgling beginning.

Wright says she started out with a swim school in Henderson Valley with a small pool inside a warehouse.

She started the Waterhole club at the Freyberg Community Primary School’s indoor pool when she realised many of her students wanted to take up competitive swimming.

But the pool was only 20 metres long and very shallow.

“And it might as well have been out in the open air since it didn’t have any heating and would get very cold in winter,” she says.

The club moved into the Parrs Park-based swimming centre after it opened in 1985 and has been there ever since.

A proposed $15 million upgrade is still in the pipeline and a 50-metre pool is among the many planned improvements.

Wright says an upgraded swimming centre will be beneficial because the 25-metre pool is too small for current demands.

What’s unusual about all that is that Judith Wright not only moved her sport forward in the pool – she began and managed a successful business back in the days when women were “not allowed” to do that sort of thing. She broke records inside the pool and, probably even more importantly, changed the accepted role of women outside the pool. They probably don’t think of themselves this way but NZ’s sporting suffragettes have and still are making a huge difference to the better place our country is today.

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