Archive for November, 2019

Have A Honey Sandwich, Jane

Friday, November 1st, 2019


I have mentioned many times the debt I owe Arthur Lydiard and Arch Jelley. Oh, yes I spent four years earning a USA Swimming International Level Five coaching certificate but that was two grains of sand on the beach of knowledge provided by Arthur and Arch. In fact I would argue that the most influential AA in my life is not the Automobile Association. The education provided by Arthur and Arch was given willingly, thoughtfully and without a hint of wanting something in return.

I have two favourite Arthur stories. Both involve the help he gave me during Jane’s swimming career. Both involve the demanding subtly, natural to Arthur Lydiard. No one needed sport’s psychology help when Arthur was around. Here is what happened.

Jane and I were staying in Arthur’s home during the Auckland Short Course Swimming Championships. Jane was getting ready to go back to the pool for afternoon finals. Arthur was in his kitchen and thought Jane should have something to eat.

“Would you like a honey sandwich?” he asked. Arthur had a passion about good honey sandwiches. He had buckets of honey shipped up from Molesworth Station in the South Island of New Zealand. He swore by its fresh cold South Island air quality.

“No thank you.” Jane replied. As Arthur fussed about the kitchen I could tell he wasn’t happy with Jane’s reply.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a honey sandwich Jane?” he asked.

“No thank you, I’m fine.” came her reply. There was more activity in the kitchen. Then Arthur appeared in the dining area where Jane was sitting.

“Jane, here is a honey sandwich,” he said and held out a blockbuster of Molesworth Station’s best.

“Thank you Arthur,” Jane said and quietly began eating her honey sandwich.

That’s the way it was with Arthur. Strong-willed, kind and determined to see that athletes did what he thought was in their best interests. Someone said to me once that Arthur said hello like it was an order. He asked if you wanted a honey sandwich the same way.

Jane and I were staying in Arthur’s home on another occasion. I think it might have been for the Auckland Long Course Swimming Championships following the honey story. Jane had done well. On the last day of the meet she was already the Auckland Champion in all three of her favourite breaststroke events. To give her something to do I entered her in the 100 freestyle on the final day.

Jane wasn’t bad at freestyle. But was not in the class, we agreed, to win her age group event. That was going to go to a very good Auckland swimmer, at the time, called Caroline Collard. Caroline was coached by Jan Cameron. I was impressed with Caroline’s swimming. I thought Jan saw her as New Zealand’s next Toni Jeffs and, at the time, I thought that might just be true.

Sure enough the heats went as expected. Caroline was fastest, someone was second and Jane swam a PB to place third for the evening finals.

Back at Arthur’s place for lunch, Arthur asked, “How did you get on?”

“Really well. I’m third for the final.” Jane replied.

“That’s good,” Arthur said and went about his afternoon business. Then just as we were about to leave for the finals Arthur said, “I think I might come and watch the finals tonight,” I could see Jane was full of wonder and questions. Arthur was coming to watch her swim. But why was it the 100 freestyle where at best she would be second to Caroline? He should have watched her win the 200 breaststroke the night before.

As we drove across Auckland towards the Henderson Pool Arthur turned to Jane and said in his unique demanding subtle kindness way, “I think you can win that race tonight, Jane,”

I could see Jane’s eyes, as big as saucers. Clearly she was thinking Arthur did not appreciate the gulf that existed between her and Auckland’s Caroline Collard. I was thinking the same thing. Then Arthur fiddled about in his small carry-bag and handed Jane a large “Rocky Road” chocolate bar. “Have this,” he said, “This will win you the 100 freestyle. And remember too, no one has done the distance work you have done. Turn with everyone at 50 meters and no one will live with you on the way home.”

The way Arthur said that stuff was so incredibly positive, even I was beginning to think, perhaps, just, maybe. In the back seat I could see Jane munching on her “Rocky Road” clearly absorbed in the idea that Arthur thought she could win the whole thing. All she needed to do was turn alongside everybody at halfway and the second length was hers. After all, Arthur was right, no one else had done the conditioning miles. No one else had swum 100×100 every Saturday morning or 2×3000 on Thursday afternoons or 100 kilometres for ten weeks straight. Perhaps, just, maybe.

That night, in the 100 freestyle final, Jane turned first equal at half way. The second 50 was no contest. Jane got ahead and never looked like being caught. That race was the greatness of Lydiard on full display. A “Rocky Road” chocolate bar and miles of swimming around the Waitakeres in preparation and another athlete achieved their potential. That was Arthur’s magic.

Watching two gifted people, Jane and Arthur, at work that night was a privilege I will never forget.