Archive for August, 2021


Monday, August 30th, 2021

Not so very long ago I would have gone nuts at Swimming New Zealand’s decision to refund only 85% of the National Championships’ entry fees. After all Swimming New Zealand only managed one session of heats on the first morning. No one actually got to finish their race. No one got what they had paid for, therefore a full refund should be paid.

But the days when that sort of argument would have filled several Swimwatch pages have gone. You see, even back in those days it wasn’t the lost 15% that was my concern. Not at all. What annoyed me was that Swimming New Zealand turned around and spent my money on their ridiculous centralised training structure. For 25 years Swimming New Zealand not only kept my money, they wasted it as well. Lest we forget – something like $26million was lost by Miskimmin, Cameron and Cotterill’s trip into their centralised training la-la land.  

However, those days are in the past. Steve Johns and Gary Francis turned off the lights and closed the door on the centralised folly. That catastrophic waste has stopped.

As a result, I am far more relaxed that the money paid to Swimming New Zealand is not being wasted. It is, if you like, going to a good home. Today, I am far more prepared to accept the following argument.

Swimming New Zealand committed to the significant upfront costs involved in putting on the National Championships. For example, I have no idea how tough the Institute has been in expecting Swimming New Zealand to pay for the rent of the pool before and during the first session that was swum. What money was already spent on catering? Certainly, unused printing and stationary costs would have been incurred. I imagine some added costs were paid to run an engineering check on the scoreboard and computer systems. TV contracts would have been signed. Perhaps some top brass were flown to Auckland for the event. I’m sure you get the point. Swimming New Zealand was in the gun for significant costs even though the event was cancelled.

At this point then the average Swimming New Zealand member has a choice. Shrug their shoulders and file a complaint with the Small Claims Tribunal asking for a full refund. Tough luck Swimming New Zealand, you accepted the risk of hosting the event. It didn’t work out the way you wanted. Stiff cheese – give me my money back. And remember I paid to fly from Invercargill or Christchurch or Wellington etc to attend your event. No one is helping me with 15% of those costs.

OR – you could take the approach I would recommend. We are all members of this club. We are in this Covid problem together. Steve Johns and Gary Francis have led the organisation well since the welcome disappearance of Bruce Cotterill. They had the courage to take on the challenge of a 25-year centralised training albatross around Swimming New Zealand’s neck. Swimming New Zealand is in a much better place than it was 12 months ago.

And now Covid has delt Swimming New Zealand a bad, bad deal. They need help. $3.45 per entry is not a lot to ask to get our organisation out of a hole. And so sure, in the spirit of the family of 5 million, or in this case 5000 I’ll pay that. I could look on it as a charitable act. I might consider it to be not kicking someone when they are down. But neither of those apply in my case.

I look on the $3.45 as an investment that reflects my thanks for the recent past and confidence in the organisation’s future. Truth is I’d have been happy to pay a bit more.

And finally on this subject, an old friend of our family farmed a huge property out the back of Raetihi. The woolshed was so remote you could only get to it by a jet boat along the Wanganui River. The farmer and I were sitting around a fire in his shearer’s quarters one night. Outside it was as black as coal and freezing cold. Driving sleet lashed the hut’s tin roof.

“You know,” the farmer said, “If you ever want to know whether to have someone as a friend, imagine being lost with them in the bush, on a night like this. Would you want them with you? If the answer is yes, that’s a friend. If the answer is no, leave well alone.” It was bloody good advice.

Well right now, it’s pretty cold and wet outside and Swimming New Zealand need a friend. Are Swimming New Zealand doing a better job than in the past? You bet they are. Has the sport turned a corner? Yes, it has. Is it a safer, happier place to play? Too right. Will swimming make progress in the decentralised future? The signs are positive. And that’s why I’m happy for Swimming New Zealand to have my $3.45.


Saturday, August 28th, 2021

Not so very long ago I ran the business that controlled the learn to swim and competitive lane space in Wellington swimming pools. That’s the WRAC, Freyberg, BGI and Keith Spry Pools. We had the same involvement in two Hawkes Bay pools, Flaxmere and Greendale. Six pools is a lot of lane space.

Gary Hurring coached the team’s senior swimmers. He had access to the old 33-yard BGI pool in the early mornings and 25m at the WRAC in the afternoon. It was not a bad senior team. Good enough that most mornings I would get up early to sit and watch practice.

And so, without any access to exclusive 50m pool space how well did Gary’s coaching work? Not too bad is the answer. Michelle Burke won a medal in the Commonwealth Games. Toni Jeffs won a medal in what was then the World Short Course Championships and a medal in the Pan Pacific Games and Jon Winter, Mark Haumona and Sharron Musson represented New Zealand at various international events.

Never once, with all his impressive resume, did Gary come to me bitching about lane space. Perhaps that’s why his coaching record is better than Hollywood’s and his swimming record better than Clareburt’s.  

With this as background I was amused to read the fuss Gary Hollywood is making about not having access to enough 50m pool space before the Tokyo Olympic Games. Evidentially Hollywood told the NZ Herald that unless more long course space was made available he would throw his toys out of the bath and take Clareburt and himself off to a new bigger bath somewhere else in the world.

“Let them go”, I say. Ideas way above his station. It seems the coach has the perfect last name to describe his idea of his status in the sport. But, in my opinion, Swimming New Zealand needs to exercise extreme caution in how they handle Hollywood’s self-entitled importance.

Jan Cameron used to indulge in the same bad behavior. In Cameron’s case her threats were directed at Clive Rushton. In those days Clive Rushton occupied a position similar to that of Gary Francis today. Cameron’s goal was to convert New Zealand from a club-based decentralised structure to a centralised programme based on the North Shore. Eventually Swimming New Zealand succumbed, allowed Jan to have her way and so began the catastrophic 25 years of centralised swimming.

Gary Francis and Steve Johns have just rescued us from that dark place. Beware that a Wellington version of Cameron does not have similar plans with a new gender in charge. Lane space and a good swimmer have been used to push a policy change and a personal agenda before.

Of course, I do not know that’s what is going on here. However, there are enough danger signs to exercise caution. No matter how good the coach or the swimmer, the welfare of the sport comes first. New Zealand ignored that at their peril once before. We should not repeat that error.

Especially when you consider the fine coaches with far better records than Hollywood who have achieved remarkable feats without wanting to run the sport. Just consider the careers of Jelley, Lydiard, two Hurrings, Anderson, Robertson, Laing, Walker, Allen, Tonks, and a dozen others. Their humility is a lesson to us all. Their modesty could possibly be especially noted by Wellington’s latest Hollywood.

There is a second aspect of the Hollywood attitude that I find annoying. I’ve never had much time for prima-donnas who demand ever-improving facilities. Not when Peter Snell had no all-weather track and set his world 800m record and the current New Zealand record on a rugby field in Christchurch. Not when Rusty Robertson coached the New Zealand rowing eight to an Olympic Gold Medal on the Avon River in Christchurch. And especially not when the coach Gary Hollywood likes to hang his flag alongside, Duncan Laing, was forever modest in his demands for a double Olympic Champion’s pool space.

Hollywood clearly needs to learn from the man who coached 4 Olympic Gold Medals and 1 Olympic Bronze Medal, Arthur Lydiard, when asked what makes a fast track replied, “Fast runners”. Less Hollywood – more substance would be my advice.  


Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

The lights dim. A hush comes over a breathless audience. Green linen curtains glide silently open. All is in place. Let the show begin. From deep in the stage Dame Angie finally appears. Dressed in a dark green top, black smart trousers, a dazzling white plastic gown, off-set with matching tight blue rubber gloves and a matching blue stage mask, her outfit is simply perfect. But no matter the perfection of the scene, nothing can prepare this audience for the deep richness of the voice.

“When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”

I imagine there are some wondering where and how much tickets to this show time spectacular can be bought. Well, you will not believe this, but three times a week, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – it is free.

You see, on these three days I attend a clinic at North Shore Hospital. Many will tell you the treatment I receive is unpleasant. But not at all. You see, Dame Angie really exists. She is actually Nurse Angie, from the Philippines. She has lived in New Zealand for many years expertly helping those with my condition.

I have no idea what the New Zealand heath service would do without the army of Filipino and Indian nurses who expertly attend to our sick and infirm. They do amazing work.    

But in Nurse Angie’s case her singing almost beats the treatment. I do believe she knows every old-fashioned gospel hymn ever written

The Old Rugged Cross

Nearer My God To Thee

Onward Christian Soldiers

Abide With Me

Shall We Gather At The River

Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb

The list goes on and on. My treatment takes four and a half hours but with Nurse Angie’s help it passes in a flash. The Americans say they have the best health care system in the world. But they have to pay for their treatment, and I bet nowhere in that vast country can they provide entertainment like that available for free at North Shore Hospital.

So, a special thank you to the New Zealand Government. Thank you to North Shore Hospital and thank you to Nurse Angie for keeping me alive and making it fun as well.    


Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

In her notes to me before we began this series on mental health issues in sport Alex ( wrote this paragraph.

“Perhaps in the next Swimwatch, David and I can take a deeper dive into political discrimination and how trauma operates. Hopefully we can soon begin to cover some of the potential solutions and means to prevent it.”

What a good idea. This post will look at one of those points – how does trauma operate? First, my view and then Alex.

David: I am sure Alex is better equipped to discuss how trauma operates. I will focus on the so-called sporting trauma that receives most attention but is of little concern and then on the really damaging stuff that results in hurt, retirement and worse.

In sport’s psychology much attention is paid to the process of winning and losing. There is a real question about whether the function of sport’s psychology is to improve athletes’ chances of winning or to protect them from the stress involved in competition. Whatever the motive, this subject is not where athletes need critical help. The vast majority of athletes know how to handle their sport. Winning and losing is their bread and butter. The joy of a win, the sorrow of a loss is the reason they pay their membership fees. For most athletes that challenge is the reason they are involved. Not, as some would tell us, a cause of distress, retirement or worse.

My guess is that Olivia Podmore was brilliant at handling the ups and downs of her sport. My guess is it’s what came with the sport in that ridiculous centralised environment they’ve built in Cambridge that was too much to handle. It is certainly what almost killed swimming. Peter Miskimmim and Bruce Cotterill take a bow.  

What tears athletes apart is nonsporting politics. No one signed up for this. I described one example in the first post in this series. It happened when I was four years old and in the 69 years since I’ve seen it repeated 100s of times to me and those I have coached.

I’ve seen a jealous mother claw a picture of my swimmer off a pool notice board. The image of her fingernail scars across my swimmer’s face will stay with me forever. I’ve had a 15-year-old swimmer call me in tears from Australia after NZ’s Head Coach called her a “national embarrassment”. I’ve had to report a national swimming judge for using the underwater windows during a heat swim to instruct officials on items they should use to disqualify a swimmer the judge did not like in the final. I’ve had an athlete denied a national record because she was a woman. I’ve had an athlete twice denied a NZ National Championship because she temporarily lived in the UK. I’ve heard my swimmer told in an airport that a family had got up to watch her swim in the Olympic Games and she had “let them down”. I have been falsely accused of arranging performance enhancing abortions. I’ve had a swimmer accused of bringing the sport into disrepute for staying outside the Olympic village when her accommodation had been approved by the official bringing the complaint. I’ve had to answer a complaint by a National Coach who objected to my 26-year-old swimmer drinking a beer in a Hamilton café. I’ve had the door handles of my car covered in Vaseline by an angry president of our swimming region. The same president tried to have my wife fired from her employment. He did not succeed.

On and on it goes. Repeated often enough this is the rubbish that kills sports, careers and people. But perhaps an email from a swimmer describes better than I ever could the distress felt by those targeted by out-of-control administrators and parents. Here is what her email said.  

I ended up a vomiting anxiety-ridden wreck. To this day I’m still angry, shamed and disappointed at myself for how something I had such love for all ended.  I remember my last Nationals in Wellington – it had progressed to a ridiculous level.  I vomited before a race, vomited again just before the 50m turn in the water, lent into the grates and vomited after finishing then broke down crying that all that fucking hard work at training was all a fucking waste. 

The next week I went back to the pools to train and just sat on the tiles in my togs bawling my eyes out at 5.45 unable to get in. I was too exhausted downtrodden and didn’t have the tools or desire to pick myself up anymore.  They’d won against me – I was done. 

If that doesn’t make you pause and think – it should. It makes me as angry as all can be. But here is what Alex’s trained mind makes of my emotion. It is good stuff and well worth reading. It certainly adds to my understanding of the tragedy that occurred in cycling.

Alex: I’m going to tackle the question of how trauma operates by breaking it into two aspects. In this post, I’ll talk about what amounts to a traumatic experience and how that experience damages someone. In future posts, I’ll talk about the specific signs and symptoms of trauma: the visible and invisible effects of trauma, how to prevent these and how to heal them. First up, you need to understand how trauma operates.

All human beings function by establishing four kinds of boundaries: physical, emotional, cognitive and relational. Boundaries are not permanently impenetrable walls. Boundaries need to be porous at times and barriers at other times. They are a two way street, letting in what we need to consume and letting out what we need to remove.

Our biggest organ, the skin, is the best example of a physical boundary and the way the skin operates is a very good analogy for how all boundaries operate. The skin, for instance, absorbs sunlight, water and nourishing oils and substances and when we sweat, the skin releases the byproducts of our activity. By being porous, the skin allows for a healthy exchange between us and our environment. The skin also blocks toxic chemicals from entering the body. In its role as a barrier, the skin protects us.

Anything that we experience as an affront or an injury to any of our boundaries has the potential to create trauma. If our boundaries are functioning well. If they are well established, not worn down or incomplete due to prior damage, then experiences that could be traumatic won’t affect us. If someone is young and has not yet established their boundaries (such as young athletes) however, this makes them more vulnerable to becoming traumatised. If someone is tired or worn down from many instances of affront to a boundary they become more vulnerable. Similarly, anyone whose boundaries are incomplete or unstable due to previously damaging traumatic experiences becomes more vulnerable to trauma.

To add insult to injury, literally, it is also important to recognise that humans have evolved to become very vigilant to threats, even hypervigilant. We have not, however, evolved to be very discerning about the source of those threats. If you sense you are being chased by a tiger, you don’t stop to check. The flight/fight/freeze panic response gets underway to keep you safe. We are designed to ‘run first’ and ‘ask questions later’. Later, however, is too late when it comes to our boundaries. We have already reacted, experienced the rush of stress hormones and changed from functioning from our pre-frontal cortex to our limbic system.

We are also not very good at discerning the amplitude or magnitude of the threat. We are either dead or alive as far as the older parts of our brain are concerned. Our awareness of intricacies such as whether it was an online or in person affront from an anonymous and possibly fictional social media user or a real person tend to come later, after the stress response has already played out.

In sum, just as constant exposure to chlorine burns our skin and begins to breakdown how well it does its job as a barrier, constant exposure to emotional and cognitive affronts and injuries to our boundaries wears us down emotionally and cognitively. Those emotional and cognitive reactions also have accompanying physical reactions and all of these accumulate over time to make any individual progressively less resilient and more fragile. You can hold it together for so long but unless you remove yourself from the problematic environment or learn to process these challenges eventually you will crack. Just like a shattered car window screen, full of tiny cracks, eventually all the cracks, all the rub, will add up and the final affront that breaks you can be apparently very minor. Removing yourself from the environment can mean losing your sport and I know David has written many chapters about the dropout rates amongst particularly young swimmers, swimmers who didn’t have a chance to build strong boundaries before they were significantly challenged. Young swimmers are not the only ones who suffer this fate by any measure. It’s a much better option to learn to recognise signs of trauma, to learn how to grow strong boundaries and repair any existing damage. These will be the foci of future posts.


Friday, August 20th, 2021

More people have been paid to examine New Zealand sport than tourists have visited the Mona Lisa. Swimming had five investigations until Steve Johns and Gary Francis made the important change, without an investigation. Football, canoeing and hockey have all had at least one investigation each and cycling is about to embark on investigation number three. That’s eleven investigations, costing millions of dollars – and for what? Nothing. Why?

Because every investigation, including this one into cycling, is flawed before it begins. The investigations are flawed in two unrepairable ways. Somehow, someone is going to have to devise a way to alter Peter Miskimmim’s policies that avoids these fatal errors.

First, every investigation involves the biblical quote, “Physician heal thyself.” Those that run sport in New Zealand will use words like “independent” to try to convince us all that the investigations are arm’s length and honest. But they never are. The authors are inevitably part of the establishment. There are no Che Guevaras in this lot. They have all lived comfortably in the establishment environment. They have no incentive to tear it down. Who on earth would attack the owner of the purse that is paying him or her $100,000 for a report? No one has so far.

Actually, let me correct that. There was one report into swimming written by Tony Ineson. In spite of Ineson’s impeccable establishment credentials his report was hard-hitting and honest, with just a touch of Che Guevara.

“Oh, my God, we can’t have that,” said Miskimmim. The CEOs of Auckland and Bay of Plenty Swimming were summoned to Wellington. Ineson’s Report was quietly shelved in the dusty Turnbull Library and a real establishment figure, Chris Moller, was set to work on something more acceptable.     

For ten years swimming lived with what Moller told us was right until Steve Johns and Gary Francis led the revolution called “decentralisation”. In my opinion if Sport New Zealand had listened to the reforms proposed by Ineson, if Moller had never been involved, swimming would be a better sport and possibly one very good athlete would still be alive.

Yes, point one is that eleven investigations, eleven reports and millions of dollars have taught us that the sporting establishment is incapable of reforming itself. It will not work, and I would have thought Grant Robertson would know that.

And so, to the second insurmountable problem of sport-driven investigations.

I was appalled to see Raelene Castle parading around at the funeral of Olivia Podmore. Castle clearly has no thought that her organisation’s policies might have been involved in Podmore’s tragic death. For twenty-five years I’ve watched the Sport New Zealand policies at work, sowing their havoc, spreading their carnage. I’ve often wondered on Swimwatch when it would come to a tragic head.

Now is maybe that time. But Castle’s presence in Christchurch clearly shows she has no concept that her organisation may have responsibility in these matters. She sees herself as the fixer in chief. In fact, she has been the protector of policies that have caused untold hurt. Swimming lost two generations of fine athletes because of Sport New Zealand policies. And now, in cycling, that has all gone one worse.

But do you think Castle understands that? Her presence in Christchurch shows there is no chance. She does not understand that the decision to close centralised training at the Millennium Pool and hand the facility over to the North Shore, or United, or Phoenix, or the Coast Clubs has been the saving of New Zealand swimming. The harsh, vindictive, and selfish centralised sport has gone. The club scene is a warm and caring, good place to be.

But, in your wildest dreams can you imagine Castle handing over the Cambridge velodrome to the Cambridge, or Hamilton or Matamata cycling clubs? Can you foresee a time when Castle would transfer the Karapiro facility to the Karapiro, Whakatane, and Hamilton rowing clubs?

No of course not. Sport New Zealand has always had an arrogant belief in its own preeminence. Castle’s presence in Christchurch shows the depth to which eminence is ingrained in their DNA.

But the lesson of swimming, the moral from cycling, the decision of the world’s best canoeist to reject the Sport New Zealand centralised facility in favour of her personal coach and a lake behind North Shore Hospital, is that for as long Sport New Zealand clings to their centralised policy, Sport New Zealand centralised sports will be dark and dangerous places to play. I doubt that the latest independent report into cycling will be any more successful than the previous ten reports. I doubt that Sport New Zealand will recognise their responsibility. And so, my best advice is to avoid any sport that has anything to do with Raelene Castle and her Sport New Zealand organization. For twenty-five years we have seen them try to manage centralised sport. We have seen the failure that has brought us to this sorry place.

New Zealand’s Olympic medal count may have improved. But the price has been way, way, way too high. Stay well away. Your child’s life may depend on it.

Try swimming. It has become a pretty good place.