Archive for the ‘ Europe ’ Category

The Two O’Clock From Kings Cross

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

By David

Never believe a word they say. How many British comedians have made a living at the expense of British Rail? Reggie Peron was always late for work because of ice on the points at Clapham Junction. Les Dawson’s mother-in-law was said to be the cause of numerous rail misfortunes especially in the buffet car. I suppose, in the interests of honesty, there have been occasions when British Rail has caused me grief. When it was my last and only way home, they cancelled the last train to Sunningdale one night. On another occasion they didn’t stop at my station. As you can imagine, “British Rail apologize for any inconvenience” was hardly sufficient.

Only Swimming New Zealand is capable of matching the reputation of the British rail network. But there is a difference. British Rail may have the reputation of being a Monty Python Flying Circus. Swimming New Zealand is the real thing.

While Swimming New Zealand may more than merit their reputation, the stereotype of British Rail is most unfair. Normally things go according to plan. Today, for example, I arrived at Kings Cross and bought a return ticket on the 2.00pm service to Perth (that’s the original Scottish version of Perth). At 1.45pm, as promised, the train was ready to leave from Platform 2 and at 2.00pm exactly to the sound of whistles that would have done an Olympic swimming referee credit, our train pulled smoothly out of Kings Cross Station.

Right now it’s 2.43pm and our train is well on its way. It’s a warm, sunny day. On these occasions England truly is a green and pleasant land. What, you may ask, am I doing here? Well I’m going to Perth to have a look at the meat plant I built and managed for four years. I’m also having dinner with my secretary from those days, Audrey, and her husband. It should be fun. Audrey loves a good gossip as much as her old boss. I’m booked into the wonderfully Scottish Perth Station Hotel; the scene of many a wild and drunken Scottish Young Farmer’s Club Burn’s occasion. More than once I’ve booked a room for the night rather than risk the sixteen kilometre drive to our home at Gleneagles – that’s right, the town of golf course fame. Even from this distance, from the other side of the world, I’ve heard there is currently a prominent Swimming New Zealand employee, Philip Rush, who should have booked a room somewhere rather than drive himself anywhere.

What is Swimming New Zealand going to do about that? They call out the best sport’s administrator in New Zealand, Brian Palmer, in their Annual Meeting and demand his resignation. For years they have rubbished the author of Swimwatch. And all that time one of their own; one of their favoured sons, is accumulating four aces in a poker game called DIC. If it turns out that the NZ Fire Service consider him no longer safe to put out a house fire, Swimming New Zealand needs to explain to its members why he continues to have their confidence as an official caring for young swimmers. The recent history of Swimming New Zealand is littered with stories of drunken athletes; of swimmers throwing up in toilets, in bedrooms and on foreign streets. Swimming New Zealand may consider a call of, “Do what I say, not what I do” to be just fine. Personally I think it’s just another example of hypocrisy; of one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

After a week spent visiting my daughter Jane and indulging in a bit of Scottish nostalgia, next week I’m going to visit some swim programs around Europe. One of the problems of spending time in New Zealand is that you can quickly lose touch with what the rest of the world is doing. The Gods at Swimming New Zealand never do anything to address that pretty serious Antipodean problem. I’ve been back in New Zealand for three years and not once has a member of the SNZ high and mighty said hello or suggested areas where I could improve the tuition I provide at the West Wave Pool – not bloody once. So, as usual, I’ll have to go out and do it for myself. I’ll visit good European swim programs. I’ll discuss and watch their training. I’ll ask them to “teach me something”. And from it all I hope desperately that I will learn.

When Lydiard was alive I used him as a sounding board – Arthur this has gone wrong what do you think I should do? I used to call Duncan Laing in much the same way. In the United States Mark Schubert was available to provide similar guidance. His opinion was very valuable; often harsh, often embarrassingly direct, but always in the best interests of me and my swimmers. Today I bounce ideas off master track coach, Arch Jelley. He is a source of sound experience. Brian Palmer has also been a willing provider of intelligent criticism. All that is good but a coach needs more. And that’s why I’m here. Next week, when I’m done with my tour, I’ll let you know of the things I’ve learned.

And so it’s now 4.30pm and we’re pulling into Darlington. A four year old boy two seats in front of me, with a broad Scottish accent, has just asked, “Mummy is this going to take forever. Now that the train is moving can I go to the toilet?” The conductor tells me we’ve got Newcastle, Berwick upon Tweed and Edinburgh to go before reaching Perth. It’s getting close. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare asks, “Stands Scotland where it did?” Right now the signs are good. Outside there’s sheep and cows, green grass and stone walls for fences. Scotland is near. Just wait a few minutes and I’ll tell you exactly when this Scottish nationalist scales Hadrian’s Wall. “Oh Flower of Scotland. When will we see your likes again?” Well our train has passed a sign that says we are now in Scotland. So the answer is 5.45pm on Tuesday 9th October, 2013.

World Championships: Episode One

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

By David

Afternoon training had just finished. I was sitting chatting to a friend. To correct those sad readers who believe the author of Swimwatch does not have any friends – you are wrong. My companion is a friend. I hope it’s nothing serious, but he does nervously glance around the pool a lot when we are together. Today’s conversation was the same as many others – what would Swimming New Zealand do next? I was making the point that the behaviour of Sweetenham, Miskimmin, Dr Who and their friends was so fertile with gossip that writing about it could quickly lead even the most loyal reader to question the purpose and motives of the Swimwatch blog. The integrity of a fanatic is always open to question, no matter how just the cause. All I can do is assure you that I am not a fanatic – I just do not like the way Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand (not that there is any difference) run the business of this sport. I think it stinks.

The list of topics available for discussion just now is endless. New Zealand’s best swimmer has retired. A travel plan for the team to the Barcelona World Championships has been published. A list of swimmers who have joined the pathway has been distributed. Sweetenham has “modestly” circulated a memo telling us about the famous people he has met and how wonderful they think he is. There is a base part my character that would love to spend five hundred words discussing Sweetenham’s memo. The document is an insight into his sorry soul. However far more important to the future of swimming is the plan Swimming New Zealand has put together for the team going to the World Championships.

I was told about the plan today. I’m working from memory, but their proposal goes something like this.

  • June 11 Mare Nostrum Barcelona Meet
  • June 15 Mare Nostrum Canet Meet
  • Two weeks altitude training in Sierra Nevada, Spain
  • June/July Paris International Meet
  • Two weeks training camp in Spain
  • July 19 World Championships Barcelona
  • August possible attendance at FINA World Cup events

The whole thing smacks of more money than sense. Now that Miskimmin’s coup d’etat has wrested control of New Zealand swimming, his organization is going to spend whatever it takes to prove they can win a swimming race. Many swimming people are holding Miskimmin’s feet to the fire. He wanted to control the sport. He said he knew best. Well now we will see whether he can deliver. This plan for Barcelona will not do it. Whoever put this jumbled mission together had all the money in the world and decided to spend it all doing everything. What do they say about a camel being a horse designed by a committee? Well this effort is a camel – or as Wikipedia says full of “needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision.” Of course, if it was Luis Villaneva who designed the camel it should surprise no one that there are shortcomings. He’s Spanish and I suspect has very little experience or appreciation of the special factors involved in travelling from New Zealand to compete in the Northern Hemisphere. Alex Baumann is also new to the Southern Hemisphere. And Bill Sweetenham has always thought – the tougher the better. He’d have probably had the team walking from the airport to Sierra Nevada as some sort of initiative test.

Here is a sample of the shortcomings in this latest Swimming New Zealand masterpiece.

  1. There is not enough racing. The three meets included here are not enough to prepare for a World Championships. In my first book “Swim to the Top” this is how I described the number of meets required. “Always include at least five meets on a European tour. I have seen tours ranging from one meet to 15 but the way these tours work is that it takes two meets for the swimmer to adjust into full racing mode and anything close to PBs is an achievement and a good indication of better things to come. There will also be times when things just don’t go right and a five-meet tour allows for that and still leaves two meets for achieving those PBs. Toni Jeffs toured Europe twice and broke New Zealand records in meets five and six; Anna Simcic broke her world record in meet five; Danyon Loader broke his in meet five; and Phillipa Langrell set her current New Zealand 800 metres record in meet five. Shorter tours would have seen New Zealand missing out on two world records and five current national records. So five is the minimum.” For some reason Swimming New Zealand has left out the Monaco Mare Nostrum meet. I would certainly include that meet which together with the three included in the plan plus the Championships give the swimmers the five meet minimum. Six would be better.
  2. Two weeks of altitude training squashed into the plan a month before the Championships is crazy. It is probably the best example of – “We’ve got the money. What can we spend it on?” It would be possible to debate all night the advantages and disadvantages of two weeks spent swimming at the top of some mountain in Spain. My experience and the literature suggest that any benefit to sea level performances of two weeks at altitude is still most unclear. What is certain is that this high altitude training scheme suffers from the same fatal shortcoming as Miskimmin’s Millennium Program. Like every socialist ideology both programs fail to take into account the differences between individuals. Will Philip Ryan respond to altitude the same as Lauren Boyle? No one knows, but Swimming New Zealand will do it anyway. Swimming New Zealand must know that there are “responders” and “non-responders” to altitude training. That means two things: what works for one swimmer may not work for another. And altitude training may not work at all on some swimmers. It appears to be a genetic predisposition issue. But to the Stalinists that run swimming in New Zealand uniformity is a virtue. Whether you swim 50 meters or 10,000 meters, whether you have tried altitude training before and found it does not work for you – it does not matter. Baumann, Miskimmin, Villaneva and probably Sweetenham say it’s good for you – so off you go. And don’t complain or you won’t go at all. Socialist systems always work that way. And finally it is clear that even at its best altitude training is only icing on the training cake. There are so many more important things to do. Dr. James Smoliga recently published an interesting article in the magazine “Track Coach”. In it he described the fringe nature of altitude training.

Cost-to-benefit ratio of altitude training lies far behind other approaches to improved performance. Namely: improved diet, specialized weight programs, therapeutic massage, range of motion/stretching exercises, and last and most certainly not least – having a quality training program and coach! Even an athlete who does adapt well to altitude training may not experience a net benefit if all these aspects of training aren’t in order.

And so Swimming New Zealand, as we have said one hundred times before; stick to the basics, get your New Zealand house in order before you start wandering off to the homeland of one of your new employees on what could be best described as a tax payer funded junket.

Berlin! Berlin! Wir Fahren Nach Berlin!

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

By David

Fans of the beautiful game may recognise the title of this post. It is the popular chant soccer fans used during the 2006 Berlin World Cup finals. In English it means, “Berlin! Berlin! We’re going to Berlin!” It came to mind during a conversation I had this morning with my daughter Jane. She lives in London but is about to leave for a weekend holiday in the German capital. Describing Berlin she called it, “The home town of two of our family’s national records.”

It was not a thought I’d ever had before. But she was right.

On August 17 1979 Alison ran 1000 meters in the Berlin Olympic Stadium. That was back in the days when the Berlin Wall divided the city and communism ruled the eastern portion of the German state. On the morning before Alison’s run we visited Checkpoint Charlie, one of the very few passes through the wall; between East and West. America’s best 400 meter hurdler at the time, James King, decided he wanted a closer look over the wall and climbed high into a convenient tree. I was horrified to see him leaning out of the tree giving a well practiced central finger salute to a dangerous looking, Kalashnikov armed, East German guard. On closer inspection, the guard looked bored by the whole thing. I suspect he may have been insulted by brash westerners many times before.

Without doubt Berlin’s Olympic Stadium is the World’s finest athletic track. I visited the plaque commemorating New Zealander, Jack Lovelock’s 1500 meter victory in the 1936 Olympic Games. I stood on the concrete plinth used by Hitler to watch the Games. The atmosphere and the sense of history were without peer. Alison’s performance matched the setting. Her time of 2:38.54 ranked her fifth in the world that year and set a New Zealand Open Woman’s Record for the event. Thirty two years later it is still the National Record; the fastest time run by a New Zealand woman.

Twenty one years after Alison’s run, in early 2000, our fifteen year old daughter, Jane, was also competing in Berlin; not in track and field but in swimming. By this time the wall had gone and Germany was unified. In fact the pool in which the World Cup took place had been built in the heart of the old East Berlin. The meet was an important one for Jane. Weeks earlier in Australia, New Zealand National Coach, Brett Naylor, told her he thought she was not nearly a good enough swimmer to be competing on the European World Cup circuit, and called her an embarrassment to her country. I’ve very seldom seen Jane cry, but she did that night. However, in Berlin it took her 1:06.33 to put the record straight. That’s the time it took her to swim 100 meters IM. That’s also the time that made her a New Zealand 15 Years Age Group record holder. I guess it’s true; he (or she) who laughs last, laughs longest.

In that trip Jane went on to swim well in Imperia, Italy and Paris, France. But Berlin alone remained as, “The home town of two of our family’s national records.”

Jane’s first Open Woman’s record was about as far from the history, glamour and majesty of Berlin as you can imagine. She set that record over 200 meters breaststroke in the small Hawkes Bay agricultural town of Waipukerau. From Berlin to Waipukerau, that’s part of the fun of sport.

The photograph below shows Alison and Jane posing in their respective New Zealand track suits – both of which saw service in the German capital, Berlin.
Jane Copland and Alison Wright

Swimming Training Camps

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

By David

An important element in any democracy is the protected right to question those who lead. Governments and their bureaucracies need to be accountable. When representatives spend tax payer’s money on hotel video porn it is appropriate for them to be asked to explain. That is not dissent. It is not even unreasonable. It is good government.

With this in mind it is appropriate to question a report published this week on the New Zealand swim team’s trip to the Mare Nostrum Barcelona and Canet meets and an eleven day training camp after the competition. There is much in the report that is difficult to understand. We will not print the whole thing here. It’s a bit long for that, but we will reproduce those points that raise puzzling questions. Questioning the tour’s report should not be mistaken as a criticism of the athletes involved. Swimwatch is on record as supporting fine performances by these swimmers at World Cups and New Zealand Championships. Our concern is what they were asked to do and not how they did it.

From the outset it was difficult to understand the purpose of the trip. Early in the tour a separate report began its coverage with:

“They have just stepped off the plane after 36 hours flying to Barcelona from New Zealand 24 hours previously, are still in heavy training. [sic]”

That has always seemed strange to me. Why would you spend $30,000 or $40,000 flying a team to the other side of the world to race the planet’s best athletes and own up to being badly prepared – arriving late and still in heavy training? If it’s worth the cost of flying to Spain to find good competition it seems important to arrive in a fit condition to race properly. Presumably that’s why you find good competition – to race them properly. It’s difficult to find a meet these days when the New Zealand team is not “still in heavy training”. It leaves the impression of preparing an excuse ahead of time should things go wrong at the meet. Or perhaps it’s true; rest for New Zealand swimmers is restricted to once every two years; to the week before a Commonwealth or Olympic Games.

The Mare Nostrum series involves three meets; one each in Monte Carlo, Canet and Barcelona. On this trip the New Zealand team skipped the one in Monte Carlo. That doesn’t seem like good economics; to fly all that way and only swim in two of the three meets. Doing all three gives 33% more racing for maybe 6% more cost; at least that’s the way it worked out the four times I’ve done these meets. Similarly why were the team taken to Narbonne for their training camp. There is nothing wrong with Narbonne. It’s a nice town with a good pool. But the New Zealand team had just finished racing down the road in Canet which is a nicer town, a better pool, has far cheaper accommodation and the team was already there. The last time I was in Canet, in 2009, we rented a lovely French villa for four swimmers for $1000 for the entire week. I bet Narbonne cost New Zealand more than that.

I notice the report on the trip says the swimmers were put through a “punishing training regime.” We are told “they worked their tails off for two weeks in France.” The report then defines the “punishing training regime” as “130kms of training in the 11 days in Narbonne with three training sessions a day.” I struggle to understand how swimming 130 kilometers in 11 days; that’s a rate of only 82 kilometers a week, qualifies as punishing; not when 90 to 100 kilometers a week is the standard training fare for just about every swimmer New Zealand is about to race in the Pan Pacific Games. At three sessions a day the New Zealander’s average training distance was something less than 4000 meters a session which stretches the definition of “punishing” just a bit.

The Nation’s best swimmers got through their 82 kilometer week, we are told, because:

“We trained outdoors in an excellent facility so it was pretty pleasant. We would have struggled to achieve the same level of performance with this sort of training block at home.”

What on earth is the matter with that Millennium Pool? Before Prime Minister John Key invests $40million upgrading the facility someone should tell him that New Zealand’s best swimmers find swimming 80 kilometers a week in the current 50 meter pool a real struggle. I’ve seen 100 kilometers a week swum many times in the Clive Pool in Hawkes Bay, in the Swimgym Pool in Hastings, in a four lane pool in the US Virgin Islands, in the Onekawa Aquatic Center in Napier, in the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre, in an open air pool in Florida and in the Freyberg Pool in Wellington. The Clive Pool is unventilated (unless someone leaves the doors open), has almost no lighting and no windows. It could handle someone swimming 20 kilometers a week further than the New Zealand team managed in France. God knows what problems must exist at the Millennium Institute Pool to make a very modest weekly mileage of 80 kilometers such a struggle.

The report concludes with a look into the future. “Our main emphasis will be the Commonwealth Games. Pan Pacs will be a tougher level meet and we will be looking to swim fast there. If you don’t swim fast in the morning heat you don’t get a second swim.” That’s another thing I’ve never really understood. If winning at the London Olympics is New Zealand Swimming’s primary goal, why on earth choose the easy meet now as the center of your attention. Clearly Pan Pacs is recognized as the tougher meet. In that case and if you are at all serious about winning anything in London that’s the meet you should be chasing. After all, that’s the meet where Burmester needs to beat Phelps and Thomas needs to finish ahead of Couglin. But, no, New Zealand’s “main emphasis” is the easy option. That seldom wins an Olympic Games.

It’s Official

Monday, May 31st, 2010

By David

My New Zealand doctor warned me that the new blood pressure drug he was recommending could result in strange, very vivid dreams. I didn’t believe the guy. That sort of psychological claptrap doesn’t happen to a bloke who enjoys a New Zealand pie or likes nothing better than watching the Steelers play the Bears on a wet, bitterly cold afternoon in Chicago. I was wrong.

During most of last night I was the laundry minder for senior athletes on the world track series. I wandered through China, two or three Middle East nations and most of Europe taking care of dirty track suits and cleaning Nike running spikes. I am pretty certain the last thing the world’s best track athletes want is some West Auckland swimming coach anywhere near their laundry. And for even dreaming this invasion I apologize. Perhaps the very long day I had at a swim meet yesterday had caused my mind to wander.

Actually it was an interesting day that once again highlighted the distinction between good officials and those who should really be doing something else. In Florida a chap called Jay Thomas was one of the best. I believe his job as an American Airlines senior Captain contributed to his calm handling of a dozen of swimming’s minor crises. If a flock of geese decided to fly through the engine of my airplane above New York, I’d be happy if Jay Thomas was up front taking care of business. The way he handled the Meet Manager job when two 50 meter pools were going flat out was better entertainment that watching the swimming.

I did not feel the same about another Florida swimming official, Leslie Lunak. Several years ago we had a debate about a swimmer’s entry at a swim meet. After it was sorted out she offered to shake hands and said clearly and in front of others that the matter ended there. A week later she complained to the President of Florida Gold Coast that I had argued with her. He is now in jail but at the time he sent me a letter saying “don’t argue with officials”, which is ironic given that the real moral of the story is “don’t trust Leslie Lunac”.

Anyway yesterday, after a very good swimmer was disqualified, the question of the timing of the fly kick in the breaststroke pull out became relevant. The rule in question was FINA rule 7.1. This is what it says.

SW 7.1 After the start and after each turn, the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs during which the swimmer may be submerged. A single butterfly kick is permitted during the first arm stroke, followed by a breaststroke kick.

The question was whether the fly kick was still legal if it was performed after the swimmer had completed the pull but still has their arms extended downward along their sides. In other words was the stroke “completed” after the pull or after the pull and the recovery of the arms to the extended above the swimmers head position? If the pull and recovery represented a full stroke then a “late” kick was legal. If just the pull represented a full stroke then a late kick was a DQ offence. Rule 7.1 is ambiguous on this point.

The responsible official at the Auckland meet was a lady called Jill. She’s been an official in Auckland for as long as I can remember. She also has the quiet, honest demeanour of a Jay Thomas; a quality acquired, I suspect from a life time of listening to excited coaches, parents and swimmers argue their cause.

In this case she asked to see the swimmer do the turn with the “delayed” kick in the pool’s diving well. She went and consulted the meet’s senior officials and came back with a decision that the word “stroke” in the FINA rule included both the pull and recovery stages. Therefore a fly kick done between the two stages was legal. It was still being done part way through the single stroke. Just as important as the outcome was the way the question was handled. No one was threatened; no one’s integrity was being questioned. An interesting interpretation of the rules was being resolved. And that’s the way it should be.

It is off the subject but an area where New Zealand swimming has it all over the Americans is in the disqualification procedure. In New Zealand every athlete gets a signed form detailing the offence, the Rule number, the name of the IOT and Referee and their signature. In other words New Zealand does what FINA rules require. In America that might happen at the National Championships but in most other meets the first the athlete knows of their crime is when their name appears on the list of results with the dreaded initials DQ. Even then it can take a full FBI and CIA investigation to find out what the DQ was for. I had a relay team disqualified in Florida once and only heard about it a week later through one of the swimmer’s parents. I complained only to discover the parent had got the cause of the disqualification story completely wrong. That whole mess could have been avoided if the meet officials had handed out properly completed disqualification forms.

An official in Florida told me they could not complete and distribute the forms because the meets in the US were so huge. That’s just nonsense. If it’s worth putting on a meet its worth doing properly. Disqualifying someone can be quite traumatic. Officials need to explain why they made that decision. If yesterday is anything to go by they seem to be able to do it well in Auckland, New Zealand. They should be able to do it just as well in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.