Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category


Monday, January 10th, 2011

By David

I was delighted to read a very special report written by Chris Rattue in the New Zealand Herald early this week. His article was primarily about the spat going on in Canoeing New Zealand over the position of Ben Fouhy and his eligibility for state funding. The report is reproduced on the New Zealand Herald website. It is worth a read in its entirety. Swimwatch will only quote the portions we think could just as easily be written about the perilous state of Swimming New Zealand. The place is falling apart and the comedy duo at the top doesn’t have a clue what to do about it.

Blanket regimes may have brought home medals under communist dictatorships. They worked a treat when ruthless coaches could frogmarch all the best young talent into gymnasiums, where they drilled the youngsters to exhaustion, drilled drugs into them, then spat the failures back into their bleak societies.

There is no serious evidence however that a government-funded system has done much for New Zealand sport, in encouraging growth or success on the world stage. Since Sparc – the latest funding conduit – arrived in 2003, things have only got worse. Tennis, golf, athletics, cricket, motor racing, speedway, swimming, triathlons, yachting, equestrian, canoeing … all of these and probably many more have seen far better days, and usually in the era when those who dreamed the dream did so without the government’s help and guidance.

The successors to Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon, John Walker, Peter Snell, Yvette Williams, Ivan Mauger, Russell Coutts, Onny Parun, Belinda Caldwell, Richard Hadlee, Mark Todd, Danyon Loader, Erin Baker and many, many more – where have they all gone?

The bottom line is that Sparc, and the environment it has encouraged, is hardly a roaring success. New Zealand sport reeks of problems brought about by an obsession with central control. Sparc is a political animal in charge of sport. This does not bode well. Backyard improvisation can no longer take on the world, but rugged individualism still can.

In 230 words Rattue has put his finger on the kernel of the problem. Jan Cameron marches along in the socialist state funded camp called the Millennium Institute. And the whole thing is not relevant. Olympic champions don’t come from that sort of environment any more. It’s a relic of the communist era, it’s out of date and it’s as effective as using a bucket to drain the Atlantic Ocean.

Michael Phelps trains away in his Baltimore Aquatics Swim Club. Ryan Lochte swims at his father’s club in Daytona Beach. Darra Torres prepared for Beijing in a pool just down the road from the one I coached at in Florida. Rebecca Soni uses the USC pool in Los Angeles, California. In every case their circumstances could be called “rugged individualism”. In every case they returned successfully from their Olympics. Something Cameron will never do from the Millennium Institute. And John Key’s promise to pour further millions into that bottomless Millennium pit is a classic case of good money after bad. A finance man like John Key should know better. Government assistance is appreciated. The socialist hand out way it is being spent is a serious problem.

I’ve been to Lochte’s home pool. It is a very modest affair. I’ve seen him helping out with his father’s learn to swim program. I’ve discussed the 100 kilometers a week he swims under his father’s tuition. It’s simple, it’s basic. It is “rugged individualism”. It does not have the hoards of doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and spin doctors the Cameron empire requires. It also avoids the confusion those hangers on bring with them. But Lochte wins Olympic gold medals. He breaks world records. He is successful.

There was a wonderful program on New Zealand’s Television One recently. It covered a trip along the Nile by the British actress Joanna Lumley. Part of the Nile flows through Ethiopia. During this portion of her journey Lumley met a group of runners that included Meseret Defar. For those who may not recognize the name, Defar is the Athen’s Olympic and Osaka World 5000 meters champion. She holds the world indoor 3000 and 5000 meter records. This is how the Washington Post described what Defar and her friends did.

So that’s what the spunky girl with matchstick legs and a ponytail did. She ran along the rutted dirt roads of the Ethiopian highlands, barefoot or in torn sneakers, trying to improve her endurance. She ran up the wide, cracked steps to Meskel Square in the capital, while goats wandered by and clouds of pollution turned the air charcoal gray. And once she felt she was fast enough, she ran around the country’s only track, a rough ring of patched and potholed rubber inside Addis Ababa Stadium, hoping to be spotted by a running club and win a tiny sponsorship known as “calorie money.”

Like Rattue, I’d call what Phelps, Lochte and Defar do “rugged individualism”. I’d also call it successful.

There are pockets of that spirit still alive in New Zealand. Today I went to a swim meet that was arranged only yesterday. The purpose of the meet was to help a group of young Korean swimmers who were visiting New Zealand and wanted some “official” times while they were here. The CEO of Auckland Swimming, Brian Palmer, hired four lanes of a local high school pool and circulated an appeal for officials to help. The number and quality of officials that turned up was stunning. They could and frequently have run the finals session of Open National Championships. It was an example of all that’s good about sport in New Zealand. The fastest young Korean probably swam 100 meters freestyle in about 1.20. Our club had three swimmers join in as some competition, but that was not the point. Good New Zealanders were doing a good thing for all the right reasons. Today’s meet was the way New Zealand used to win. And if you don’t believe that read Rattue’s list of world champions again.

It’s not the way the Millennium Institute and Cameron do things though. They are above all that. The grassroots is not for them. I have been in my new coaching job at West Auckland Aquatics for 39 weeks. In that time I have attended 26 swim meets at New Zealand’s main competition pool, the West Wave Pool in Henderson. That’s in the City of Auckland, Jan Cameron’s home town. In that time I’ve seen her at just two of the 26 meets and I’ve seen her Millennium swimmers at three of those meets. Needless to say Cameron was nowhere to be seen today; nowhere to be seen when real swimming people were making this sport successful.

Like Rattue I’d call her way “problems brought about by an obsession with central control”; a socialist system that breeds sloth; a system that does not win. It’s also called having ideas way above your station. Good coaches never make that mistake. Good coaches never scorn the base degrees. Take Arch Jelley for example; coach of John Walker, the first man to break 3.50 for a mile and Olympic 1500 champion, but also coach of the Sunnybray Normal Primary School swimming team. He never scorns the grass roots. Take Steve Lochte; coach of his son Ryan, winner of numerous World and Olympic medals, but also the coach of the Daytona Beach bronze squad swimmers. He never scorns the grass roots.

Right or wrong, it’s my impression that Cameron looks on New Zealand as some sort of swimming incubator whose role in life is to breed swimmers for her and her son to inherit. The rest of New Zealand is a junior program whose role is to deliver swimmers to her and her off spring at the Millennium Institute. Well, that system has failed New Zealand for years. We are not involved in swimming to service Jan Cameron or her son. New Zealand coaches, including me, have coached fast swimmers in the past and when we do again I pray to God none of them go anywhere near that Millennium poisonous challis.

The Cameron version of socialist centralized control is well suited for looking after the nation’s weaker members; those requiring health care and those who are unemployed. It is not at all useful in world class sport. For that you need a program of “rugged individualism”. That’s where the next generation of New Zealand international champions will be found.

Writer’s Block

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

By David

I suppose Christmas is always a quiet time. There doesn’t seem to be anything major in the swimming world to discuss. I didn’t want to go on again about the stunning stupidity of Project Vanguard or Jan Cameron’s desperate and barren efforts to win any sort of international swimming race. Swimwatch has rightly spent some time discussing these two follies. Swimwatch editor, Jane, tells me it’s perfectly alright to not post anything new. “If there is nothing new to say,” she says, “you shouldn’t say anything.”

However, because it’s the end of 2010 I thought it might be interesting to look back at the Swimwatch readership statistics. In the last six months Swimwatch has focused on two New Zealand swimming issues. Do the readership numbers suggest that has been a popular choice or has the blog’s narrow focus been one giant turn off?

Here is a graph of the changes that have taken place in the Swimwatch readership numbers between 2009 and 2010. On an annual basis this looks like a pretty healthy rate of growth. Hits, the number of pages visitors read, have increased by 56%. Unique visitors have improved by a very similar 55%. Return visitors have increased by a slightly lower but still good 42%. And so we know that readers found something in 2010 more interesting than in 2009. But Swimwatch began 2010 by discussing topics of interest in the United States. It wasn’t until the last four months of 2010 that we turned our attention to Cameron’s television misbehavior or Byrne’s corporate manipulation. We really need to look more closely at the 2010 figures to determine just when the growth in readership occurred.

The table below shows how Swimwatch readership numbers changed during 2010. Even Cameron and Byrne would have to admit that something has attracted more interest. They should be pleased – it must have been them. Between the first quarter of 2010 and the last quarter hits went up by 49%. Unique readers went up by 52%. And return visitors rose by 44%.

So we do know that the Swimwatch position on Cameron and Byrne was of interest. I bet SNZ would love to have had the readership of their website increase by half these amounts. What we don’t know is whether the increased readership was primarily people that supported the Swimwatch position on Cameron and Byrne or was it readers who were really pissed off at our criticism of two outstanding administrators.

Liz Strauss is one of America’s leading tutors in the art of writing a blog. She published a list of ten reasons people read a blog. Here is her list.

  1. It contains ideas, not just information.
  2. It has thoughts, not just ideas.
  3. It is based on experience.
  4. It does no instruct by force.
  5. It is interesting.
  6. It makes me feel welcome
  7. It does not apologize for its opinions.
  8. It is easy to comment.
  9. It is unique.
  10. It does not try to be someone else.

All these are pretty positive features. I have no idea how many of them Swimwatch observe or how many we contravene. It is probably fair however to conclude that Swimwatch must have satisfied at least some of her rules. Fortunately no one is forced to turn on their computer. Perhaps the discussion of Cameron and Byrne’s job performance has struck a popular nerve. Perhaps the “ideas” and “thoughts” and “experiences” expressed here have been “interesting” and “unique”. Here at Swimwatch we do hope these are the reasons for the increase in the readership of this blog. You see, we really do believe that the chances of some very good people about to swim in London in 2012 and the future health of this sport are in the balance. We also hope that the 50% increase in Swimwatch readers will help tip that balance away from the status quo.

Pan Pacs Preview

Monday, August 16th, 2010

By David

Two notable events occurred this week. In Auckland our swim team is about to complete their spring aerobic build up. Yesterday’s main set was 10,000 meters swum either as 100×100 or as a 10 kilometer straight swim. Jessica, Abigail and Sarah completed the set. Sarah did it as 100×100. Jessica and Abigail did the straight swim. They were good efforts; Abigail because she’s only 14 and Jessica because she got through the swim in 2hrs 11min 48sec, an average of 1.19 for each 100. With Nikki having done 100×100 last build up we now have a core of four swimmers who can swim respectable distances during the aerobic period of their training. After fifteen weeks that’s progress.

On the other side of the Pacific the draft heat sheets for the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships were published. So who is going to win and lose? How is the New Zealand team going to fare? The table below shows our picks for the medalists in each event.

Our guess is that the USA will miss out in the men’s freestyle. We expect Cielo from Brazil, Park from Korea and Mellouli from Tunisia to dominate this stroke. Peirsol will come right, as he usually does, and take control of the men’s backstroke. Kitajima will shrug off a quiet patch of form and win the breaststroke sprints. The men’s fly and IMs will be a Phelps’ benefit. In the IMs Lochte will keep Phelps honest, but when the roll is called the Olympic Champion will be too good for the man from Florida. The women’s events will be more fragmented. The Americans will do well in freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke and the Australians will control the women’s butterfly and IM. We are picking the Americans to dominate both the men’s and women’s relays; but then it hardly took a genius to work that out.

The format of the meet favors smaller nations like New Zealand. Only two swimmers per country can swim in a final. The limited number of countries attending gives most countries a real shot at placing someone in the top eight. And, as they say, once you’re in the final anything can happen. In 1991 Toni Jeffs, Anna Simcic and Phillipa Langrell came home with Championship medals. Two years later John Steel, Trent Bray, Danyon Loader and the men’s relay were placed at the Kobe Games. Danyon Loader and the men’s relay teams won medals again in Atlanta in 1995. And finally Trent Bray and the relays won medals in the 1997 Pan Pacific Games in Fukuoka, Japan.

I was coaching Toni in 1991 when she won the Edmonton Pan Pacs bronze medal in the 50 freestyle. New Zealand track coach, Arch Jelley, helped me put together her final six weeks of training. It seemed to work. Toni was behind two good Americans, Jenny Thompson and Angel Martino in a time of 26.21 which, I think, was a New Zealand record.

We say Trent Bray’s 1997 bronze medal in the 200 freestyle was final because after 1997 New Zealand entered the “modern era” of performance pathways, state funding and imported foreign coaches and in the three Pan Pacific Games since then New Zealand has won nothing; not a medal of any description. Even with the advantage of only two swimmers from each nation in a final, at Sydney in 1999, Yokohama in 2002 and Victoria in 2006 the New Zealand’s National Coach hasn’t been able to coach a medalist of any sort. That’s thirteen years of funding and swimming talent for nothing. I see the coach’s son is now telling the country’s largest newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, that he wants to be the National Coach, coach an Olympic Champion and see swimming become New Zealand’s most successful sport. Time will tell but, if as we suspect, New Zealand does not win a race in Irvine, California there is a very long way to go. It’s difficult to climb Mt. Everest when the slope on Auckland’s Harbor Bridge is causing you problems. New Zealand is certainly starting well behind where it was in the early 1990s. We have centralized ourselves to death. Certainly the PR media access of the current North Shore regime is far in advance of their aquatic’s performance.

Let there be no mistake. The talent on this New Zealand team is huge. Bell, Palmer, Ingram, Burmester, and Snyders are potentially as good as any swimmers in the world. Culpability for the absence of a Pan Pac gold medal, if that is indeed what happens, will not lie at their door.

New Delhi Commonwealth Games

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

By David

I must begin by apologizing to any American readers. This post is going to be all about the Commonwealth Games. In swimming terms the Commonwealth Games is not the world’s best meet. Certainly the Pan Pacific Games being held in the US shortly will see some far better swimming. However New Zealand is besotted with the Commonwealth Games. Sport’s funding decisions, pages of news print and hours of broadcast time are spent predicting results and analyzing performances.

So, how is New Zealand going to get on in the swimming pool at this year’s Games in New Delhi, India? It is an important Commonwealth Games for swimming. For years the National Coach has been promising us an international swimming nirvana. This time she must deliver. Whatever the result, she owns it. Four years ago in Melbourne Australia, New Zealand won six medals. The table below shows the details of these results. If we don’t do better than that in New Delhi, the past four years of effort and money will have been wasted. If we don’t do better than that I’m told SPARC are not going to be very happy and will probably cut the state financial lifeline that keeps swimming afloat – if you’ll excuse the pun.

One indication of how New Zealand might fare in New Delhi is the current Commonwealth rankings. The table below shows the name and place of the best New Zealander in each event, based on three swimmers per Commonwealth country. If the best New Zealander is outside the Commonwealth’s top eight the table just records this as “NA” and “outside the top eight”.

Fortunately medals at Olympic and Commonwealth Games are not decided by world rankings. If they were Peter Snell would never have won the Olympic 800 track title. So while the ranking data suggests New Zealand will only win one bronze medal in the women’s 50 backstroke it is entirely possible we could do better than that. Sadly it is equally possible we could do worse. Australia, Canada and South Africa are as strong as ever but in the past four years swimming in the UK has improved dramatically. The efforts of Swettenham and the injection of a truck load of lottery money have borne fruit. And in the Commonwealth Games an improvement in the UK is a quadruple problem for New Zealand. Good UK swimmers can represent Scotland, England, Ireland or Wales.

I think New Zealand will do better than one bronze medal. In particular I rate Melissa Ingram as a very good athlete. In World Cup events a year ago she was superb; competing against and beating the world’s best. On that tour she showed the character that it takes to win medals at an international Games. I also like Bell; he’s a bit of a rebel and that often helps win races.

Just to do as well as New Zealand did four years ago is not going to be easy. Winning the eight or nine medals required to demonstrate progress and justify the financial resources provided to those responsible for the sport’s elite performance is unlikely. For years New Zealand has been told swimming is building for the future. Well, the future is now.

Coaching Athletics

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

By David

It’s fun being on holiday in New Zealand. Best of all it is an opportunity to catch up on a decade of lost gossip. Last night I spoke to Dick Quax, once the track world record holder at 5000 meters and Olympic silver medalist at the same distance. Dick is now a pretty important politician and will shortly stand in the election for representatives to run the new Auckland super city. He’s a member of the Act Party which would normally put him too far to the right to attract my vote. On this occasion I’d compromise principle to give him a vote; he’s a good guy and would do an excellent job. Besides I voted for Margaret Thatcher the first time she was leader of the British Conservatives; so there is a precedent.

Years ago Dick coached track athletics in the US. It was fun to compare notes of my experience doing the same thing in swimming. We agreed on the good, the bad and the ugly. But that’s for another day. Eventually our conversation got around to coaching in New Zealand; the death of Arthur Lydiard, Arch Jelley’s appointment to the Coaching Hall of Fame and the comparison between the two coaches.

After we finished talking, I decided to Google Arthur and Arch to see if anyone had written a comparison. There was surprisingly little to find. However I did come across an article written by Joseph Romanos for the June 2007 issue of the New Zealand magazine “VO2 Max” [Warning: large PDF file. If clicking through, you’re looking for page 114, which looks like this].  In it Joseph makes the following observation:

“Trying to evaluate the impact of an elite level coach, two factors become most important – longevity and the number of high-class performers the coach produces. So, while I salute Arch Jelley for coaching such a remarkable runner as John Walker, the athletics coach who gets most credit must be Arthur Lydiard. Lydiard coached for half a century from the early 1950s, and revolutionized thinking on training for distance runners. He was innovative and inspirational. To produce one champion is quite something, but Lydiard coached Murray Halberg, Peter Snell, Barry Magee, John Davies, Bill Baillie, Jeff Julian and Ray Puckett in the late 1950s-early 1960s. Later he coached runners like Dick Tayler and Heather Thompson and advised Ian Ferguson and company, the canoeing legends of the 1980s, plus triathletes, swimmers, horse trainers, rugby players and goodness knows who else.”

Before commenting on the shortcomings of this extract I must tell you that Joseph Romanos is the best writer on sport in New Zealand. He writes well, he knows sport around the world and he’s fair. When I was last coaching in New Zealand I made my share of mistakes and had some wins as well. On several occasions Joseph publically pointed out both in full and fair measure. I should also say that the balance of his article in “VO2 Max” is very good. Joseph praises the long line of coaches that have served New Zealand’s athletes well. There are of course some names he’s included among the greats that I don’t think should be there and some names he’s left out that should have received a mention; Ross Anderson in swimming for example. For some reason Joseph never liked Ross Anderson but the man was a very good swimming coach.

The article also makes the point that coaches in New Zealand have not always been treated terribly well. Isn’t that the truth? The single biggest difference I noticed between coaching here and in the US was the status, respect and importance the Americans give their coaches. I couldn’t believe it. From what I’ve seen New Zealand is improving. That’s important. Good coaches produce good athletes. They need looking after.

So while there is much to admire in Joseph’s “VO2 Max” piece the paragraph copied above falls well short of Joseph’s normal high standard. First of all he leaves the impression that Arch coached for five minutes and Walker was his only good runner. That’s just not true. Arch is in the 85-90 years Master’s category now and in 2010 still produced the national 1500 meter champion, Hamish Carson. For longevity Arch is in the super league. Joseph then produces a list of great athletes coached by Arthur but, apart from John Walker, fails to mention any of the fine runners coached by Arch. For example, double Olympians Neville Scot, Robbie Johnson and Rod Dixon or American mile record holder Steve Scott; or the following athletes who were either National Champions or represented New Zealand, Alison Wright, Ian Babe, Ian Studd (Commonwealth Games bronze medalist in 1966), Sonia Barry, Denis Norris, Ray Batton, Maree Bunce, Andrew Campbell, Sharon Higgins, Michael Hindmarsh, Glenys Kroon, Jared Letica, Geraldine MacDonald, Gary Palmer, John and Val Robinson, Hazel Stewart, Mark Tonks and Lloyd Walker. And that’s not a bad list of “high class performers”.

Joseph then refers to Arthurs work with swimmers. Now that’s true. Arthur even included a chapter on the work he did with me in his biography “Arthur Lydiard – Master Coach”. Without Arthur’s input I would never have coached nine national representatives, four Olympians and one current Master’s world record holder. But the same thing exactly could be said about Arch. Every day I apply many of the principles and methods I first learned from Arch; especially as they relate to speed work and anaerobic conditioning. My swimmers have Arch to thank for their fartlek sessions and the 6×50 on a minute final time trial. Most importantly Arch curbed my enthusiasm for killing swimmers off with impossibly difficult anaerobic sets.

The real problem in a discussion like this is leaving the impression that one is devaluing Arthur’s legacy. I would never do that. Four of the New Zealand runners mentioned by Joseph were Olympic medalists. The work Arthur did in Finland earned him that Country’s highest awards. The care and attention he paid to helping me was generous beyond belief. My point is only that Joseph Romanos should not promote Arthur’s record by devaluing either Arch’s longevity or coaching record. Arthur Lydiard would never have done that.