Archive for September, 2007

Testing for Drugs

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

By David

Some of you may recall that twice before this website has expressed concern at the behavior of national drug agencies. This is what we said.

“Beware though; when you are debating getting tough on the drug cheats, don’t create an out-of-control agency whose behavior may be worse than the original problem. Power corrupts and absolute power … you know the rest.”

“All this is especially true when the evidence suggests the Agency is not doing its job properly. Mistakes, errors, omissions and you begin to wonder whether the cure is turning out to be worse than the problem. The Drug Agency’s performance should be subject to the same critical tests as everyone else to ensure its performance does protect sports people.”

The fidelity of our concern was confirmed yesterday when Tour de France winner, Floyd Landis, lost his arbitration doping case. By a vote of two to one the finding that Landis used synthetic testosterone was confirmed. Our principal fear however is not whether Landis used testosterone. Compared to other matters raised by this case, whether Landis is a cheat or not is unimportant. There are many in the drug police world who will claim that “getting their man”, that stripping Landis of his Tour title is a victory for us all. The CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart has already called the decision “a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition.” He may well be jubilant, but in our view there is little to celebrate.

The potential damage to every athlete “who values fair and honest competition” is not in the behavior of Landis. The real dangers are the mammoth inefficiencies, deception and disgraceful behavior of the testing laboratory and US drug agency. Don’t take my word for it. Read the arbitration report. Upholding and dissenting arbitrators agreed on one thing. Aspects of the testing protocol and hearing procedures were a shambles; for example.

The initial test for testosterone is a relatively simple procedure called the T-E ratio test. The French Laboratory (LNDD) so badly handled this easy test that the results were inconclusive and could not be used. Authorities had to use the backup IRMS test, acknowledged as very complicated test, requiring a high level of technical skill. The obvious question is, if the laboratory could not get the T-E ratio test right, why on earth should we believe they can manage the much more complicated IRMS procedure?

The panel of arbitration also found that the chain of command in controlling the urine sample was inadequate. The way the test was run on the machine, the way the machine was prepared, the lack of appropriate laboratory training and the “forensic corrections” done on the laboratory paper work were all said to be below standard. The arbitration report concluded this section as follows, “If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal” of a positive finding. For all of us that is real scary stuff.

The USADA did not emerge unscathed. Their attorneys went after Landis’ character with nasty and unnecessarily mean aggression. The liberties they took in evidence discovery would never have been allowed in a regular court. Without question the USADA were out to get their man. Their every action smacked of scoring a win, a blood lust to strip an athlete of his title and his career. National drug agencies have legislative, administrative and judicial powers and, without appropriate checks and balances, they exercise them badly. In this case the USADA has acted almost as poorly as the New Zealand agency did when it prosecuted Trent Bray after his sample had been mistakenly left on a laboratory shelf, in the sun, for two weeks. One day national drug agencies may see their role as working with athletes in a “fair and honest” search for the truth: one day, but not just now.

Why should all this be a concern? Imagine this, you have just been asked to take a urine drug test. As you wait for nature to take its course, reflect on the Landis case. Will the laboratory staff, who test your sample have been properly trained, will the laboratory screw up the test, will the machine they use be set up properly, will it be clean, will your paper work be changed? And if by some chance one of the readings is out of line, those nice USADA people, asking for your sample, will they come after you, walking roughshod over the conventions of natural justice, bent on ending your career and your good name? Is there any possibility of them helping you determine what has gone wrong? Yes, there is good cause for concern.

You may not be able to cross your legs in the hope of good luck at that moment, but I’d certainly cross my fingers. The Landis case says you may need a bit of luck.

How Not To Be the Fat Ex-Swimmer

Friday, September 21st, 2007
By Jane
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while and, in fact, I did once. I wrote it in a Word document while on holiday this summer. I remember saving the file with the name “how not to become a fatass.doc.” I even remember where I saved it. Unfortunately, the next time I turned on my computer, it no longer existed. I searched through the entire computer and it was gone. I have no idea what I did, but it seems that I have to write this again!

I quit swimming when I graduated from college. In fact, I quit on the last night of the NCAA Championships in 2006. We parted on good terms, swimming and I. I was very pleased with the relationship and was equally satisfied with the way it ended. The problem, upon ending the relationship, was that swimming had kept me fit since I was 11 years old. I had some worries about the future of my waistline. I was pretty sure that I could get away with a few months of sloth before my metabolism would catch up with my lifestyle and I’d put on weight.

All of you reading this site know how much time it takes to stay fit by swimming. At an average speed of four kilometers an hour, swimming long distances takes hours on end. I was incredibly uninspired by the idea of “taking up” swimming again for the sake of not getting fat. And by uninspired, I mean that I was definitely not going to do it.

So I took up running. Anyone who knew me during my swimming career would be laughing by now. I hated running back then. A 5’4″ 200m breaststroker, I was hardly built for running. Not many swimmers are. At first, running was torture. I did myself no favours by taking up running in the middle of winter, when my throat, lungs and eyes would burn in the 33 degree Fahrenheit weather. On my first morning of running, I made it through only three miles… I had to sit outside for ten minutes on returning home (still in 33 degree weather) because I thought I was going to throw up. I didn’t, thankfully. I may have given up right then if I had!

The first month of running was no fun, either. Obviously, it was still winter and I was still a swimmer and the only thing that kept me going was the fact that running makes you look good. I did start to notice some improvement in my running abilities, however. I could run four or five miles comfortably and my legs no longer ached and burned when I had to walk down stairs. I fit into size three pants again. Life was excellent.

This is not to say that starting running doesn’t come with its fair share of difficulties. My ankles have given out at various stages of this venture; I’d take a short time off and they’d get better.
Next up were my knees. That was pretty awful, but luckily, I had a week-long conference to attend during my right knee’s problems, which was a forcible recovery period. Most recently, my hip attempted a mutiny from what has become eight mile runs. It looks like I’ve fixed that now as well.

The “fact” of the fat ex swimmer is total rubbish. It’s easy to see how swimmers end up gaining pounds when they leave the pool, as we’re accustomed to being able to eat thousands and thousands of calories a day and staying skinny. We’re almost universally bad or inept at other sports and forms of exercise, and we’re often burned out on exercise as it is. I am, however, of the opinion that running is the best (only?) way to keep fit. It is so very energy intensive, and yet it takes virtually no time at all. An hour run on a sidewalk that’s available right outside the door, or a two hour swim at a pool that I have to drive to and from? I know which one I have time for these days and which one is a weekend luxury, at best.

I’m not an expert on running, but I can share some thoughts about how I began this venture and what has worked for me:

  1. Run in the mornings. This won’t work for everyone, but I have no motivation to do anything after work other than lay around. It’s also usually cooler in the mornings, which is a plus if you’re dealing with a season other than the middle of winter. Running in the heat sucks a lot.
  2. Listen to music. There is no need to be discerning in your musical tastes. My running playlist is an embarrassment, to say the least. However, time seems to pass a lot faster when it’s passing by in four-minute intervals. Also, as the majority of swimmers know, music can be great for getting one “pumped up.” Being non-pumped-up is a fantastic way to run like crap and return home quickly.
  3. Don’t run circuits. If you’re going to run six miles, run three miles away from home and then turn around. Trying to run circuits that take you back home before you’re done only increases the likelihood that you’ll quit half way through. If you’re three miles away from home with no money and no car, you have to get home somehow and walking takes a long time. If you’re also running in the morning, you don’t have the time to walk home.
  4. Give “injuries” time to recover. I kind of hate using the word “injury” as it implies that you’re a very important professional athlete. However, if your knee, hip, ankle etc hurts, rest it for a few days. Even using correct form, running is pretty hard on your body. You don’t want to be going through hip reconstructions at the age of twenty-six because you kept pounding sidewalks while your hips were out of shape.
  5. Go running on Mondays. It’s very hard to go on Tuesday if you started the week by sleeping in.
  6. Imagine your results. Did you ever think about winning races and qualifying for meets while you were swimming? When it hurts really badly and you want to give the hell up and take up eating pancakes, think of yourself looking hot at the beach. Vanity and motivation go together like filet mignon and red wine.
  7. Get a dog. Yeah, this one isn’t going to work for everyone. However, having a high-energy dog is a good way to get yourself out the door, as you know that the dog will be bouncing off the walls if you don’t take him running.
My friend and co-worker Matt recently wrote this fantastic post about his own running. He also recently completed the Vancouver marathon, which is no small feat. There’s just no need to become overweight or get out of shape after you stop swimming at a highly competitive level… although as with everything that’s worthwhile, it takes some work.

Swimming… Faster

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

By David

While Rhi and John have been finishing their morning 8000 meters, I’ve just finished reading the book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynn Truss. It’s a very good 220 pages about the boring subject of punctuation. As Truss says, “Punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.” Towards the end of the book, on page 196 to be exact, Truss makes an important point and one that is relevant to all of us involved in the sports of swimming and running.

She expresses annoyance that bomb is spelt b-o-m-b, with the “b” on the end. Why is the last “b” needed at all? The word would be just as meaningful spelt bom. In fact after testing herself over timed intervals of one minute, Truss determined she could write bom 25% more times than bomb. Consider the savings in time and resources dropping the “b” would have on reporting events in today’s world. Whole forests could be saved.

The American nation has done its bit to improve the wasted effort they inherited from the other side of the Atlantic. Harbour, with a Microsoft squiggly line under it, has become harbor, labour has become labor, flavour has become flavor and so on. For some reason though this most logical of people, the Americans, have left your as your. It should of course have become yor.

If you are still interested in all this, you may be asking by now, “What has this got to do with swimming and running?” Well consider this. If we dropped the second “m” in swimming and the second “n” in running and the words became swiming and runing all of us involved in these sports could make a similar saving at no cost to the sound or meaning of the words.

I’ve tested this today and have determined that swiming can be written 23 times in one minute compared to 17 times for swimming, a proven saving of 35%. My wife, Alison – she’s the New Zealand 1000 meter track record holder, so has a vested interest in all this – studied linguistics at University and tells me the “m” and “n” cannot be dropped because swimming would then be pronounced sw’eye’ming and running would become r’eye’ning. Well that might be the case in Victoria University’s linguistic department but if that’s true why isn’t swim pronounced sw’eye’m and run, r’eye’n, because those words don’t have a double “m” or “n”.

There is a clear need here for a linguistic revolution; we have nothing to lose, except an “m” and “n”. I do not expect Craig Lord to become part of our movement. I’m sure he would consider it grounds for treason. Swimming World Magazine and Timed Finals must surely see the light. And USA Swimming, if they have any concern for conservation, any green feelings at all, must change their name now to USA Swiming.

The spelling of swimming is not the only verbal problem to bedevil those involved in the sport. In New Zealand and Australia calling one of the team a “bloody dag” is certainly a term of high praise and endearment. For those poor souls who do not understand Australasian, the word “dag” means something rather gross. That fact should clarify immediately why being a “bloody dag” is a much sort after title. I have learned, however, that in America, one needs to exercise considerable caution. It seems very few of the country’s 301 million people appreciate the value of being dag. Having said that, quite a number of our team qualify as bloody dags and seem to hold their status in appropriate high regard. Get Rhi and Haley McGregory together on the last night of the Nationals and you certainly have the ultimate in two bloody dags.

“Bloody idiot” is a similar Australasian term. There is no offense here. The term usually describes the team’s story teller, the practical joker of the group. Not long after I arrived I called one of our swimmers a bloody idiot. He told his parents and they were deeply offended. Two weeks of tension and two apologies later it was sorted out: another lesson learned. This directly relates to my previous post about foreign coaches fitting in to their new environments. A New Zealand swimmer, upon being called a bloody idiot, would probably smile quietly and forget about it. International linguistics and regional differences are fascinating!

“Fartlek” is a Swedish term meaning speed play. It is widely used in track and field to describe a type of training in which a runner’s speed is varied throughout the run. It is not however a term that is widely used in USA swimming. You can imagine what the bloody dags in our team made of a word like that when I first wrote it on our training white board.

And so you can see there is a far wider responsibility to being involved in this sport. It is not just a matter of swimming laps and recording times. The language of the sport needs your respect. Join the revolution.

Notes on Sweetenham Leaving Britain

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

By David

The Australian Sweetenham is on his way: back home to Australia, and before the job is done. He was employed to be Britain’s National Coach, to lift the country’s swimming fortunes through to the Beijing Olympic Games. With a year to go, he’s decided to cut and run. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that his father has just died and his mother is seriously ill. Remember though, this is the guy who called on Britain’s finest swimmers to give their all in the name of success in Beijing. Sweetenham was quite happy to call into question the application of some of Britain’s finest swimmers. He was perfectly happy to demand that Britain’s finest swimmers spend their Christmas at a training camp in Wales as opposed to… anywhere else. World record holders with fantastic careers like Mark Foster and Zoe Baker got the rough edge of Sweetenham’s tongue as he slated their training habits and questioned their loyalty.

Many coaches have had to deal with difficult family problems: Tony Dungy, Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, for example. Faced with these problems, Sweetenham decided to run up a white flag. Dungy, in much more difficult circumstances, battled on and won the superbowl.

As soon as the going got tough for Sweetenham, as soon as wife, children and family wanted him back in Australia he was out of there, on his way home; do what I say, not what I do, was his message. He was quick to caustically demand application, work and loyalty from others, but not so tough when it came stumping up with the same commitment himself. Is Sweetenham simply a schoolyard bully? Is he a man of little substance? Were the athletes he abused actually the ones with character? Did he take cheap shots at men and women who did not deserve his abuse? He has left someone else to front the big test, which suggests these are legitimate and outstanding questions.

But Sweetenham’s has provided us all with one lasting and important legacy. He has given every aspiring international coach an object lesson in how a foreigner should not act in a strange land.

The first duty of a foreign coach is to learn and understand the culture of his or her new home. If Sweetenham’s family stayed in Australia for the seven years he was in Britain, it sounds like Britain was never his home. Therefore, and although we did not know it at the time, the game was lost before it began. Sweetenham’s task was to use his experience to accentuate Britain’s strengths. His task was not to convert Britain into a copy of Australia. This was Sweetenham’s mistake and was at the heart of Sharon Davis’ criticism. Britain did not need to be colonized in reverse. Aggressive Australian coaches such as Sweetenham and Talbot are fine in Australia; in fact they’re quite fun and highly successful. Their less than polite behavior and “call a spade a bloody shovel” attitude are understood and accepted “down-under”. But Britain is not “down-under” and it never will be.

Britain is Britain. There are many types of person in Britain, but they are not Australians. There are the loud, loutish Brits, but they’re still a different breed of person and a different type of athlete. There and there are the reserved, quiet Brits, who are not Germans and are not Kiwis. Coaches like Terry Denison, legendary City of Leeds coach, knew how to get the best out of British swimmers. There were others who knew how to do the same thing. The land of Wells, Ovett, Coe, Drake, Raleigh, Wilkie, Christie, Churchill and William Wallace do not need to be told by some upstart Australian how to win. The upstart Australian though, needed to learn that the British way of winning is different from the Australian or American way. Done properly, the British way is just as effective; but different.

Sweetenham’s job was to take care of the “doing it properly” bit, not convert Britain into an Australian or American clone. Australian sport can be brash and crass. There is a petulant arrogance about much that they do. The rugby player, George Greegan’s taunting call of, “Four more years,” to the New Zealand team after Australia beat New Zealand in the 2003 world rugby cup is pretty typical. American sport is full of rehearsed cheers and idealized ritual.

None of these things are British. Neither are they necessary components of winning. British athletes of all codes have proven over and over again that they can win, but they do it in their own way, not someone else’s. Sweetenham failed because he tried to do the wrong thing. He tried to colonize Britain with Australia’s swimming culture. His was a religious crusade. He should have identified how the Brits work, what makes them win and accentuate and grow those qualities. That’s how Lydiard did it in Finland: he made that point often. Lydiard did not attempt to turn his Finnish runners into Speights-drinking, sheep-shearing (yes, that’s shearing), Crowded House-listening Kiwis. Neither did I attempt to create Kiwis when I coached some of Britain’s best runners in the 1970s.

Because Sweetenham was not relevant, when he goes his message will soon be lost: two thousand years of British history will see to that. If he’d had the smarts to build the British way, he would have won more swimming races and created something capable of lasting after he had gone. Now, Britain is back at “square one” once more.

Swimwatch’s Face-Lift

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

You’ll notice that Swimwatch looks a little different today than it has since we re-launched the site on a blogger platform last year. We’d been meaning to do this for a long time, but had never gotten around to it. There are a lot more things we’d still like to do with the look of the site, and we’ll be attempting to keep on making positive changes. We hope you all like the new(ish) layout!