Archive for April, 2009

Not So Intelligent

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

By David

I’ve long been a fan of the scholarship of Jonty Skinner. His works on a wide range of swimming subjects have provided insight and wisdom to a generation of coaches. However, his most recent article published in the American Swim Coaches Association Newsletter Volume 2009-01 falls well short of his own high standards.

Before addressing the shortcoming in Jonty Skinner’s work, I find it quite extraordinary that the American Swim Coaches Association continue to publish article after article critical of modern swim suits. There are some things in this sport that are worthy of universal condemnation; for example, smoking bongs, popping steroids, fighting outside bars. Swimsuits are not in that category. There are valid arguments for and against full body suits. An organization that promotes itself as representing all of its members has a duty to address both sides of this sort of debate, not just the views of its executive. In this duty, the American Swim Coaches Association has failed its membership. Their discussion on this subject has been biased, one sided and unenlightened.

But back to Jonty Skinner’s article. Here is a list of what I mean.

Technological progress – shouldn’t come at the price we appear to have paid.

And what price is that? Skinner does not tell us. Perhaps he expects us to nod like robots and shrink in fear at the dangers of these body suits. I call it Bush logic. George W. Bush did this all the time: weapons of mass destruction, world terrorism – none of it supported, most of it not even true, just the threat, just the fear. Skinner has learned the Bush logic well.

These changes have left us all on a slippery slope.”

That sounds bad even if we don’t know what the slippery slope means. And the ultimate Bushism; all this is seriously dangerous when FINA are not dealing with it very well.” My God we face these dangers and we’re unprotected – call in the Marines; invade Switzerland. Now, I’m no great fan of FINA but the truth is FINA are doing quite a good job of sorting out what swim suits are fair. But that’s not news the conservative wing of swimming want to hear.

And then there is this gem:

Having said that we’ve just gone through two summers where performances have been radically altered by the suits.”

Again, no evidence is provided to support that outrageous claim. Just because different suits were introduced and swimmers broke records does not prove the suits were the sole cause. And Jonty Skinner should know that. Two events occurring at the same time are not sufficient to establish that one caused the other. What else coincided with swimmers setting these new records? Were swimmers paid more? Did more swimmers have swimming as their sole occupation? Did they have access to better training, nutrition, medical backup and administration support? The answer to all those is yes, yes and yes. Does Jonty Skinner consider any of that? No, it’s just the suits.

But then the ultimate dishonesty – the perfect Bushism:

Why accept something as genuine when you can tear it down by speculating about the possibility of drugs? You don’t even have to provide evidence; rumors do the job. My own feeling is that it’s not a suggestion I care to make.

Here, in the middle of an article so full of speculation and rumour, Skinner feels the need to publish a denial just in case anyone picks the deception. In this context “It’s not a suggestion I care to make” is in the same league as, “I don’t want to be rude, but.” Because the sin is denied does not mean it has not occurred. Jonty Skinner may not feel like making a myriad of negative rumours and suggestions. That has not stopped him from doing it.

Although Skinner is South African by birth, he concludes his article with a classic piece of Americana – the French are cheats:

The suits reduced the function of endurance in the equation. The French sprinters could now finish races with sustained velocity using in some cases inferior techniques.”

So there you have it: the French are unfit and don’t swim as well as Americans. In fact, their fitness and technique are bloody awful. But because of the new suits, those cunning Froggies can now beat us, something they would never be able to do unless they were up to no good. This sort of talk is dishonest and un-American. Clearly the new suits need to be changed if those hideous and inferior French swimmers are using them to unfairly beat clean cut, honest Americans. Jonty Skinner, you should be ashamed.

And in the final paragraph we hear that the suit is impacting performance on a metabolic and biomechanical level. Now most readers will know that if your goal is to impress the not-so-bright, use long words. As a final insult to our intelligence Skinner has resorted to that ploy. Certainly metabolic and biomechanical will do. Skinner’s case would have been better served had he spent more time explaining just how the new suits altered a swimmer’s metabolic or biomechanical anything. Certainly that would have been more constructive than depreciating the performance of good French swimmers.

We are unimpressed.

Strange Buggers

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

By David

Thanks to swimming, I’ve met some strange buggers. There may be a few poor souls who do not appreciate the full measure of being a “strange bugger”. I feel for your burden. Clearly “no child left behind” has failed to provide you with an important life skill. Not being able to determine who in this world is a strange bugger could cost you dearly one day. Let me take a minute to explain something you should already know.

Where I come from, a “strange bugger” is a gentle derogatory term used to describe someone who’s a bit odd; an individual with few social skills; someone you’d avoid having lunch with between preliminaries and finals. There are a few swim coaches I know who are strange buggers. One of them was a New Zealand Special Olympics National Coach. He always seemed angry about something. He was one of those unfortunate souls who got far too nervous for his own athletes, developing a predilection towards beating himself on the bum with a rolled up meet programme while his swimmers were competing. Two hundred pounds lighter, on a horse in the Melbourne Cup, his behaviour would be entirely appropriate. But as a coach at a swim meet, it comfortable qualified him as a strange bugger.

One of the guys Swimming New Zealand had as their CEO was a strange bugger. He was a short fellow who displayed all the unfortunate characteristics commonly attributed to those physically challenged in the height department. I had a couple of run-ins with him. Most memorable was the occasion he threatened to have Toni Jeffs and I banned for bringing the sport into disrepute when Toni accepted sponsorship from Brian le Gross, the owner of Wellington’s Liks strip club. Brian now owns New Zealand’s largest strip club, The White House, in Auckland. Their VIP lounge features dark blue Oval Office carpet, a US Presidential Seal and is called Monica’s.

Swimming New Zealand took an extremely dim view of the Liks’ sponsorship. Their strange bugger called me and recited a list well worn clichés: “family sport” and “disrepute” featured prominently. I was summoned to a meeting with Swimming New Zealand’s Board the following morning. Things were looking pretty black until I explained to the meeting that the idea of approaching Brian for financial help came from an advertisement promoting Liks that I’d seen on the back page of Swimming New Zealand’s monthly magazine. The strange bugger had accepted Brian’s money before Toni. She just got more. The charge of disrepute was dropped.

One of Swimming New Zealand’s long time National Coaches was a strange bugger. He ripped into Jane in a Sydney hotel once; told her she was not good enough to be swimming in World Cup events and should go home. A week later at a World Cup meet in Berlin she broke the 15 year age group national record for 100IM. Two years later, he had to present her with the medal for winning the NZ Open women’s 100 Breaststroke title. The same guy may actually qualify for the superlative, “bloody strange bugger”. Toni told me he asked her and several other national team members to sit in a circle and hold on to a broom handle he held in the centre. They should then close their eyes and think about their race because, he said, “Out of touching comes strength.” Now that’s a bloody strange bugger, if you ask me.

The current New Zealand National Coach is a strange bugger as well. In a country too small for such a rule she imposed a FINA 900 point cut off standard for swimmers wanting to qualify for this year’s World Championships. The qualifying time had to be swum in the final of the New Zealand Swimming Championships being held this past weekend. Melissa Ingram just missed the 900 point time in her event. Now, I must tell you, I sat through all last year’s World Cup meets in Europe and watched Melissa Ingram take on and beat most of the world’s best swimmers. She made me proud to be a New Zealander. There she was, no manager, no coach, no massage therapist in tow, on her own, taking on the world and winning. In everything she did, she upheld the best traditions of Snell, Loader, Walker, Halberg, Quax and Dixon. She’d be one of the first I’d have on my team. Apparently New Zealand is so overwhelmed with talent just now they’re leaving her at home. Let’s wait until Rome. We may have another National Coach candidate for title of “bloody strange bugger”.

Strange buggers are not the sole property of New Zealand. The US has its share. The former President of Florida Gold Coast Swimming sent me a letter complaining about my behaviour – I think I called a spade a bloody shovel. At the same time he was apparently misbehaving with an underaged girl and emailing pornographic pictures of young boys to his mates. He’s a real bad strange bugger. The thing I never understood about all that was one of my swimmers told me about the girl a few months after I arrived in Florida. How on earth did the people who elected this strange bugger President not know about it? I guess those closest to the problem often miss the obvious.

Next week I was thinking of writing a piece on another group of swimming people; those who qualify for the superlative, “bloody dag”. This is a very different group from strange buggers. I hate to have to explain what a dag actually is, and it is surely a reflection of what strange places Australian and New Zealand are that only the very best and most respected of people qualify for that honorific.