Archive for November, 2009

Make Our Country Good & Great

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

I am about to write another story on swimming in New Zealand. My warning is intended to protect readers, sick and tired of me lamenting this subject. If you are one of those who harbor animosity towards my despair for swimming in New Zealand you are not alone. Just about every person involved in the Swimwatch blog hates it when I write on this subject. They say things like, “You’ve said it all before. What good does it do?” Some are even generous enough to argue that Jan Cameron’s organization should be given more time. However in spite of your dismay and their opposition there are things that need to be said and repeated until someone stops the current waste of money and talent.

All this has been highlighted by New Zealand’s performance in the Rome World Championships. After Beijing, New Zealand’s national coach, Jan Cameron, told us to wait until Rome. New Zealand was on the verge of greatness. Well Rome has come and gone and greatness has eluded us again. No one made it through to a final. Four swims got as far as the semi-finals. New Zealand’s best placing was eleventh. However I want to be very clear, I am not apportioning any criticism to the swimmers. For years they have been let down by Cameron and the failed policy she has imposed on swimming in my country. Let me explain:

Since before the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Cameron has been in control of swimming in New Zealand. That means she was responsible for the nation’s results in 2000 in Sydney, 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing. At World Championships she was in charge in 2001 in Japan, 2003 in Barcelona, 2005 in Montreal, 2007 in Melbourne and 2009 in Rome. That’s eight shots at it and she’s still hasn’t won a race.

Worse than that, is the reason for her poor performance. When Cameron first announced her plans Lydiard said to me they would debilitate the sport of swimming in New Zealand for a generation. Cameron convinced Swimming New Zealand to support the formation of an elite center for swimming on Auckland’s North Shore. For Auckland, New Zealand read Potsdam, East Germany and you will be close to the idea. SPARC and Swimming New Zealand resources were focused on the goal of creating a swimming empire on the other side of Auckland’s Harbor Bridge. Good swimmers from all over the country were encouraged to leave their home coach and swim in Auckland. And they did leave. Swimmers from Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Carterton, Rotorua and Hamilton made the journey north.

There were and still are two really bad bits to all of this.

First, hovering above the whole scheme was the unasked specter of what happens if the coaching at the elite center isn’t all that good? Cameron has employed a variety of coaches – including, in the best spirit of nepotism, her son. The only evidence we have of their ability is their performance on the world stage. As I have already explained, in the last nine years, they have been in that theatre eight times and have not won a medal. For a normal Club team that record would not be a concern. But when this team has been the recipient of the national swimming resources based on repeated promises of success, their performance is a disgrace. They have had access to bucket loads of talent and cash and have returned empty handed. If their recent coaching record is the measure, New Zealand’s best swimmers have been poorly served.

Second, while all this attention has been focused on Cameron’s grandiose schemes in Auckland, what has happened in the rest of the country? Well, they’ve been starved for cash and talent, that’s what’s happened. Worse than that, some very good regional coaches have been reduced to age group instructors for the North Shore talent pool. Who’s to say some coach in Gisborne isn’t better at training an Olympic Champion than one of Cameron’s coaches. The Gisborne coach certainly couldn’t do much worse.

Lydiard recognized the debilitating consequences of Cameron’s plan. Coaching in the rest of New Zealand would get weaker and weaker. And he was right. Swimming in New Zealand has been weakened as a result of Cameron’s folly. A few years ago, if New Zealand had been operating the Cameron way, there would have been no Loader, Simcic, Winter, Paul Kent, Mosse, Bray, Kingsman, Jeffs, Hurring, Perrott or Langrell. They all trained and prospered with their regional coach. As a direct result, numerous regional coaches had first hand experience of handling world class swimmers. Swim coaching throughout the country was stronger. In my case, my athletes have taught me as much about coaching as I ever taught them about swimming. That’s all a thing of the past. And the country will not recover quickly.

The alternative was to do what Lydiard did in Finland and Sweetenham did in the UK. What they understood was that to win major international events required improving all the nation’s coaches. That had to be the priority. Centers of excellence were fine but not at the expense of improving coaching everywhere. Lydiard traveled the length and breadth of Finland changing attitudes, lifting standards. He did not try and do it himself. But he did make sure dozens of other coaches were ready to do it where ever the next Loader appeared. And it worked. Finland won the 1500, 5000 and 10000 at the Munich Olympic Games, not with athletes coached by Lydiard, but with athletes whose coaches had been tutored by this master coach. Lydiard avoided the temptation to build a monument to ego. Instead he built the coaching resources of an entire country. There were coaches everywhere capable of nurturing an Olympic champion. And that is just what they did.

For nine years New Zealand has won nothing. We do however have a monument to ego and its not working.

The South of France and Other Stuff

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

While money can’t buy swimming success, without money swimming success is very difficult. About eight months ago a generous corporate sponsor accepted this proposition and gave our team $10,000. With this help, could we lift the standard of the team’s fastest swimmers? Could we provide a generation of young swimmers with home grown role models? It was well worth a try, so here is what we did.

No – one moment – first, let me tell you the result. The team’s fastest swimmers did improve. Remember, we are a small team, so please don’t compare our modest results with North Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale or Mecklenburg. A Boeing 747 and a Piper Arrow both fly, but there the comparison should end. We completed the summer season with one male swimmer going a 50 second 100 LCM freestyle, two others swimming 52 seconds, and a fourth who swims 55. Our best 50 LCM swimmer went 23.32 and our new club records in the 50 and 100 LCM butterfly are 24.17 and 55.95. The 50 time is a new Masters 30-34 World Record. Our team ended the season with three Master’s US National Championship titles. We also lured back into swimming my daughter, Jane, who was once New Zealand’s national champion and Open Record Holder in the 200 breaststroke. And in triathlon one athlete from the team qualified for the 2009 Hawaiian World Ironman Championship.

Even our team’s most rabid critics, and there are a few of those, should accept that having a swimmer go 50 seconds in the 100, winning three US Masters titles and holding one FINA Master’s World Record is not bad progress for a team that, four years ago, had eight swimmers. Best of all, we are well poised to move forward from these modest beginnings.

And so how did it happen. Well, we went to Europe. We spent a week at the French Font Romeu national high altitude training camp. It is a beautiful spot, high in the Pyrenees where Lance Armstrong and his mates toil. The air might be thin, but it’s crisp and clean. The scenery is stunning. Alpine forests cover endless mountain slopes, broken only by ski trails winding and descending into small French villages. Fantastic cafés serve lunch with food only the French know how to prepare. All this and a 50 meter pool, a weight room, three meals a day including free wine, a free medical center and individual rooms for $45 a day.

We spent another three days in Barcelona competing in the first stop of the 2009 Mare Nostrum series. I’m a junky for the internationalism of it all. The teams from everywhere, the familiar central city pool, the world class competition, the busy city, the tourists; it’s great. For transport, our team relied on a nine seat Mercedes van and a two door, Mercedes SLK convertible. The SLK was monopolized by Skuba and Jane, who claim they never once drove it too fast. Skuba had a good meet and swam personal bests in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

And so we moved on to my favorite town, the French coastal village of Canet. I love it there; it’s so European, so Mediterranean, so intensely French. We rented a four bedroom Mediterranean villa for our five day stay. It was a little bit shabby – no chrome, no stainless steel, no plastic – but an enclosed paved courtyard with trees and tables a dining room with a huge communal table and a sitting room with lumpy and friendly couches and chairs. Canet has improved the town’s 50 meter pool by adding an indoor 25 meter warm-up pool. It can be a truly international facility now. The atmosphere at the Canet meet is unlike any other meet. It has an almost Sunday picnic atmosphere. But it’s not of course. No meet with Trickett, Sullivan, Bernard, Jukic and Jones is a picnic. Andrew and Skuba swam personal bests in all their events. Jane made a sub 30 second 50 meters return to swimming after a three year retirement [Jane’s note: I prefer to call that time an extended taper.]

The tour’s final stop was Monte Carlo. No place on earth could be more different from Canet. Here it is all Porsches and Ferraris and casinos. Shortly after we arrived I noticed a Ferrari stop outside our hotel. The hall porter explained that the driver was Jensen Button, the Formula One World Champion. Needless to say he drives for Ferrari. He also owns the hotel.

From way up on the coastal motorway, I never tire of the sight of this millionaire’s playground. Sitting on the hotel balcony eating lunch and gazing out at the Mediterranean, it’s hard not to be impressed, even when some swimmer five floors above hangs their suit out to dry and it begins dripping on to the table. Our guys were getting tired. They swam close to their best and we headed for home.

It’s a great trip and it works. With all the hardships involved in travel and hotels, the good ones love it and they improve. The sponsor’s trust that this would occur was well founded. The improvements they supported and we wanted were achieved. Thank you – you see, while money can’t buy swimming success, without money swimming success is very difficult.

Already the swimmers are planning Mare Nostrum 2010. It’ll be another great adventure and they will go faster.

Progress Spoiled

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

Last weekend, two swimmers I help swam in the Charlotte Grand Prix. I was hoping they would swim close to their personal best times. In fact they were well rewarded. Skuba swam three personal bests and Andrew swam one. The table below shows their Charlotte performance compared to their previous personal bests.

Both swimmers have put themselves in a good position to continue the progress of their careers in the Mare Nostrum series in Europe beginning next week. Given the pleasure we all felt at the Charlotte swims, it was distressing to receive the following email from some coach who said he was “It (sic) fact a (sic) ASCA Level 5 coach myself.”

You are a pompous ass! And I say that laughing out very loudly. All you have done is coached Meeder and Sckuba to some average times in 1 or 2 events. They were much better swimmers with an arsenal of events, swimmers that had promise before you coached them. Instead you have feed them lies and empty dreams about make the Olympics. Maybe for New Zealand they could but certainly not the USA, not with you coaching them some bullshit old way of coaching. Seriously – US Open cuts for 22year old, big deal. You act like you have a swimmer going 22 in the 50 and placing at Trials! I really feel bad for those 12 yrs old girls who are being sacrificed at the cost of 66K a week, with crappy technique and can do no better than 2nd in 1 miserable event. $5 bet that if they stay at Aqua Crest they are nowhere to be seen at age 18! Any takers?

The coach has some serious anger issues matched only by his inability to express them in clear English. If he is going to question the progress of a US Swimming athlete, he should at least spell the poor fellow’s name correctly. It does little for a reader’s confidence in his argument when there are a myriad of grammatical and spelling errors. Besides, I’m always a bit suspicious of anyone who finds it necessary to use three exclamation marks in one paragraph. A compelling argument can usually stand on its own merit.

However, all this is of little consequence to the clear violation of US Swimming’s Code of Ethics. This Level 5 coach has requested we publish a document that calls the Aqua Crest program “some bullshit old way of coaching”, involving swimmers with “crappy techniques” who are fed a diet of “lies and empty dreams”. One would hope the governing body’s Code of Ethics was designed to protect athletes from Level 5 Coaches who consider this acceptable behaviour. Oh, and by the way, I’m pretty sure placing bets on the career of a twelve year old swimmer is not really the sort of thing a Level 5 coach should be up to.

I feel little need to defend the Aqua Crest program or its swimmers from this tirade. Just about every wise person I’ve spoken to has said, “Forget it” or “Leave it alone” or “Don’t drag yourself down to that level.” Even Skuba and the twelve year old thought the email was ridiculous; unworthy of further comment. However it is worth correcting two factual errors.

First, “They were much better swimmers with an arsenal of events, swimmers that had promise before you coached them.” Before Skuba came to Aqua Crest he’d been retired from swimming for quite some time. He wasn’t swimming at all. In six months, to qualify for the US Opens does not deserve to be portrayed as “US Open cuts for 22 year old, big deal.” It is mean and vicious and should be sanctioned. Skuba’s progress in that first six months was the remarkable product of personal hard work and talent. I just wish the idiot who wrote this email had been there to see the character Skuba displayed as he struggled to swim one thousand meters on his first day back. US Open cuts in six months – yes that was a big deal. A very big deal.

Second, in a portion of the email not quoted above, the Level 5 coach says. “Since arriving in south Florida David has produced NO — even lower a High School swimming champion.” One would have thought that someone who has assumed the roll of speaking so forcefully on Andrew Meeder’s swimming career would have known that, in his sophomore year, Andrew Meeder was Florida State 100 freestyle High School Champion and he was swimming at Aqua Crest. That said, I do not like the term “produced”. I did not produce Andrew’s results. He did that for himself by hard work and application. I also disagree that a High School title is in anyway “even lower”. It was a fine achievement when Andrew did it and will be for future champions as well.

By now you may be wondering, who is this Level 5 genius? Well we don’t know – you see, the email was from someone called Anonymous. Most of these emails usually are anonymous. It says everything really – about the email and the character of its author.

Charlotte Ultraswim, Mare Nostrum Europe and Tanning Your White Bits

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

Writing for Swimwatch is not as easy as you may think. Take right now for example. What is there to write about?

Well, I could tell you about Skuba and Andrew going to the Grand Prix swim meet in Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s the meet Michael Phelps is using to reintroduce himself into polite company. Andrew and Skuba are entered in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle. If they swim times close to their personal bests I will be well pleased. Their training is aimed at meets later in the season. I did notice that Corney Swanepoel from New Zealand is entered. He’s ranked second behind Phelps in the 100 butterfly. I did hear that Universal Sport is covering the event on their internet channel. That could well be worth watching.

The rest of our team is swimming in a local meet in Florida this weekend. Like Phelps, two of our senior swimmers will be reintroducing themselves to the swimming world. Their time out from swimming has been longer than Phelps but less clouded. Ozzie was – and is again – a very good swimmer. He competed for Venezuela in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and while swimming at Auburn won an NCAA Championship, participated in a 4×50 freestyle relay that set a world best time and secured six All American Honors. He’s pretty serious about swimming well again. It should be fun to watch his first step in that direction. Missy’s a pretty good swimmer as well. She won seven Washington State high school titles, competed in the 2004 Olympic Trials and seven other National championships. Her best 100 yards breaststroke is an impressive 1.01.38. She is traveling with the Aqua Crest team to this year’s Mare Nostrum series. Hopefully the local meet will prepare her for the sterner European test to come.

I’m looking forward to Mare Nostrum. The team leaves in two weeks and will spend the first week at the French high altitude training facility in the Pyrenees. I’ve been there once before. It is a great facility in an idyllic part of the world. At the end of the week the first meet of the Mare Nostrum series will be held in Barcelona. Swimwatch editor and my daughter, Jane, is coming to the meet in Barcelona and will travel with the team to Canet and Monaco. I went to Jane’s first swim meet when she was about six years old. Since then I’ve followed her around the world watching her compete in about twenty different countries. I’ve seen her set national records, compete in World Cup finals, win national and multi-national championships and it was always fun. Besides, it’s about time we did dinner again at the Clos de Pins in Canet, certainly the world’s best, unknown restaurant.

That’s about all that’s happening around here just now. But before I go, I heard this week there are several swim teams who refuse to allow parents on their pool deck during practice. That’s a bloody shame. They have no idea what they’re missing. For example today I overheard two of our most attractive mothers discussing the importance of tanning their “white bits” before the summer swim suit season. Evidentially one of the mothers had been doing something about her “white bits” on an air mattress in her secluded backyard pool when she noticed a news helicopter hovering above. Now that’s not all that unusual. The house is reasonably close to Florida’s  busy I-95 freeway. Accidents are an endless source of fascination for news helicopters. This helicopter however was different. It remained fixed at 500 feet over this particular backyard pool and its very private “white bits”. Fearing the worst our mother paddled quickly to the corner nearest her home and made a dash for cover. Safely inside she looked out the window just in time to see the helicopter disappearing in the general direction of Boca Raton airport. My guess is that “white bits” make a much better photograph than an accident on the I-95.

Swimwatch will report on what happens at the Grand Prix and at Mare Nostrum. Good manners however require this to be a final mention of anything to do with “white bits”.

Swimming T-Shirts: Honour Before Glory

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

Our swim team has just been to its first swim meet of the 2009 summer season. The parking lot contained the usual display of car decorations; Swimming Dad, Swim Taxi and Honor Student featured prominently. In a previous article I discussed the nature and diversity of these stickers. Just as fascinating is the effort to come up with something vaguely original on a t-shirt.

I would never underestimate the difficulty of this task. God knows, for years I’ve tried find an interesting logo – and failed. When Gary Hurring worked for me we put his picture on the back of a team t-shirt and on the front wrote, “Is your coach always on your back?” I can hear you all groan from here. In case you haven’t heard his name, Gary was one of New Zealand’s best swimmers. He completed four years at the University of Hawaii, won the Commonwealth Games and was fourth in the Berlin World Championships and the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

“Walk on the wild side” with cat paw prints up the front of the shirt, “Made in Palm Beach USA” and “May the force be with you” have been other personal failures. Probably my best effort was a t-shirt Jane and I had made after Basil Dynan, President of the Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay Swimming Centre, called the police and tried to convince them our old car had been abandoned in the pool parking lot of the Onekawa Aquatic Centre and should be towed away. The t-shirt had a photograph of the car with the word “abandoned” underneath in wild-west-style “WANTED” font. The team wore it to their next meet. Dynan’s face was a picture; looked like he’d just drunk a cup of cold sick.

The t-shirts I find most difficult are those that attempt to make all those who pass by better people. “Honor before glory”, “I swim therefore I am”, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”, “Swim hard or go home” and “Pain = success” all fit into that category.

They inspire in me the terrible urge to print a shirt that declares “I hate swimming. Do something else”. It is not that the values the messages promote are wrong or bad. On the contrary, “give me liberty or give me death” messages are perhaps a little foolish but admirable nevertheless. It’s just that I’ve always thought the best form of religion doesn’t require the believer to have their faith printed across their chest.

The funny t-shirts are seldom funny. To be belly-laugh funny usually means saying something so outrageous that your average swim team committee would never allow their charges to have it printed on a t-shirt. Consequently you end up with “aquaticus kick-assicus”, “instant swimmer, just add water”, “yippie…another weekend, another swim meet” and “I may be a hot dog, but I can really move my buns!” Are you laughing? [Editor’s note: No, I just threw up.] Then you understand the point. Masters swimmers have shirts that get closest to forcing a smile. Bob Johnston is a US Masters National Breaststroke champion and swims on our team in Florida during the winter. He has a shirt I like – “masters swimming, the last one alive wins”.

The most difficult t-shirts are those whose messages don’t make any sense. At the swim meet today, a young girl was wandering around with a shirt that proclaimed “the game never ends”. What does that mean? Of course the bloody game ends. The message is certainly too deep for me. Then there is “swimming – it’s our second favorite sport”. My guess is that’s a sexual message. How awfully inappropriate. I’m told the 1976 Harvard Women’s Team had a t-shirt that said, “It’s not the meat, it’s the motion.” That too seems pretty sexual, but then perhaps it’s just my suspicious mind. I saw another mystery t-shirt this morning. It said “attitude is everything – just fast”. I’m not sure whether that’s a reference to speed or not eating. Either way a slogan is not much use if the reader needs an explanation.

And finally there are all those terrible Nike, or is it Adidas, slogans; “make them eat wake”, “nothing behind you matters”, “second is just the fastest loser” “just do it” and a million others. They always seem so bloody arrogant to me; a sort of, “I’m bloody brilliant and you’re just rubbish” message. If you are really that good there’s probably no need to tell the world about it on the front of your t-shirt.

And so our team needs to have a new t-shirt for this year’s trip to the Mare Nostrum series. We’ve decided on a plain black polo shirt with “Aqua Swim Team, Florida, USA” in small white print on the left hand chest and a large white Florida palm leaf on the back. It should work just fine.

[More editorial notes from Jane.] Internet conferences, which are to me now what swim meets once were, always have t-shirt giveaways. This is the best geek conference shirt ever:

The company who made the t-shrits,, specialise in PPC management software. The shirt refers to the fact that everyone hates doing that shit manually. It also gets you plenty of strange looks. I think it might work well for people who are forced to swim the 400 IM.