Archive for June, 2010

Thank You For Pointing That Out

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By David

Two weeks ago Swimwatch published a story that included an email comment received from Arch Jelley’s brother and some emails on swimming in New Zealand. The item was titled “Training Gem”. We received several comments on the article. It is worthwhile looking at one of these. It is a fine example of the level of intellectual debate being applied to the subject of international swimming in New Zealand just now.

In order to avoid the accusation of taking the reader’s comments out of context I have shown the unedited email first and then examined each of its points.

“You seem to have the Barcelona and the Atlanta Olympics both in 1992. You talk about swimmers as though they are the coaches personal property. Swimmers can make their own decisions about who the train with. Hopefully this will involve analising where the best chance of success is. Where the best coaches, facilities and somewhere that has had a good track record over the years. Sounds like North Shore Swimming Club. As for the forigners comment, thats plain racist. Is that why your back? Because the US had had enough of forgien know it alls. Cameron has put a lot more into NZ swimming than you ever had with limited success with a few swimmers.”

The first sentence is absolutely correct. The table in our article mistakenly labeled the Atlanta Olympic Games as 1992. It was of course 1996; sorry about that. However while we are on the subject of editorial correctness this reader may care to note that “coaches personal property” needs an apostrophe, “who the train with” should read who to train with, “analising” is spelt analysing, “forgien” is spelt foreign, “forigners” is spelt foreigners and, in this case, needs an apostrophe, “your” should be you’re, “thats” should be that’s and “know it alls” is better understood with hyphens in place.
One of the email’s most damning accusations is that the foreigner’s comment is just “plain racist.” The reader is referring to the sentence in which I said, “Without question, we were better when New Zealanders took care of their own business.” First of all the statement is true. New Zealand swimmers did perform better when New Zealanders such as Naylor, Lang, Bone, Brown and Cotterill were running things. The table of results is quite conclusive. That’s not racist. It simply promotes New Zealand. For example, I notice the “Buy New Zealand” organization says, “The basic aim of encouraging consumers to buy New Zealand goods has not changed. Most people share the common human inclination to support their local community.” Most people, it seems, does not include this Swimwatch reader. Patriotism should not be confused with racism.

And second, the statement is true. Elite swimming in New Zealand is packed full of imports from Australia, Europe, the UK and now Canada. And it’s not as though we need to import. Most of New Zealand’s best coaches have been New Zealanders; Duncan Lang, Arthur Lydiard, Arch Jelley, Richard Tonks, Fred Allen, Brian Lahore, Rusty Robertson, Lois Muir and Mike Walsh. Every sport has a duty to promote, encourage and develop its domestic coaching talent. That is not best done by filling every available spot with an import. I know a highly qualified New Zealander who applied for an elite performance position at the Millennium Institute recently. He didn’t even get an interview before a foreigner was appointed. Being concerned about that sort of thing is not racist. I’d say it was simply a case of wanting to strengthen home grown coaches and sporting talent in the way Lydiard did when he was imported into Finland.

The reader’s third point is a clear bit of PR for the North Shore Swim Club and, by association, the Millennium Institute. Here is what he says:

“ Hopefully this will involve analising where the best chance of success is. Where the best coaches, facilities and somewhere that has had a good track record over the years. Sounds like North Shore Swimming Club.”

The misspelling of analysing is as unfortunate as it is hilarious. Success in New Zealand swimming requires some analising? Oh dear.

I’m not too sure about the reader’s best coaches’ claim but the money, facilities and general largess implied in his comment is certainly true. Thank you for pointing it out. And that’s the problem. The centralization of resources represented by the Millennium Institute and its associated activities is not in the best interests of swimming. Very soon the Institute will look like those huge hotels, swimming pools and sports grounds built in Moscow during the Soviet era. They didn’t work all that well there and I suspect will suffer the same fate in our hemisphere. It would be far better to apply resources to the work Natalie Wiegersma’s coach is doing in Invercargill or to swimming in Wellington, or to United in Auckland. Whatever happened to the National Party’s values of a “competitive” New Zealand based on “limited government”? Prime Minister Key seems to have strayed from that vision when he endorsed socialized sport on the North Shore.

Swimmers involved in socialized sport can’t really make their own decision on where to train. Not when the “swimming state” provides them with the money to live. I’d bet a week’s pay that several state swimmers can’t stand their training circumstances. But when tomorrow’s dinner depends on staying at Auckland’s North Shore, they stay. I’m also pretty sure it’s not the best way to win an Olympic Gold Medal.

Our correspondent ends his memo with two lines of personal insults. That’s a shame. The future of swimming deserves a debate that does not involve insults from the gutter. When they are used like this it usually indicates a weak argument and a source, desperate to protect the status quo. In this case both are unquestionably true.

Championship Talent

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

By David

“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade.” That interesting quote was made by Benjamin Franklin. This week an unusual mix of coincidences reminded me of the famous American’s quote and his renowned opposition to authoritarianism. A New Zealand team of twenty swimmers flew out to compete in the eighth Oceania Championships that start in Samoa next week and a Level Two swim meet took place in the Auckland Swimming Center.

There may not seem to be much of a connection, but let me explain. The first Oceania Championships were held sixteen years ago, in 1994, in New Caledonia. In those days Swimming New Zealand didn’t select teams for the event. Anyone who wanted to go could enter. In 1994 I think four New Zealanders made the trip. Two of them were coached by me – Toni Jeffs and Nichola Chellingworth. Entering Nichola was a bit of a stretch. She was twelve years of age and had only swum in one race before leaving for New Caledonia. The race hadn’t gone all that well. She was disqualified for a false start. New Zealand’s newest and youngest international had never successfully completed a swimming race. As we arranged the entries Swimming New Zealand never asked so I never volunteered that information.

Just before we left for New Caladonia, David Myer, the Chief Executive of Swimming New Zealand sent me a note that expressed his organization’s disapproval of Nichola’s entry. He had discovered that she had been disqualified in her only previous start. He said that if it wasn’t for the already paid airfares and hotels she would have been withdrawn from the event. I’ve still got his message; one of my more treasured swimming mementoes.

I was sure it was worth Nichola making the trip. Three months earlier she had joined the Club’s learn to swim program and was clearly a special talent. I moved her up to training with Toni and she seemed to thrive on the experience. Toni did a good job of nurturing her learn to swim training colleague. In the New Caledonia Oceania Championships Nichola qualified for the final with a heat swim that was a New Zealand twelve year old record for 50 meters long course freestyle. In the final she got fifth in a time that again set a new twelve year old record. Two races, two New Zealand records and fifth in an international event; not a bad start to Nichola’s fledgling swimming career.

A week later we flew to Sydney for the New South Wales Swimming Championships. Nichola had turned thirteen during the week. On 24 January 1994 at the Blacktown Pool she won the New South Wales thirteen year old 50 freestyle title in a New Zealand record time of 27.27 seconds. Her swimming career record was now three swims, three New Zealand records and a New South Wales Championship title. And she had yet to complete a race in the country she represented. Sixteen years later her 27.27 freestyle time still stands as the New Zealand record for thirteen year old women.

Back in New Zealand a month later Nichola swam in the New Zealand Open Championships at the Moana Pool in Dunedin. She ended up fourth in the 50 freestyle behind Toni, Anna Wilson and someone else whose name I’ve forgotten. A year later Swimming New Zealand selected Nichola for the Atlanta Pan Pacific Games. Several years after that she swam for New Zealand again in the World Short Course Championships in Indianapolis and in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. David Myer and Swimming New Zealand should have forgiven us by then but somehow I don’t think they had.

I have only been with my new Club in Auckland for eight weeks but I have noticed several talented swimmers. One of them, a fourteen year old girl, has seldom swum in competitions. In six months she hasn’t raced at all. Her mother tells me she has become so disillusioned with the sport she was about to give up. She only trained once or twice a week and said she was not interested in racing anymore. In Auckland this past weekend we had a Level 2 swim meet. She didn’t want to swim. But, by using a version of the “what’s a sundial in the shade” argument, I managed to convince her to pay the $12.00 for a late entry to swim the 50 meters freestyle. It worked; she not only won her heat in a creditable 30.70 seconds, she was the fastest swimmer of her age in the competition. And now for the scary part – her name is Nicole.

Training Gem

Monday, June 14th, 2010

By David

One or two of the comments you hear or receive by email deserve special mention. There’s been a few of these this week. First was an email comment on the Swimwatch article we did on the New Zealand master track coach, Arch Jelley. Here is what the email said.

Great article, summing up well my brother’s methods and personality, as well as putting into perspective the rather pointless comparisons often made between coaches. I sometimes claim to be Arch’s first runner, as he certainly advised and guided me when I entered athletics as a runner in 1946, after a season or two as race walker.

Arch and I came across the writings of Arthur Newton, who defied the authorities in South Africa when refused financial support for a farming venture, by determining to become a world champion distance runner. He eventually set a world time for 100 miles, although he almost collapsed on his first training run of 3 miles. One of Newton’s favorite theories was that lions and tigers did their daily training mainly by sauntering around at “below racing pace”, yet broke all records occasionally when they raced for their life, or for their quarry. Our speed work was basically Fartlek, and only when we felt like it, and the great field coach and pole-vaulter Merv Richards (of our own club) warned me that this kind of training might well create a ceiling of performance not high enough for international competition. He was to be proved correct. Runners whom I had beaten in 1951, like Jim Daly and Ernie Haskell, included far more speed conditioning work than I did, and surpassed me markedly by 1954, both representing NZ at Vancouver, and bettering my 3-mile times by about 40 seconds or more.

This kind of thing set Arch thinking, and the rest is history. Arch’s schedules came to be based on scientific knowledge of the human body in action, as well as the results of different kinds of regime in practice. And he was never surprised when people like Bill Baillie would come up with a sensational 2-mile time before they had done any speed work. Back to the lions and tigers perhaps! Hope this is of some interest.

Stan Jelley (now 83 and not running.)

Arch and Stan Jelley represent a way of thinking that brought New Zealand athletes to the top of the world. It’s basic; it’s honest; it’s fair, it’s essentially New Zealand. Ed Hillary, Rusty Robertson, Fred Allen, Arthur Lydiard – they all had it. Richard Tonks and Robbie Deans of rowing and rugby have it as well. Graham Henry, the All Black’s coach does not.

Since returning to New Zealand I have been surprised at the concern felt about the direction of elite swimming. People may talk to me more because they know Swimwatch has promoted an alternative view on how things should be done. That does not make their concerns any less genuine. These are not the views of a radical disenfranchised fringe out there in radio talk-back land. These are informed New Zealanders who think the additional $60million the New Zealand Government is about to put into elite sport, much of it at the Millennium Institute is about to be misspent.

Take the father who on Tuesday this week told me he enjoyed Swimwatch. He said he had a daughter who had been the best at her event in New Zealand but when she declined an invitation to join the Millennium Institute training group she was abandoned by the organization. Her funding was reduced. The fawning attention she had received during the courting period disappeared. It was clear, he said, that the line promoted on the other side of Auckland’s Harbor Bridge was the only acceptable line.

Take the communication’s student and ex-swimmer who pleaded with me not to publish this article. The bosses of elite swimming in New Zealand, she said, will not tolerate an alternative point of view. Dissent would hurt the sport. Dissent would see an end to Sky Sport and Murray Deaker reporting swimming events. Of course the article is being published. My country is not the Soviet empire yet. Her concern however reflected the fear in the parent who wanted to meet me but preferred it to be in a downtown coffee shop, “in case someone from the North Shore” sees us. It’s all not very healthy.

Take the coach who told me he had decided their Club would have to “do it” on their own. While his best swimmers continued to swim with him they could expect little assistance from the Millennium Institute. It was, he said, his club against the Institute.

Take the suggestion that good coaches hand over their best swimmers to some coach at the Millennium Institute for “elite” training. If that suggestion had been made by Clive Rushton when Cameron was coaching North Shore she would have dismissed it out of hand; Cameron hand over her swimmers to Clive Rushton? Yeah right. I hope Winter, Kent, Miehe and a dozen others dismiss the current idea with equal vigor.

And all these conversations took place in just the last five days. This is not Swimwatch being strident. This is simply reporting discussions that should cause those responsible for the sport concern.

It wouldn’t be so bad if swimming was making progress. In their blurb promoting swimming on the North Shore the “After the Millennium Idea” results in the table below are shown to support the brilliance of what’s happening over there. But when the results from an earlier generation of swimmers are added the brilliance dulls. Without question, we were better when New Zealanders took care of their own business.

Too Much Time Beside the Hangi Pit

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

By David

I was at the West Wave gym this morning. One of our better swimmers, Nikki Johns, was doing her weight training workout. She was warming down with 15 minutes on a stationary bike, something recommended to me by New Zealand’s best swim coach, the late Duncan Laing. Several years ago my Florida swim team bought two stationary bikes. At the meeting approving the expenditure, Jonathan Golden, one of the more intelligent Board members asked the meeting whether a “stationary bike” should be considered a team fixed asset. The humour of his comment skyrocketed when the team accountant launched into a seriously detailed treatise of how stationary bikes should be treated in the team’s books. Some accountants deserve their stereotype.

Anyway back to this morning. Outside, in the pool, the New Zealand Northern Zone Underwater Hockey Championships were in full swing. It’s a pretty popular game in New Zealand but still attracts a fair amount of derision. Actually, taking the piss out of underwater hockey is not all that difficult. The game happens, out of sight, along the bottom of a two meter deep pool. Spectator sport is not the first thing that springs to mind when the principal visual attraction is fourteen pairs of fins waving in the air as players fight deep below the surface for ownership of a hockey puck. I can’t imagine it ever taking off in the US where popularity demands more obvious visual gratification. I do try, but still find it difficult to take seriously the track suits proclaiming, “New Zealand Underwater Hockey Representative”.

Part way through our warm down cycle a chap came up to me and asked if I understood what was going on in the pool. Clearly he thought the “Swim Coach” label on my track suit made me an expert on all the goings-on in the West Wave swimming pool. I explained that I didn’t really understand the game any more than he did. In case he got the wrong impression, Nikki, with blinding speed, assured him she had never played underwater hockey. He looked thoughtfully at the pool full of waving fins for a moment and said, “Some of those guys would be good to take on a scallop and shellfish dive.” Of course, an instant of absolute clarity; a purpose for underwater hockey; the perfect training vehicle for New Zealand’s next generation of shellfish gatherers. I thought Nikki was going to fall off her bike.

Our friend continued to examine the sporting spectacle unfolding before him and noticed a very white and equally overweight player about to enter the game. “He hasn’t strayed far from the hangi pit,” he said. By this time both Nikki and I were in danger of serious personal injury.

For American readers, “hangi” is a traditional New Zealand Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. To “lay a hangi” involves digging a pit in the ground, heating stones in the pit with a large fire, placing baskets of food on top of the stones and covering everything with earth for several hours before uncovering or lifting the hangi.

It’s fun to come back to that dry New Zealand brand of humour. The type that prompted Hillary to announce his success in climbing Mt. Everest with the phrase, “We knocked the bastard off.” It’s familiar, it’s warm, it’s funny and it’s home. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, got himself into trouble recently when he strained relationships with the Maori Tuhoe tribe who are fighting to win back ownership of land confiscated by a settler government 150 years ago. Over 200 years ago Tuhoe indulged in cannibal feasts to sow fear among their enemies. Addressing a tourism conference Key said “The good news was that I was having dinner with the Ngati Porou tribe last week as opposed to their neighboring tribe, which is Tuhoe – in which case I would have been the dinner.” It’s New Zealand humor. As you can well imagine there were quite a few around here that didn’t see the joke.

So how’s the swim team in Auckland doing? Well, not too badly actually. We’re about to begin week six of our first ten week build up. Although we are miles away from having any swimmer reach 90 or 100 kilometers in a week, we do have three swimmers who are over 50 kilometers; good progress from the twenty or so kilometers that was their staple distance five weeks ago. There is a heap of potential in the team’s 30 strong Gold Squad. Lydiard said there are world champions walking the streets of every town in the country. That’s certainly true of Waitakere City and the West Wave Aquatic Center. Two of our good women swimmers are backstroke specialists, something that I find pleasing. I’ve never coached a really good backstroker. Rhi and Toni were pretty good at freestyle, Jane was better than average at breaststroke and Nichola made the World Champs top 16 in butterfly. Perhaps it’s backstroke’s turn. If so it would be have special meaning. New Zealand is very strong in women’s backstroke and most of the good ones swim for a club just across the Harbour Bridge from here. It might take a while but if you see a Swimwatch story titled “We knocked the bastard off” it won’t be about climbing Mt. Everest.