Give Us A Break Mate

By David

The Auckland Winter Championships have come and gone. West Auckland Aquatics have doing alright; seventy four personal best swims out of one hundred and twelve starts. That’s a PB ration of 66%; not bad, but not brilliant either. After experiencing a major coaching change, it’s probably good enough to satisfy the criteria of seeing the team make some progress. And we did qualify nine swimmers for the Age Group Nationals in Christchurch later in the year. Only three so far have qualified for the Open Nationals in the holiday town of Mt. Manganui on the 12 November. They are three good swimmers and should do well in the Nationals. Their task hasn’t been made easy though by a stunning bit of programming.

New Zealand has national examinations called NCEAs that are taken by students in their third, fourth and fifth years in High School. It seems that Swimming New Zealand have programmed the Spring National Championships from the 12-14 November. The NCEA exams begin nationwide one day later on the 15 November. Not much in the way of pathway planning there. I wonder how much thought went into arriving at the worst possible conflict with every New Zealand High School student’s academic and swimming progress.

As is normal all over the world on occasions such as the Auckland Winter Championships you encounter the good, the bad and the ugly. For example, I was surprised at the number of people who swam in the preliminaries and qualified for an “A” or “B” final and decided to scratch. From thirty four events forty seven swimmers decided the heat swim was enough for them. One of the forty seven was from West Auckland Aquatics. I’m not sure what the international norm is in this case but an average of almost 1.5 swimmers scratching from each final does seem high. It suggests that too many good swimmers are treating their regional Championships as a morning training opportunity. That would not be right.

Our team was appointed to sit next to the United Swim Team coached by Jonathan Winter. I’d like to know who decides the allocation of the seating these days. When I left New Zealand West Auckland Aquatics always sat down the other end of the pool. North Shore still sits where they always have. Why don’t we? Anyway, the good part about being shifted was we were next to the United Swim Team. All weekend I was entertained by Jonathan Winter, recounting stories about what he a Mark Haumona got up to in the “old days”. For those of you who don’t know who Mark Haumona was; he swam butterfly for New Zealand and was noted as a hard case. I’m told he is a teacher these days. He’d be very good at that – the poacher turned gamekeeper. No wonder Jonathan Winter is one of New Zealand’s best coaches. His easy manner and calm disposition are in the best traditions of New Zealand’s finest coaches. Lydiard, Jelley and Laing had the same quality. Swimmers perform at their best for a coach like that. Referring to a point made on Swimwatch several articles ago; I have no idea why we import foreign coaches when New Zealand has the likes of Winter around. Hopefully one day soon that will change.

Yes, it was a fun weekend; well run and, unlike some Florida meets, spread across relatively short sessions. My daughter Jane followed our team’s results on the internet. She sent me an email towards the end of the weekend. All it said was, “Somewhere Ross is pleased.” The Ross she referred to is Ross Anderson, close personal friend and coach of West Auckland Aquatics through many of its most successful years. He was New Zealand Coach of the Year in 1987 and Head Coach at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. For three consecutive years from 1992 to 1994 the Ross Anderson led West Auckland Aquatics team won the Cain Trophy awarded to New Zealand’s top club. Ross resigned from the Club in March 1997 and died a couple of months later. But, to my mind, Ross Anderson is still part of this team. He set the standard by which our work and today’s West Auckland Aquatics club should be judged. If, as Jane says, “Somewhere Ross is pleased” then we have done well.

  • NZswimmingfan

    SC Opens being close to NCEA is definitely a problem, but the even greater stuff up by SNZ is that Opens is scheduled right in the middle of the last week of Uni exams- the kind of people that this ‘Open’ meet is meant to be catering to! Even if you don’t have any exams in that last week, swimmers’ training will be massively hampered in the weeks leading up to the meet. I emailed SNZ and they say it’s because it fits the cycle between Comm Games and World SC so I guess the question is whether SNZ’s responsibility is to those elite 10 or so guys or to growing the sport and retaining swimmers after they leave school – an area where we lag horrendously behind the rest of the world

  • Thank you for the comment. We don’t have any University age swimmers qualified for the Open meet and I did not realize the conflict with that level of education as well. The question you pose is well made and certainly relevant.

  • Yura

    Pardon me, but if you are one of the 10 elite swimmers, wouldn’t it hamper your progress, if you had to take a start in the wrong part of the training schedule, especially between the other starts?

    Of course, with the current state of NZ swimming (I’m talking about the most recent Pan Pacs 4x100m relay non-results for NZ, at least), you might as well ignore them, but still, overall, do you think it’s worth to always ignore the 10 top athletes and risk their current/probable results and appease to the less probable, but possible future results of the school/uni swimmers?

    Forgive me, if this sounds rude, but I’m simply curious about training/racing planning and how top management can interfere with what athletes can go through (I’m in diff country, diff sport, but still). In Russia track&field, for example, current top athletes may not participate in the national comps and are still included in the national teams for international meets (though there were many other exceptions as well, where necessary, such as current season best holder going to the Olympics instead of the 1st or 2nd place national holder).

    So maybe it’s not the event planning that’s the big issue, but the rules that determine athletes’ admission to international competitions (I do believe you’ve mentioned it sometime earlier).

    P.S. This blog needs a “Send replies to email” checkbox for comments. Though I might as well subscribe to the comments feeds in this blog, I guess.

  • I think your point is well made; that it is the rules that are the problem. We insist on USA type controls without USA type circumstances. Clearly a foreign model has been imposed on NZ without taking into account our situation, history or traditions.

  • Yura

    I think it’s not just traditions, but a simple understanding of how human bodies and athletes work: they change, for better or worse, during the season and during the years. Or, they keep their level up for a while. So it’s unreasonable to force a single fixed set of rules on a variety of people and a more balanced approach needs to be used to take most of the factors into account for the maximum results

    It’d be a hell lot easier, if there were more slots for people from the same country, too, of course, but I don’t think it’s a point of this discussion. The sad truth is that all the selection can be useless by bad accommodation at the place of the event, but it’s another story, too. This doesn’t even mention wasting efforts on national meetups.

    As usual, by looking at one event, it’s possible to see all the global problems of the sports in general, regardless of the country.

    (Un)fortunately, I haven’t yet met with any clueless sports officials to affect my life, but simply looking at sportsmen performance, official reports and preparation (doing 10h flights 4-7 days before important meets, for example) tells me that nothing’s perfect in the Dutch country.

  • NZswimmingfan

    As expected, the absurd scheduling chickens have come home to roost with regard to SC Opens. If you haven’t seen the psych sheets, they make for tragicomic reading – I am embarrassed to be known as a NZ swimmer when I see that the New Zealand SC champion in the Women’s 400 IM will be decided by default! Many other races don’t make up more than 1 heat – it is just a farce and we’re lucky that SPARC are too ignorant to pay attention to this kind of stuff. To a lesser extent, I’m concerned for the racers trying to qualify for Dubai – a) because of lack of competition, b) because of the punitive SNZ qualifying standards and c) because anyone who raced at 2008 Springs will tell you that Baywave is a substandard competition pool.

    Sophia Batchelor is a prime example. She would be far better off for having Melissa Ingram to race in the 200 BK and has already bettered the qualifying time at Springs in Wellington, but the poor pool, poor competitors and one shot qualifying may conspire to scupper her chances of racing in Dubai, despite proving herself worthy of a place on the plane. I’m still confident she will make it though, that’s the kind of racer she is.