Swimming History

By David

Last week’s Swimwatch story has prompted some interesting correspondence. You may recall the story was about the Auckland Winter Championships. In it we mentioned some of the characters that have swum for the West Auckland Aquatics swim team in the past. Regular readers may also remember that several weeks ago we published an article about one of New Zealand’s master track coaches, Arch Jelley. The two stories were unusually linked by the arrival of this photograph in our email mailbox.

There may be more to this photograph than I know. However, even the bits that I do know make it a genuine piece of New Zealand sporting history. As you can see the picture was taken in 1980 and shows the Sunnybrae Normal Primary School’s Auckland championship swim team. You would be excused for thinking there was nothing too remarkable about that. However, at least three members of the team make the photograph unusual.

First there is John Steel. He’s the blonde haired guy on the far left of the back row. For years John swam for the West Auckland Aquatics team and was New Zealand’s best 100 and 200 freestyler. John competed for New Zealand in two Olympic Games; Barcelona and Atlanta. He won a bronze medal in the 4×200 Freestyle Relay at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand and four years later won two silver medals (4x100m Freestyle and 4x200m Freestyle Relays) at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. He was pretty well known in the United States as well. He spent four years swimming for USC and in his senior year was Captain of their men’s swim team. His coach at USC was Mark Schubert who also coached Rhi Jeffrey, John Foster and Joseph Skuba before they swam with me in Florida. The swimming world is a small place sometimes. John Steel now works for Air New Zealand as a flight attendant.

Fifth from the left in the middle row is Nick Sanders. He also rose to swimming fame as a member of the West Auckland Aquatics team. He swam the 50 and 100 Freestyle and 100 Butterfly for New Zealand in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. His fastest 50 Freestyle time of 23.32 was set in Rome in 1990. The time stood as New Zealand’s fastest 50 for thirteen years until 2003 when fellow West Auckland Aquatics team member Brad Herring lowered it to 23.27. Last year the New Zealand Olympic Association set out to track down the 1111 athletes that have represented New Zealand in Olympic competition. They accounted for all but nine. One of the “lost” nine was Nick Sanders.

And the Coach of all this talent? None other than Arch Jelley. He’s on the far right of the photograph, without a swimsuit. At the time he was Principal of Sunnybrae Normal Primary School. I have always been quite proud to have coached both international runners and swimmers. Arch has me well beaten. Nick Sanders, John Steel and John Walker, there is no trumping that. Perhaps the best part of this story though is that shortly after this photograph was taken Arch Jelley appointed another teacher, Sheridan Fish, as the swim team’s Assistant Coach. It didn’t take long for the swim team to be known as the Sunnybrae “Jelleyfish”.

Sunnybrae, West Auckland Aquatics, John Steel, Nick Sanders and Ross Anderson; it was all there long before the days of SPARC, Millennium Institutes, carding and pathways. But the Jelleyfish that ended up at West Auckland Aquatics did all right I think. And that’s a tradition well worth preserving for swimmers in west Auckland today.

  • John

    Hey David, just stopped by the website and noticed a mistake.

    “His coach at USC was Mark Schubert who also coached Rhi Jeffrey, John Foster and Joseph Skuba before they swam with me in Florida.”

    I never swam for Mark at USC. I swam with Dave Salo off and on for a few months before heading to Florida.

    Hope all is well with you and Allison!


  • John

    Thank you for putting the record straight. Hope things are going well with you. You look good on facebook. Alison and I are great. Whenever you want to visit NZ just let us know. We have a spare room and pool for you to use.