Glad Tidings of Great Joy

By David

Our last post began with a comment on how peaceful it was over the Christmas period; a time of good will and generosity of spirit. In New Zealand it is a moment when the BBQ, the boat and the beach become more important than exchange rates or produce prices or even qualifying times. But this Christmas an uncomfortable presence haunted that happy image. Perhaps not everyone in New Zealand was kicking-back, unwinding or leaving the cares of 2010 behind. There may be some who were taking advantage of our down time; who saw our distraction as an opportunity; who plotted and planned while we slept off Christmas dinner.

For example, what were Cameron and Byrne doing? In the New Year they have a date with SPARC’s team of investigators. Cameron’s performance is about to be the subject of an inquest; a sporting commission of inquiry. Surely she was not on Takapuna Beach, building sandcastles with her son Scott. There was serious business to attend to. This was not the time to drink Chardonnay or grill steaks. No, the more I thought about it the more certain I became. Planning was going on. A defence was being prepared. An explanation made ready. Surely?

And then I wondered, what form would this take? With the resources of the sport at her disposal theoretically there was no limit to the schemes that could be put into action. I had no idea, but what could they possibly be? What was she doing?

Possibly, she could start by contacting coaches all over New Zealand in an effort to drum up support. Maybe coaches that had been ignored for years would receive serial phone calls from a high performance stalker. Was it imaginable that offers of largesse would begin to bubble around the nation’s pools in a champagne shower of Cameron generosity? Was that feasible? After all, life as a New Zealand celebrity coach is not normal. Adulation is plentiful, feedback biased and filtered and control almost non-existent. Such an existence is not conducive to stability even in the most balanced person. Under threat there was every possibility of an overreaction.

Oh, but surely not in New Zealand. Not even Swimming New Zealand could ignore some of the country’s most successful coaches and then serial call them to conceal relationship problems; just to influence and distort the findings of a SPARC investigation. That would be bad mannered, rude and classless. Nay, it would never happen. My imagination was out of control.

Would Swimming New Zealand seek to influence the SPARC investigation in other ways? Perhaps they could over-hype attendance at an elite national training camp. Was it possible that an offer would go out to pay the travel costs of athletes who agreed to attend? Maybe even international travel would not be a problem. If Cameron wanted to look good; if she was to survive, it was important to create the very best impression. A few dollars on some unbudgeted travel would be a small price to pay. After all, a pool full of happy, smiling “elite” swimmers was just what SNZ and Cameron needed; was just what SPARC’s report should reflect.

I needed to get over myself. This was all getting out of control. No one would go to those lengths. That was as bad as painting the houses for a royal visit. Swimming New Zealand wanted SPARC to see the real organization, natural and untouched. This was not the time for a pantomime. I needed more faith.

Would SPARC be interested in the Open Water National Championship scheduled to take place during their investigation? If they were it would be pretty important for the event to give the “right” impression. Wouldn’t it be perfect for the SPARC investigators to see a dozen of the Millennium Institute’s best swimmers racing across Lake Taupo. From New Delhi to Taupo was just what the SPARC report needed. SPARC’s money was being well spent. Our very best pool swimmers had the common touch. They still swam around in lakes supporting the sport’s grass roots.

But what say the Millennium Institute’s swimmers didn’t want to swim. Was it possible that a spare $400 or $500 appearance money for each swimmer could be found to stimulate their interest? A dozen swimmers was only six grand; a small price to pay.

Now I really was off the rails. Swimming New Zealand paying appearance money to get Millennium Institute athletes to swim in a national championship? That was preposterous. I have met many of New Zealand’s best runners and know of none that would accept money to appear in their home National Championships. And many of them were Olympic medalists. I also know twelve or thirteen US national swimming champions and none of them has ever been paid to attend a national championship. If Phelps goes to Omaha for free, what am I thinking? Swimming New Zealand would never dream of paying athletes to swim in Taupo just so Cameron could look good; just to con the men from SPARC.

These thoughts are certainly unworthy. SPARC is going to see Swimming New Zealand warts and all; as it is, without decoration. Just to be sure though, it might be worthwhile for SPARC to ask if all that they see and hear is normal. Oh dear, there I go again. The pressure of coaching a new club in New Zealand’s biggest city is clearly beginning to tell on me. I need to get back to the BBQ, the boat and the beach. I might even be lucky enough to bump into Cameron and share a steak and a glass of bubbly.