Archive for December, 2010

We Got Hell To Pay

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

By David

You may not recognize the title of this post. It’s the second to last line of an Aerosmith song. The last line is “Come full circle.” While it may seem like the dreadful results of Cameron’s Millennium Institute are unrelated to the organization’s cynical attempt to impose Project Vanguard, they are actually closely aligned; we got hell to pay, come full circle.

It’s all about the accumulation and the misuse of power. Cameron’s love affair with power is well known. I suspect even her most ardent supporters would acknowledge her autocratic management style. They may even go as far as to assert that Cameron’s demanding use of power is one of her most endearing qualities; just what the sport of swimming needs. I can easily imagine some Swimwatch correspondents making the case that without Cameron’s imperious regulation the Millennium program would descend into chaos. And they would be sadly wrong.

Why? Well, because boys and girls do not win Olympic swimming races. That’s a job for men and women. While Cameron sits at the front of her Millennium elementary class, felt tipped pen in hand, whiteboard at the ready, demanding silent attention, Bob Bowman in Baltimore and Dave Salo in Los Angeles are quietly guiding the efforts of grown men and women doing their doctorates in winning Olympic swimming races. There is all the difference in the world.

Three examples: in Swimwatch we have written before about the contrast between the Melissa Ingram that swims in the Millennium autocracy and the free spirit Ingram that wanders the world, on her own, winning swimming races. Her swimming is a prime example of what freedom can achieve. The contractual muzzle preventing swimmers discussing the national organization in any negative way is a second example. Clearly Swimming New Zealand is an organization with scant regard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.” Except, it seems, if you work for Cameron at the Millennium Institute. Over there the rule is, “to not speak to any media in a negative way regarding Swimming NZ Inc.” It’s weak and it’s pathetic. Finally Cameron’s ban on alcohol is a third example. They had the same rule when I was coaching Toni Jeffs. Toni crossed out the clause in her contracts, initialed the deletions and posted the contracts back to SNZ. They never said a word. These swimmers are adult men and women. If they want to have a glass of Chardonnay with their dinner who the hell is Cameron to say it’s not allowed?

On that subject, I was disgusted at the way Cameron attempted to dodge responsibility for the rule banning team members from drinking alcohol. In the New Zealand Herald Cameron is quoted as saying the rule was all Regan’s doing. Cameron you are paid to be the boss. For the love of God, act like one. That means accepting responsibility as well as assuming power. I actually thought Cameron’s effort to palm responsibility onto Regan for the alcohol rule may be in breach of at least two clauses in SNZ’s Code of Conduct. Clause Three says, “Be professional in, and accept responsibility, for your actions.” If Cameron had anything to do with the alcohol rule, and presumably she approved it, she is prima facie in breach of Clause Three. And Clause Nineteen that says, “Never act in any way that may bring disrepute to a SNZ member.” Cameron’s effort to make the alcohol ban all Regan’s fault has the appearance of disrepute about it. Perhaps it’s worth giving the SNZ disciplinary committee a call?

So, how is Project Vanguard part of the same malaise? Well, the Vanguard scheme is also about power. Swimming New Zealand’s power brokers want to diminish the influence of the Regional Associations. They are desperate to establish a direct link between Wellington and individual clubs. They want to deal directly with Aquahawks in Napier and United in Auckland and Bell Block in New Plymouth and Wharenui in Christchurch. Wellington’s hard sell team is wandering around selling Vanguard as improved communication. But that’s not true. They know that the Aquahawks Club cannot summon nearly as much power as Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay. United Club is far less powerful than a united Auckland. Taranaki has more power than the Bell Block Club on its own.

It’s an old fashioned case of divide and rule. A troublesome club can be ignored. Be absolutely certain – your swim club will be ignored. The complaining voice of West Auckland Aquatics or Neptune Club can be brushed to one side. A questioning Auckland or Waikato or Southland has to be listened to. If it is difficult to get a 60% majority of New Zealand’s 16 Regions imagine trying to drum up a consensus among 180 swimming clubs. In that vacuum Swimming New Zealand’s bureaucrats will rule unchecked, while they ravage the Region’s accumulated reserves to pay for it all.

So why is this a case of coming full circle? It’s simple really. Swimming New Zealand is hell bent on extending the philosophy of power and control they currently practice at the Millennium Institute to the organization as a whole. They seem oblivious to the fact that their obsession with power hasn’t worked in the Cameron program. It won’t work to control the grass roots either. In fact, passing Project Vanguard and doubling the power of Swimming New Zealand’s bureaucrats is certain to tear the heart out of the grass roots of swimming for a generation. I hate to think of what it will mean to good swimmers at the Millennium Institute; “Please Jan can I got to the toilet?” There are no gold medals in that. Project Vanguard must fail. “We got hell to pay, come full circle” is an appropriate quote. So is the Henry Kissinger classic, “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Randy or not – Swimming New Zealand needs a cold shower; not a hot date.

The Name Jessica Means “God Beholds”

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

By David

I enjoy writing stories about the swimmers I help with their training. Sure, the stories of critical shortcomings in the administration of swiming in New Zealand are important. They aren’t fun to write though. In the past week I’ve been called the “most hated man in New Zealand swimming”. I’ve been warned that, “they will shoot the messenger”. I’ve been told the CEO of Swimming New Zealand “hates Swimwatch”. That’s unfortunate, but I don’t care. Any sport that attends a World Championships, an Olympic Games, a Pan Pacific Games and a Commonwealth Games and can’t win a race deserves to have someone push for an explanation; someone search for a solution. Swimwatch will continue to poke and prod until those responsible for the careers of New Zealand’s best swimmers do their bloody job.

The fun stories are the ones about swimmers; the real giants of the sport. People like Nikki Johns, who, by the way, had her reversal operation this week. She’s pretty uncomfortable right now, but she’s a tough nut and says she’ll be back training by the end of January. People like Jessica whose career is a model of what can happen to the talented. Who, but for a huge reservoir of stubborn determination and self belief, could easily have faded from the swimming stage.
At nine and ten years of age Jessica was among the best in New Zealand. At eleven she was the best; winning the New Zealand Junior 50 (30.61), 100 (1.05.18) and 200 (2.22.38) freestyle and the 200 (2.42.25) IM Championships. And her success was almost fatal. Her audacious talent was too much to resist. West Auckland Aquatics had a mini points scoring machine. At twelve she swam 17 races at the National Age Group Championships, at thirteen 22, at fourteen 18, at fifteen 16 and at sixteen 14. It was great for her coach, her club and her province. The points accumulated. They all looked great; but at what a cost. The sort of physical load that had been too much for many before Jessica was becoming too much for her as well. National medals were becoming 5ths and 6ths and then 7ths and 8ths. Perhaps Jessica didn’t have what it took. Perhaps she wasn’t good enough.

Fortunately, Jessica knew that wasn’t true. She knew there was a problem but didn’t know what or why. She didn’t appreciate that her physical resources were being used without being replaced. But she also knew the old talent was intact. If only she could find a way of getting it to work for her again. And then six months ago she was introduced to Lydiard. Not literally of course; but to the Lydiard idea of investing before you spend, of putting in before you take out. Perhaps that would work.

Like all athletes of intelligence and courage I had the feeling Jessica evaluated what she was being told and then committed to giving it a go. Of course there were no guarantees. There never are. But I think Lydiard made sense to her. I think Lydiard tied in with what Jessica instinctively knew; with what she had experienced and felt since she was ten years old.

And that is what she’s doing now. In the past three weeks she has begun her first genuine Lydiard type build up. Each week she has swum 90 kilometers of sound aerobic training and is heading to 100 kilometers next week. She’s done the distance in only ten sessions a week. And she hasn’t been swimming slowly. Her 400 sets are well under 5 minutes and her 1500 swims are under 19 minutes. She said today that midway through a set if 5x1200s she felt like climbing out and yelling at someone – probably me – and going home. But instead she swam on. The world’s best athletes will understand that moment. Those moments are when champions are found.

The plan is for Jessica to swim 90 to 100 kilometers a week for another six weeks. Then she will move on to three weeks of anaerobic swimming and finally to her race preparation period. Every day right now Jessica is improving. By the national meets in March, West Auckland Aquatics may have its aggressive eleven year old back. Sure as God made little green apples, she will have earned it.

And now for the bad news: Auckland Swimming has been holding a swim meet in our home pool this week. We’ve done a couple of training sessions at the Newmarket Olympic Pool in the City of Auckland. I’ve driven Jessica and a few other swimmers to the pool. Now, I have to confess, I’m not the world’s best driver. Alison says I fly an airplane far better that I drive a car. It appears that might be true. On the way into the town Jessica tells me about every driving error. “Use your indicators.” “You’re going to fast.” “Move over now.” “Watch out for the pedestrian.” Nothing, not the smallest indiscretion is missed. However either her standards are dropping or I’m getting better. On the way home tonight as I indicated early and moved over into a right turning lane, an authoritative but quiet voice beside me said, “Very well done, David.” I thought I’d won the Olympics.

No question, people like Nikki and Jessica make this a great job. In the coming weeks I’ll tell you about some of the other characters at West Auckland Aquatics.

Win the Battle, Lose the War

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

By David

There seems to be worldwide interest in the turmoil at Swimming New Zealand. Swimwatch received an email from Baden-Württemberg in Germany this week. The correspondent is a New Zealander and said she had received an email from New Zealand telling her that Swimming New Zealand were trying to make the case that Swimwatch told lies about the goings on in New Zealand swimming. In particular Swimming New Zealand strenuously denied the twenty points made in last week’s Swimwatch post. I wonder which ones they meant.

Has New Zealand won an Olympic medal recently that we all missed? Did the New Delhi Commonwealth Games rank higher than seventh? Perhaps it wasn’t Cameron commentating on Sky Sport. Bell didn’t get drunk and wasn’t sent home. Reagan and Cameron are bosom buddies. Everyone has their PEGs money. Millennium team spirit matches wartime London. No, I don’t think so.

Remember the title of this story. It may be the epitaph of New Zealand’s 2012 Olympic swimming campaign. I recall Lydiard counseling me, to everyday ask and answer the question, “What did you do today to improve your athletes’ chances of winning.” Two years out from an Olympic Games every coach, parent and administrator involved with a potential Olympian must be able to provide a very specific and detailed reply to this daily inquiry. Right now the sport of swimming in New Zealand is totally absorbed in political horseplay. Athlete’s chances of winning are well down the sport’s order of priorities. The supporting cast is making a mess of things.

Instead; can Cameron hold on to her job? Who’s going to get PEGs money? Can we sell Project Vanguard? How can we screw the Manawatu remit? Will we attend a reconciliation meeting? Who said what to whom? Who is loyal and who is not? In Swimming New Zealand, at the Millennium Institute and in SPARC right now all this stuff is far more important than whether Mellissa Ingram or Dean Bell should be doing a set of aerobic or anaerobic 200s tomorrow morning. Figuratively speaking, no one is swimming a length of the bloody pool. And New Zealand’s swimmers will pay big time for the negligence of those responsible for their Olympic dream. Every day there is the sad news of another costly payment.

How do I know this? Well I’m a bit of an expert. Many readers may not remember but before the Barcelona Olympic Games I made the same mistake. I was coaching Toni Jeffs. She had just won a bronze medal at what was then the world short course championship finals. She was favored to do well in Barcelona. Instead of concentrating on that fact we got involved in exotic sponsorships. We shifted pools. We made our own training plans. We traveled to the Games on our own. With Toni’s mother, we stayed in the French resort of Canet en Rousellon. We filed a complaint against Swimming New Zealand through the Olympic Athlete’s Commission and we won. We took Wellington Swimming to the Small Claims Tribunal and we won there as well. And do you know what? In the end we lost – we lost really, really badly. Toni was quite capable of winning an Olympic medal but ended up being placed 21st. It was a bad mistake; one that I got badly wrong.

The whole sport in New Zealand is currently heading off in the same direction – and at a hundred miles an hour. I doubt that there is a swimmer in New Zealand’s elite program right now that has their mind and body on the job. While their competition beaver away doing the hard yards our guys are up to their eye balls in sporting gossip and political intrigue. Phelps is swimming about 90 kilometers a week right now. Torres is lifting weights five times a week. Neither of them is debating the meaning of life with their coach or club. Neither of them will be beaten by a New Zealander in two years. I doubt the same clean bill of health could be said about our state run program. If New Zealand does not win a medal in swimming at the London Games, the country should remember clearly what its best swimmers were doing two years ago. Olympic champions do not prepare that way.

Regular Swimwatch readers will realize that I believe the only cure is for Cameron to recognize quickly the divisive effect her presence is having and do the decent thing by moving on. It is no longer relevant to debate whether that view is just or fair. It does not matter whether Cameron has been good or bad for the sport. She may have been a great poolside coach. But it’s way past all that. The sport is really sick and needs a major initiative to put it back on course. Cameron should provide that initiative. Going could be her greatest contribution.

Unaware of any Disenchantment

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

By David

I have no idea who writes the news items on swimming published on the Radio Sport website. There is every possibility they could be Swimming New Zealand PR spin regurgitated without examination or assessment. Take the most recent offering. The first two lines don’t even make sense.

SPARC is playing down the spat brewing between New Zealand’s leading swimmers and the sport’s governing body.

SPARC is unaware of any disenchantment by New Zealand’s leading swimmers towards their national body.

It is beyond me how even SPARC can play down something that they don’t know exists. If it doesn’t exist then there’s nothing to play down. Something can only be played down if it exists. Well, I’m sure you understand the point. There is nothing worse or more contradictory than organizations playing the “ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away” game. It’s called playing politics. Unfortunately, it’s not politics. It is actually the lives of New Zealand’s best swimmers. As Swimming New Zealand manipulates the truth they put at risk the future of a whole sport.

The conclusion of the same report is another example of organizational negligence.

Sparc CEO Peter Miskimmin is playing down the issue.

He says there’s a lot of speculation flying around.

Miskimmin says he’s also unaware of any issues surrounding Jan Cameron’s role at Swimming NZ.

How the hell does Miskimmin know there’s all this speculation flying around if he’s unaware of any Cameron issues. He’s either aware of the issues or he’s not. The report is just political clap trap.

But, if there is the slightest chance Peter Miskimmin reads Swimwatch and to avoid him ever being able to truthfully say that “he’s unaware of any issues surrounding Cameron’s role at Swimming New Zealand” here is a list. It is probably incomplete but it is certainly enough to avoid the tag of being “unaware”.

Mr. Miskimmin:

  1. Are you aware that the sport of swimming has never earned an Olympic medal during the Cameron era?
  2. Are you aware that the sport of swimming has never broken a world record during the Cameron era?
  3. Are you aware that in a list of the past ten Commonwealth Games the Cameron led New Delhi result ranks seventh?
  4. Are you aware that Cameron accepted a media role in New Delhi when she is paid to be the senior member of New Zealand’s high performance program?
  5. Are you aware of the repetitive discipline problems that have characterized Cameron led New Zealand swimming teams?
  6. Are you aware of the open conflict that characterizes the relationship between Cameron and the National Swimming Coach?
  7. Are you aware of the reports that the National Coach and Cameron were barely on speaking terms through the New Delhi Commonwealth Games?
  8. Are you aware of the concern in the New Zealand swimming community that family relationships may be influencing national swimming decisions?
  9. Are you aware of the reports that swimmers have not been paid their PEG money for several months?
  10. Are you aware of reports that Cameron refuses to discuss the payment of PEG money with concerned swimmers?
  11. Are you aware that Cameron regularly approaches swimmers from other teams to discuss them moving to the Millennium Institute? In most jurisdictions this is called poaching.
  12. Are you aware of reports that the team spirit at the Millennium Institute is at rock bottom?
  13. Are you aware that New Zealand swimmer, Moss Burmister has recently retired and has expressed strong reservations about the health of the Cameron led program?
  14. Are you aware that leading New Zealand coach, Jon Winter has told the Martin Devlin radio program that he had received more coaching support from Triathlon New Zealand in the last month than in ten years of working inside Swimming New Zealand and coaching several of its best athletes?
  15. Are you aware of the concern that Cameron has paid insufficient attention to coaching development in New Zealand?
  16. Are you aware that one coach of several national champions has never even met Cameron?
  17. Are you aware of the widely held view that New Zealand swimming is operating in a climate of fear and is that the best way to win Olympic medals in two years from now?
  18. Are you aware that Swimming New Zealand is wandering around New Zealand promoting the idea that you and SPARC are actively pushing a specific constitutional change on the organization?
  19. Are you aware that many knowledgeable people inside swimming believe that a Cameron led program will not be successful at the London Olympic Games.
  20. Do you really believe that a Cameron led program will be successful at the London Olympic Games?

If Miskimmin and SPARC don’t do anything and the sport of swimming does fail to win a medal in London then responsibility for that performance will be shared equally by Miskimmin, SPARC and Cameron. Because you see, thanks to Swimwatch they are all now fully aware of “issues surrounding Jan Cameron’s role at Swimming NZ.”

Unremarkable People

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Due to Nikki Johns’ terrible behaviour, this post has been removed.