Archive for January, 2011

Rugged Individualism

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

By David

Last week’s Swimwatch post discussed the failure of the Cameron experiment into centralised swimming socialism. If centralised control by the Cameron family is not the way elite swimming in New Zealand should be managed, what management philosophy will work? There is an alternative. It’s called “Rugged Individualism”. This report will discuss what we mean by “Rugged Individualism” and how it is different from the failed Cameron socialist regime.

The difference is not unlike the separation that exists between a capitalist mixed economy and the collective philosophy of communism. In a capitalist mixed economy the means of production are privately owned and operated for a private profit; decisions regarding supply, demand, price, distribution, and investments are made by private actors in the free market; profit is distributed to owners who invest in businesses, and wages are paid to workers employed by businesses and companies. Most capitalist economies are defined as mixed economies consisting of both private and public ownership; usually characterized by the dominance of private ownership. Communism or state socialism on the other hand refers to a system of government in which a one party system of government operates a centrally planned economy with the state owning the means of production, distribution and exchange. Communism holds that a process of conflict and struggle will result in the establishment of a communist society in which private ownership will be abolished and the means of production and subsistence will belong to the state.

Swimming New Zealand and Jan Cameron use a communist, state controlled system of government to direct the affairs of New Zealand’s high performance program. The state, that’s Swimming New Zealand, represented by Jan Cameron control the Millennium Institute. Of the 14 swimmers listed on SNZ’s website as international Aquablacks team members, 12 (86%) trained at the Millennium Institute; near enough perfectly meeting the specification of a state monopoly.

In addition, of course, SNZ, Cameron and her Institute are pretty much the sole recipient of state finance. SPARC will only deal through them. They hire and pay national coaches. They impose one standard form of training. They make it extremely difficult for elite swimmers to operate outside the Millennium Institute. They hire and pay the county’s elite swimmers. They decide who will be carded, who will be selected and who will be sponsored. They change the selection criteria after trials if the right people – that’s their people – have not made the team. They did that when the New Delhi trials didn’t go the way they wanted. They hire and fire the support staff. Their Project Vanguard is an attempt to weaken opposition; a move Stalin would certainly have approved. They set and change the rules that govern elite swimming. They even have a rule that forbids any criticism of what they are doing. Only they know what is good.

Like all good communists, and until recently, SNZ employees have successfully sold the idea that all this state control is in our best interests. We should be grateful. They know best. The state monopoly they exercise is good for us. It is the only way New Zealand swimmers can win in a bad world stacked against the small guy. The SNZ website is full of good communist rhetoric; helping “every New Zealander swim to their potential”, “the organisation making the opportunity real”. They say we all have a stake in Swimming New Zealand. Everything they do is done on our behalf.

Of course, criticism of the state is portrayed as a criticism of everyone. That’s why disapproval of the swimming state is specifically banned in their rules; a rule that would have received the positive approval of the Soviet Politburo. The SNZ website says they need our feedback. But they don’t mean that. No one has commented on the behavior of SNZ more than Swimwatch. We’ve yet to see any of the two-way communication their website so triumphantly heralds.

Soviet style government has had its day in world politics. Cameron, Byrne and possibly SPARC haven’t realised yet that as a method of producing world class athletes, unitary administration and centralized coaching have also passed their use-by date. They have been replaced by the philosophy of “rugged individualism”.

This is sporting private enterprise. The world’s best swimming nation, the United States, demonstrates the purest form of “rugged individualism”; a structure where privately owned and operated clubs make decisions regarding training, membership and finance in a free and open market. The world’s best swimmers live and are coached in diverse environments that suit them best. Phelps finds that Bob Bowman’s pool and training in Baltimore are most to his liking. Lochte prefers his father’s regime of 100 kilometers a week in Daytona Beach, Florida. Rebecca Soni swims fast in the sprint program coached by Dave Salo at USC in Los Angeles, California. There are 95 swimmers in the current US National Team. They swim for and are coached by 47 different coaches and clubs. Just compare that wonderful diversity and the strength it offers to the “all-your-eggs-in-one-basket” weakness of the Cameron regime.

The role of the state in the US private enterprise system is to maintain the best possible environment for diversity to prosper; to encourage and foster competition between successful clubs. When I coached in Florida I was formally visited once a year by a US Swimming representative for the sole purpose of finding out whether there was any way they could help me do my job better. At the National Summer and Winter Championships I met National Coach, Mark Schubert, to discuss the training of Rhi Jeffrey, the national team member, who swam in my program. US Swimming provided the environment. It was our job to provide the “rugged individualism”.

I’ve been coaching for a year in New Zealand now and have yet to meet a Swimming New Zealand employee.

New Zealand used to operate a program of “rugged individualism”. Jelley and Lydiard didn’t have Millennium Institutes. Duncan Laing did his own thing down in Dunedin. And they all coached Olympic champions. New Zealand swimming could easily do the same thing again. There are top line New Zealand coaches in a dozen towns and cities. SNZ may have tried to impose a state monopoly on all elite swimming. In spite of their efforts, the home grown swimmers produced in Invercargill, Christchurch, Wellington, New Plymouth and Auckland confirm that the potential to base the sport of swimming on a philosophy of “rugged individualism” is alive and well.

Like politics however reform needs to take place from within. I doubt that Cameron and Byrne are up to the task. That job requires a Gorbachev and, with the best will in the world, neither Cameron nor Byrne is close to that man’s stature. Like Gorbachev the new leader of SNZ needs to relax central control in accordance with reform policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Like the Soviet Union the Millennium Institute needs to be dissolved. Symbolically, at least, swimming in New Zealand will be liberated the minute someone has the courage and wisdom to tear down the Millennium wall. (“Ich bin ein schwimmer”) A world of “rugged individualism” is where we should be headed.


Monday, January 10th, 2011

By David

I was delighted to read a very special report written by Chris Rattue in the New Zealand Herald early this week. His article was primarily about the spat going on in Canoeing New Zealand over the position of Ben Fouhy and his eligibility for state funding. The report is reproduced on the New Zealand Herald website. It is worth a read in its entirety. Swimwatch will only quote the portions we think could just as easily be written about the perilous state of Swimming New Zealand. The place is falling apart and the comedy duo at the top doesn’t have a clue what to do about it.

Blanket regimes may have brought home medals under communist dictatorships. They worked a treat when ruthless coaches could frogmarch all the best young talent into gymnasiums, where they drilled the youngsters to exhaustion, drilled drugs into them, then spat the failures back into their bleak societies.

There is no serious evidence however that a government-funded system has done much for New Zealand sport, in encouraging growth or success on the world stage. Since Sparc – the latest funding conduit – arrived in 2003, things have only got worse. Tennis, golf, athletics, cricket, motor racing, speedway, swimming, triathlons, yachting, equestrian, canoeing … all of these and probably many more have seen far better days, and usually in the era when those who dreamed the dream did so without the government’s help and guidance.

The successors to Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon, John Walker, Peter Snell, Yvette Williams, Ivan Mauger, Russell Coutts, Onny Parun, Belinda Caldwell, Richard Hadlee, Mark Todd, Danyon Loader, Erin Baker and many, many more – where have they all gone?

The bottom line is that Sparc, and the environment it has encouraged, is hardly a roaring success. New Zealand sport reeks of problems brought about by an obsession with central control. Sparc is a political animal in charge of sport. This does not bode well. Backyard improvisation can no longer take on the world, but rugged individualism still can.

In 230 words Rattue has put his finger on the kernel of the problem. Jan Cameron marches along in the socialist state funded camp called the Millennium Institute. And the whole thing is not relevant. Olympic champions don’t come from that sort of environment any more. It’s a relic of the communist era, it’s out of date and it’s as effective as using a bucket to drain the Atlantic Ocean.

Michael Phelps trains away in his Baltimore Aquatics Swim Club. Ryan Lochte swims at his father’s club in Daytona Beach. Darra Torres prepared for Beijing in a pool just down the road from the one I coached at in Florida. Rebecca Soni uses the USC pool in Los Angeles, California. In every case their circumstances could be called “rugged individualism”. In every case they returned successfully from their Olympics. Something Cameron will never do from the Millennium Institute. And John Key’s promise to pour further millions into that bottomless Millennium pit is a classic case of good money after bad. A finance man like John Key should know better. Government assistance is appreciated. The socialist hand out way it is being spent is a serious problem.

I’ve been to Lochte’s home pool. It is a very modest affair. I’ve seen him helping out with his father’s learn to swim program. I’ve discussed the 100 kilometers a week he swims under his father’s tuition. It’s simple, it’s basic. It is “rugged individualism”. It does not have the hoards of doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and spin doctors the Cameron empire requires. It also avoids the confusion those hangers on bring with them. But Lochte wins Olympic gold medals. He breaks world records. He is successful.

There was a wonderful program on New Zealand’s Television One recently. It covered a trip along the Nile by the British actress Joanna Lumley. Part of the Nile flows through Ethiopia. During this portion of her journey Lumley met a group of runners that included Meseret Defar. For those who may not recognize the name, Defar is the Athen’s Olympic and Osaka World 5000 meters champion. She holds the world indoor 3000 and 5000 meter records. This is how the Washington Post described what Defar and her friends did.

So that’s what the spunky girl with matchstick legs and a ponytail did. She ran along the rutted dirt roads of the Ethiopian highlands, barefoot or in torn sneakers, trying to improve her endurance. She ran up the wide, cracked steps to Meskel Square in the capital, while goats wandered by and clouds of pollution turned the air charcoal gray. And once she felt she was fast enough, she ran around the country’s only track, a rough ring of patched and potholed rubber inside Addis Ababa Stadium, hoping to be spotted by a running club and win a tiny sponsorship known as “calorie money.”

Like Rattue, I’d call what Phelps, Lochte and Defar do “rugged individualism”. I’d also call it successful.

There are pockets of that spirit still alive in New Zealand. Today I went to a swim meet that was arranged only yesterday. The purpose of the meet was to help a group of young Korean swimmers who were visiting New Zealand and wanted some “official” times while they were here. The CEO of Auckland Swimming, Brian Palmer, hired four lanes of a local high school pool and circulated an appeal for officials to help. The number and quality of officials that turned up was stunning. They could and frequently have run the finals session of Open National Championships. It was an example of all that’s good about sport in New Zealand. The fastest young Korean probably swam 100 meters freestyle in about 1.20. Our club had three swimmers join in as some competition, but that was not the point. Good New Zealanders were doing a good thing for all the right reasons. Today’s meet was the way New Zealand used to win. And if you don’t believe that read Rattue’s list of world champions again.

It’s not the way the Millennium Institute and Cameron do things though. They are above all that. The grassroots is not for them. I have been in my new coaching job at West Auckland Aquatics for 39 weeks. In that time I have attended 26 swim meets at New Zealand’s main competition pool, the West Wave Pool in Henderson. That’s in the City of Auckland, Jan Cameron’s home town. In that time I’ve seen her at just two of the 26 meets and I’ve seen her Millennium swimmers at three of those meets. Needless to say Cameron was nowhere to be seen today; nowhere to be seen when real swimming people were making this sport successful.

Like Rattue I’d call her way “problems brought about by an obsession with central control”; a socialist system that breeds sloth; a system that does not win. It’s also called having ideas way above your station. Good coaches never make that mistake. Good coaches never scorn the base degrees. Take Arch Jelley for example; coach of John Walker, the first man to break 3.50 for a mile and Olympic 1500 champion, but also coach of the Sunnybray Normal Primary School swimming team. He never scorns the grass roots. Take Steve Lochte; coach of his son Ryan, winner of numerous World and Olympic medals, but also the coach of the Daytona Beach bronze squad swimmers. He never scorns the grass roots.

Right or wrong, it’s my impression that Cameron looks on New Zealand as some sort of swimming incubator whose role in life is to breed swimmers for her and her son to inherit. The rest of New Zealand is a junior program whose role is to deliver swimmers to her and her off spring at the Millennium Institute. Well, that system has failed New Zealand for years. We are not involved in swimming to service Jan Cameron or her son. New Zealand coaches, including me, have coached fast swimmers in the past and when we do again I pray to God none of them go anywhere near that Millennium poisonous challis.

The Cameron version of socialist centralized control is well suited for looking after the nation’s weaker members; those requiring health care and those who are unemployed. It is not at all useful in world class sport. For that you need a program of “rugged individualism”. That’s where the next generation of New Zealand international champions will be found.

New Zealand Swimming Makes Progress?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

By David

Even the most casual reader of this swimming blog will be aware of the genuine concern we have for the future of elite swimming in New Zealand. For months we have focused on the Cameron led program’s glaring shortcomings. Swimming New Zealand appears to be oblivious to its perilous condition. After a 2010 Pan Pacific Games that yielded not one medal in an Olympic swimming event and a Commonwealth Games without a win, Swimming New Zealand’s website unbelievably described the position as, “looking pretty bright for New Zealand Swimming”. New Zealand’s sights, they said, were set “on the London Olympics in 20 months with a real sense of belief and purpose.” The whole thing was surreal. It still is.

True, SPARC has picked up that something is not right and has decided to investigate the Cameron empire. I’m not at all confident their inquiry will yield much. For a decade Cameron and Swimming New Zealand have been able to peddle and sell their story of honey tomorrow. A whole country bought into that fairy tale. Main stream media abandoned any effort to be objective and published SNZ’s press reports without question or comment. Journalists working at Sky Sport and Radio Sport became advertising agents for swimming and it’s ironically named High Performance Program. Conning a couple of SPARC sleuths should be a breeze.

Already Cameron is setting the scene. A close friend of a prominent Millennium swimmer trains on my West Auckland Aquatics team. I’m told that Cameron’s spin on the SPARC investigation is that it is simply the result of two swimmers, Moss Burmester and Hayley Palmer, complaining to SPARC and that if SNZ loses its SPARC funding then it will be their fault. Once again, it’s not Cameron’s responsibility. It never is. In her mind, rebellious troublemakers are the problem. How spineless though, to blame a swimmer like Moss Burmester. SNZ “traded” off his success for years to secure their SPARC funding. And as for current swimmers, like Hayley Palmer, I am certain they have not been the source of recent extensive coverage in the mainstream media or of SPARC’s concerns. They have certainly never been the source of any Swimwatch story. My guess though is that this Cameron fantasy is the line SPARC’s investigators will be told. I can only hope they are as incredulous as I am.

I attempted to find out if there was any truth in the Hayley Palmer story by calling her father who is the CEO of Auckland Swimming. He was sympathetic to my concern but would not discuss his daughter’s swimming in any political context. I understand that. The last thing he wants is to compromise Hayley’s swimming career by talking to a pretty rebellious Swimwatch. While I was on the phone I took the opportunity to say that I had also heard a rumor at the December Auckland Age Group Championships that Hayley had been training outside the Millennium Institute coaching program. Was that true? Again, he was very reserved in his comment. He did confirm that Hayley had been swimming with Paul Kent prior to Christmas and that she is leaving for the United States next week, that she will be swimming there in preparation for the World Championships and that she is no longer swimming at the Millennium Institute although she remains a “gold-carded athlete”. What he did say was how grateful they were for the likes of Kent who have generously stepped up to help with pool space and other support. As it related to broader and more detailed issues, he declined to make any further comment.

Whatever the truth, I hope Hayley is not yet another recipient of some Cameron rough justice. I don’t know Hayley Palmer. I’ve never met or spoken to her. However I have watched her career with more than casual interest. Some Swimwatch readers will know that for several years I coached Toni Jeffs. In that time Toni swam in the Barcelona Olympic Games and won bronze medals in the Pan Pacific Games and what was then the World Short Course Championships. While Toni was swimming with me she won 15 New Zealand Championships over 50 or 100 freestyle and broke the New Zealand record for those distances on 16 occasions. She was clearly New Zealand’s best freestyle sprinter. I was not coaching her when she swam her final 50 freestyle fastest time in a National Record of 25:48.

The weekend I returned to New Zealand I attended the New Zealand Commonwealth Games Trials. I was delighted to watch Hayley Palmer break Toni Jeffs’ 50 freestyle National Record. Palmer already held New Zealand’s best time for 100 meters. The mantle of New Zealand’s fastest swimmer had moved to a new pair of shoulders. And Hayley Palmer was clearly a very fine recipient. Today without the complications of two per country and all that other SNZ smoke Hayley Palmer (25.01) is ranked 15th in the world over 50 freestyle and 22nd (54.68) in the world over 100 meters. Her 50 time is less than half a second away from the world’s top three and her 100 about one second from the same rank; gaps that, with good coaching, she could easily bridge. In every sense Palmer is the real deal; quite capable of winning the 50 and the 100 for New Zealand at the London Olympic Games. There was just one problem, and it was fatal. She swam in Cameron’s Millennium program. Ingram, the world’s best backstroke swimmer has the same terminal condition.

My discussion with Palmer’s father clearly shows that in spite of his reluctance to be drawn or provide detailed comment, there is substance to the poolside gossip. His concern for Hayley is obvious. It is equally understandable that there is very little detail available from him at the moment. Swimwatch will be watching these developments closely over the coming weeks. It seems pretty clear though that all is not well at Swimming New Zealand’s Millennium Institute. The cracks are beginning to show. After all, this is not any old club program where some turnover is expected. This program is made up of selected swimmers who are paid well to be members. When, like Moss Burmester, they start to express open discontent there is a problem. If they begin to leave, you can bet the house most of the others would get out too if only they had the courage or could afford to run the financial risk. It will be interesting to observe the spin from the Cameron empire as they scramble to save face over the departure of brilliant swimmers and Commonwealth medalists.

What is absolutely unacceptable in all this is the dictatorial control exercised by Cameron. Why should any swimmer’s career, income and life be dominated by this disagreeable Australian? It is certainly not a necessary component of winning an Olympic swimming race. Cameron is not the sole repository of swimming wisdom. In fact if her letters from New Delhi and television commentary are anything to go by her knowledge of modern swimming has some serious flaws. No one and certainly not Jan Cameron should be in a position to kneecap a swimmer’s career because they decide Cameron’s way is not for them. How on earth did Phelps and Lochte win all those medals without being told how to live their lives by Jan Cameron? Seriously, ask the question. Would Phelps and Lochte have won all those medals if they had swum at the Millennium Institute? I don’t think so. Cameron’s results demonstrate that she is not all that good at this game. If Millennium swimmers decide to find someone who does understand the elite swimming trade, New Zealand should financially support their decision and wish them God speed. My guess is that adult swimmers may be finding that being bought body and soul by the Cameron gang is not worth the cost of abandoning their Olympic dream. That is something to admire. That is something that could well earn its reward in the East End of London.

Much of Cameron’s behavior reminds me of a story I read about Mohammed Ali and an experience I had at a pool in Florida.

Ali was flying into Miami Airport. He arranged with the airport authorities to have his chauffeur park the car in a restricted area so he could avoid the crowds that gathered whenever he appeared. The chauffeur parked in the agreed zone and went in to collect Ali. When they came out a warden was giving Ali’s car a ticket. The chauffeur was incensed and started to argue with the warden. The warden yelled back, that just because Ali was the world boxing champion he couldn’t leave his car where he wanted. He was no better than anyone else. Ali gently put his hand on the chauffeur’s shoulder and said, “Just take the ticket. It’s more important to him that it is to us.”

Shortly after Rhi Jeffrey won her Olympic gold medal she came to the pool where I was the coach to begin training. She was talking to me when the Pool Manager, Joe McNeally, came out of his office and demanded a pool entry fee. I explained that Rhi was joining the swim team and would be paying training fees which included her pool entry.

“Has she paid her training fees today?” he demanded.

“She’s only been here five minutes.” I said.

“Well just because she’s an Olympic Champion she is no better than anyone else,” he screamed.

Rhi was about to get mad. I said to her, “Don’t worry I’ll pay the four dollars. It’s more important to him that it is to us.”

Whenever New Zealand swimmers get any good or pass twenty years of age Cameron can’t help exercising her authority by putting them down; by making the point that they are no better than anyone else. For years there has been a pattern of irrational control. You can’t have a drink. You can’t pass go without Cameron’s approval. The irony is, it doesn’t work. Have you ever noticed how many Cameron led teams have discipline problems? There is even a tree outside the Kiwi Paka motel in Rotorua called the “Jan Tree”. It’s still there. I’m told it got its name because Cameron hid behind it trying to catch swimmers sneaking into town. Goodness knows if it has any basis in truth, but all myths begin with at least the belief that they could be true, and swimmers believed this. Does that sounds like a trusting relationship? The message Lydiard preached above all others; above running the Waitakeres; above anaerobic sets; above everything was, “always trust your athlete.” Not a concept high in the Cameron coaching manual.

Eventually swimmers get fed up with all her control and retire or try to succeed somewhere else. Cameron cuts off the “dissident’s” funding and moves on to the next “promising” sixteen year old. The cycle of selling her honey tomorrow begins all over again.

“Well Cameron in this case it does matter. You see, it is more important to us than it is to you.”