Never Go Public Before An Event

The Barcelona Olympic Games were held in 1992. For me, they were not a happy occasion.   Before the event Toni Jeffs and I stayed in Canet, in France, where the British and Canadian teams were also quartered. It was quiet, peaceful and with everything we needed — good air-conditioned accommodation, a 50-metre pool, a gymnasium, medical attention — only a relatively short distance from the Olympic pool. Toni swam in the Olympic pool three times before the New Zealand team even arrived in Barcelona and found then that the Olympic village accommodation was not air-conditioned and the food, in the way of mass-produced meals, was bland. We decided it would be better to stay in Canet, if Swimming New Zealand agreed.

The team’s chef de mission agreed. The swimming management agreed in a rather reluctant and offhand manner. So we returned to Canet and I was staggered when, the following day, I was contacted from New Zealand and told that Swimming New Zealand management had stated, on television, that we had walked out of the village without approval; disciplinary action would follow when we returned to New Zealand.

The media turned up on our doorstep chasing a story that was, at best, a figment of Swimming New Zealand’s imagination and, at worst, deliberately misleading.

When we got back to New Zealand, we were told a formal inquiry would be held during the New Zealand winter championships. We pre-empted this by formally complaining to the New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games’ Athletes’ Commission. It investigated and found in our favour – Swimming New Zealand officials had approved our request and their subsequent actions were personally damaging.

A meeting was held at the NZOCGA offices and it was agreed that Swimming New Zealand had handled the episode badly; if we agreed to accept their apology, the matter would end with no further public comment. We agreed, which, on reflection, was stupid. I have lived ever since with the public perception that I had not allowed Toni to stay in the Olympic village. It was a public relations win for Swimming New Zealand.

The pathetic politics of Swimming New Zealand clouded but did not totally spoil my wonder at the triumphs of Barcelona.  They made my problems trivial and demeaning; an Olympic Games should be attended with confidence, dignity and respect and I was unable to do this. It will not happen again.

A few months later I discussed the whole Barcelona fiasco with New Zealand running great Dick Quax. His comment was one I have never forgotten. “David,” he said, “before a major event avoid all publicity.” Quax’s point was that because there is no sport to report, the press are on the prowl for any crumb of gossip. Trivial issues are magnified by sport’s journo hacks desperate to justify their Olympic expenses. Journalists hunting for news are not noted for their class. Just look at the way Terry Serepisos has had his character assassinated by that pom on Radio Sport between noon and 3.00pm. The same guy rips into athletes who change their sporting nationality. I have a wife who ran for New Zealand and the United Kingdom and a daughter who swam for New Zealand and the US Virgin Islands. Come to think of it, I’ve coached athletes who have represented four or five different countries. None of us have the low life carpet bagger motives attributed to us by the boorish oaf on Radio Sport.

On the subject of Radio Sport – the way their journalists encourage the vilification of the Australian footballer, Quade Cooper, is also a disgrace. Journalists in glass houses should not throw stones. Quade Cooper’s charge was that, in the heat of a rugby international, he kneed the New Zealand captain in the back. Accusing anyone of kicking people in the back is a subject Radio Sport journalists would do well to avoid. At least Cooper was found not guilty.

And so, completely ignoring the good advice of Dick Quax, I want to tell you about a swimming event that is still a week away. You won’t find this event on FINA’s calendar of important international occasions. Even Swimming New Zealand will be far too busy to notice this modest event. But in a week there is an Auckland Level One meet which is very important to the best swimmers on our little team.

Rhi is competing in the 100 and 200 meters freestyle. Sometime soon she has to swim the qualifying times for the US Olympic Trials – 57.19 for the 100 and 2.03.19 for the 200. This event will test how close she is to those targets. The Trials will be held on June 25 – July 2 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Jessica will swim in the 800 meters freestyle. After her good 1500 meter swim of 17.09.86 a few weeks ago, it will be interesting to see how she performs. I see she is ranked first. The swim will be an important trial. Three days later she heads off to Singapore and Beijing to swim in those stops in this year’s World Cup program.

Jane is ranked first in the 50 and 200 meters breaststroke. Over the past few weeks Jane’s training has improved. It will be interesting to see if she can improve on her best times of 2.41.35 and 34.68. I have been fortunate enough to coach two international breaststroke swimmers; Jane Copland and Missy McIntyre. Jane Ip could well become a third.

Justin is ranked first in the 50 and 100 meters butterfly. Like Jane, his training has been progressing well. His easy stroke reminds me of Ossie Quevedo, another butterfly swimmer I coached. Ossie holds the FINA world record for master’s 50 fly in the 30-34 age group. It will be a great day when Justin matches Ossie’s butterfly feats.

Nikki is ranked first in the 50 backstroke. This will be her first individual swim back after the horrendous health problems she has experienced in 2011. I have no expectations for her this weekend. I am happy that she is well enough to compete. Whatever her result it will be an achievement and good enough for all of us.

There is a political aspect to all this. Every time Club swimmers take on the coterie of privilege from the Millennium Institute there is a political point to be made – private enterprise can do it better. Every time a swimmer from United or Roskill or West Auckland Aquatics beats one of the products of the socialist delivery of sport from the Millennium Institute, swimming in New Zealand improves. The point has to be made; the lesson has to be taught – you do not need to be on swimming welfare to be a world class athlete. In fact it’s better if you are not. And so, Godspeed Nikki, Jessica, Rhi, Jane and Justin – the cause you represent is good and important to swimming in this country.

Swimwatch will let you know how they fare.


  • Tom

    Completely agree with you on the vilification of Quade Cooper. I found the attacks directed at him, the booing and trumped up ‘public enemy number one’ tag to be embarrassing – and I know a lot of people who felt the same. It reflected more poorly on us as a county then on any mistakes he’s made in the past.

    Congratulations to the All Blacks – may not have been the most beautiful win, but a win none the less! (sorry, not much swimming in that post, but I’m in a great mood today).

  • Sensible Swimming

    Good luck to you and your swimmers David. After all their hard work they are deserving of the recognition which good results will bring.

  • David

    I agree Tom. I did not like the charge of cheating and thuggery laid against the French either. The New Zealand Herald was especially bad. Of course they are all being well mannered this morning – several hours too late. In the end the French did a great job of proving all that wrong.

    Congratulations to the ABs. They did splendid.

  • David

    Thank you Sensible Swimming – they have worked well for this. With the exception of Nikki, the swimmers mentioned have all swum in excess of 2200 kilometers this winter season preparing for this meet. They deserve a good one.

  • Tom

    I’m with you on the New Zealand Herald’s France stories in the lead up to the final. The Northern Hemisphere press were pretty awful as well. I’m pleased the French team (and a great performance by Stephen Donald) have made a lot of people look foolish. Best of luck to you and your swimmers.

  • Northern Swimmer

    Some great swims from your motley crew David!

    Especially well done to Rhi on posting a qualifying time in the 100m Freestyle!