Archive for June, 2012

June Update

Monday, June 18th, 2012

By David

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Isn’t that so very true? The various battles fought through the pages of Swimwatch have assumed some prominence in the very small world that is competitive swimming in New Zealand. That prominence has had a personal spin-off. On many occasions I have been at swimming competitions in New Zealand where those that know me scurry past, avoiding eye contact, afraid they may be associated with that hideous David Wright. Those that don’t know me scurry past as well, thankful for their innocence but ready to tell their friends about the bad deed of which I am guilty and they know to be fact.

The concern of those I have met is not without foundation. A well known swimming administrator told me she was accosted by Mike Byrne at this year’s National Age Group Championships and asked why she had been seen talking to me. Fortunately this administrator is made of stern stuff. The disapproval of Mike Byrne was of little consequence. Shortly after I arrived back in New Zealand from the United States another swimming administrator told me that I would be watched; my behaviour was being monitored. I felt like a serious offender being screened by a zealous parole officer; an uncomfortable position for someone in his sixties still to face his first criminal offence. Gossip, of course, was the motive. My coaching record of Olympic and World Championship swimmers, Oceania, Pan Pacfic and Caribbean Championship medallists, 22 NZ Open Championships, 19 NZ Open Records, a master’s world record and the like meant nothing. Surveillance was the primary concern. Gwenda Cowlrick once described me to the Annual Meeting of the Aquahawks Swim Club as that “horrible David Wright”. Being as we had never met I thought that judgement was a little rash for someone who teaches Hawke’s Bay’s youth at Napier Girl’s High School.

That sort of stuff has gone on for so long I have grown used to the political cold shoulder. It really doesn’t worry me anymore. In fact, I’ve found the behaviour of swimming people towards me is a pretty accurate measure of their character; much more than mine. Gary Hurring, for example lives and coaches in a highly charged political environment and yet since I returned from the USA has always stopped to say hello and chat without the slightest sense of fear. The same goes for Jon Winter, Paul Kent, Horst Miehe and a few others. Horst even invited me over to his office on my first weekend back in New Zealand for a cup of coffee and a chat. The fact that Jan Cameron and some other Swimming New Zealand principals didn’t like me seemed to be of little concern. These coaches are also made of sterner stuff and I appreciate their kindness. At this point, I must say that the fact that West Auckland Aquatics offered me the opportunity to coach their team speaks volumes for their courage. I hate to think of the stories they had to investigate or ignore.

And so, does this have any relevance to the Moller Report? Strangely, yes it does. At first I thought Moller was a person of character and courage; unafraid of the truth wherever it was found. After all he invited me to Wellington for a one on one meeting. That must have taken some resolve. Certainly I was flattered to be invited and impressed with the content of our discussion. And I said so in the Swimwatch story describing the meeting.

 The invitation to meet with the Review leaders, Chis Moller and Sue Suckling, was a surprise. The normal behaviour of Swimming New Zealand leaders is to ignore people like me; to brand us as trouble makers, disloyal to the sport and to proceed as though we didn’t exist. The invitation to hear the views of one of the organization’s most vocal critics deserves recognition. They may dismiss those views as an expression of the lunatic fringe but at least they were prepared to make forty five minutes available to hear what this radical had to say. For that I am grateful. After Wellington, here at Swimwatch, we do have hope.

I was a bit less impressed a few weeks later when Moller and Suckling called me to interrogate my motives for filing a protest about the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool. They appeared to have the view that I was the ringleader of some sort of conspiracy aimed at bringing down Pelorus House. Was I using the Age Group Nationals to ferment civil disorder? Perhaps Moller and Suckling were beginning to believe the “horrible man” stories? Of course the protest was based on a real concern that Swimming New Zealand officials were asking swimmers to dive into a dangerous pool. I would have thought Moller should have been concerned about that as well. Certainly the same protest will be filled at this winter’s short course Nationals in September. I want my protest to be on the record when someone seriously injures themselves diving into that pool.

And then last week the Moller report was published. I glanced through it quickly and came to the section headed “Table B.2 Parties interviewed as part of the Review process.” Naturally I looked for my name. I’d been in Sydney at the New South Wales Championships when the Auckland interviews were being held but because of the importance of Moller’s work had flown to Wellington to attend one of the Wellington interviews. But my name isn’t there.

I want to stress that whether my name is on a list in the Moller Report is of no concern to me. What I am interested in is the motive behind its exclusion. Does the omission speak to the character and integrity of the authors? Have they joined the ranks of the “scurry past” in case we are seen consorting with the enemy. I think that’s exactly what’s happened. And if it is, that is very serious indeed.

You see the most fundamental problem facing Swimming New Zealand has little to do with structures or constitutions or strategic plans. The real problem has always been the character and competence of its leaders. All the structural tinkering in the world will count for nothing if the character of the leadership is found wanting. For exactly the same reason the Moller Report and its recommendations count for little if the character and courage of its authors are suspect. Until I am convinced otherwise Moller and Suckling have been tested and have been found wanting; not because they deleted my name but because of the reasons they did it. And that is a terrible shame. I hope I am wrong.


Friday, June 15th, 2012

By David

A number of the swimmers on the West Auckland Aquatics team have told me they like the stories about other swimmers. In the Twitter and Facebook age I guess that’s an understandable point of view. I am told that stories about swimmers are much better than that “boring stuff you write” about Swimming New Zealand. There seems little point in my efforts to explain that the “boring stuff” is an attempt to bring about changes that should improve their swimming lives. For some reason I am sure they find the explanation as dull as the original story. Instead I will accede to their wishes and tell you about another West Auckland swimming character; Abigail.

Abigail is sixteen and has an accent as American as mother’s apple pie. That is both surprising and not so surprising. Surprising because Abigail was born in Rotorua Hospital; a location very close to heartland New Zealand. And not surprising because her parents were born in the heartland Midwest of the United States. They, that’s Abigail’s parents, are genuinely good people. Their Christian beliefs are a source of “New Testament” kindness and generosity rather than the “Old Testament” judgement that so often haunts those of a strong faith. They even seem to understand a swim coach who has strayed from the teachings of his Brethren upbringing.

Their daughter is an equally generous human being. Mature, well beyond her years, Abigail is a coaching dream. She consumes huge distances in training. Take a look at the table below that lists her average distance swum in the four build ups she has completed since I began coaching at the West Auckland Club. And if you are impressed remember that the distances were all swum in a six day week. Abigail does not train or compete on a Sunday; that is the time she attends to the Lord’s work.

Before I get scolded by Abigail, I had better explain that the lower average in this most recent build up (number four) is the result of the coach’s request that Abigail reduce her weekly mileage in order to improve the speed of her main sets. I doubt there is a person reading this who does not endorse the view that these build up distances are impressive. And remember Abigail did the first three build ups when she was just fifteen. No, there is nothing wrong with Abigail’s work ethic. There is not an international swimmer anywhere that would not be happy to have numbers like those in their training diary.

From a coaching point of view I enjoy Abigail’s story. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the argument that weights and excessive mileage will cause short term injury or even long term abnormalities. Well, few swimmers have swum further or lifted more than Abigail. And as the pictures of her show she is neither injured or abnormal. In fact she is another perfect product of the view that distance and weights done properly will cause nothing but good. She is healthy, she is not injured and she enjoys her active and productive life. Her application appears to have done nothing but good. “Ah,” I hear the critics say, “but wait until later in life. Then the problems will appear.” Abigail, Jane, Toni and Nichola have or will prove that theory wrong as well.

Shortly after Abigail got back from an annual youth camp in Taupo she was explaning an evening game. Each camper was asked to make an effigy of a well known figure. “What did your figure look like?” I asked. Quick as a flash she donned flippers and paddles, cap and goggles and lay prone on the pool deck. “Like this,” she said. Aware that you might not believe this story I have copied below a photograph of the very alive Abigail in her effagy pose.

Some readers may be surprised at the size of Abigail’s paddles. They are an American import. Stealing all her courage Abigail ignored the flood of advice that told her big paddles would cause horrific shoulder problems. On a trip to the United States Abigail bought the biggest paddles she could find. A year later and possibly as much as 1000 kilometres swum with the paddles there is no sign of injury. Once again it is not the size of the paddles. It’s what you do in them that matters.

Abigail’s training has produced good competitive results. She has reached the stage of making finals in the New Zealand Age Group Nationals. Will she get better? Yes, most certainly. How much better will depend on talent, coaching and opportunity. What will never be in question is her application. Whatever the rewards of sheer hard work turn out to be, those rewards will belong to this West Auckland Aquatic’s swimmer.

Typical of Abigail is the story of her trip to this year’s Age Group Nationals. Needing extra money to cover the costs of incidentals during the week in Wellington, Abigail positioned herself outside the local mall each lunch time and began busking with, I think, it was a flute. I was surprised. She did remarkably well and easily earned enough to fund her Wellington costs. She declined the coach’s offer of vocal assistance. I suspect that decision was influenced by fiscal concerns.

Abigail – it’s been a pleasure to be your coach. You have earned the respect of us all.


Friday, June 8th, 2012

By David

In 1967 I was one of twenty New Zealanders selected to spend a year in the United States as an American Field Service scholar. I ended up in the small Wisconsin town of Thorpe. It would be a lie to tell you my academic career made much progress in the USA, but I had a ball. I was selected to be the kicker on the football team and, as a result of having the longest punting average in the state, I had my class ring presented to me by Bart Starr, the quarter-back for the world champion Green Bay Packers. I sold the signed football he gave me for $US5000 to a Packers fan in Los Angeles. I went to Sadie Hawkins, Homecoming and the Prom with Mary Ann Lewsneski, Deputy Captain of the Thorpe High School cheerleading team. I won the Wisconsin American Legion oratory contest, but was beaten in the USA national final. I acted in the senior class play and spoke at the 4th July Independence Day church service. I even went to a Milwaukie Prom as the partner of Sue Davidson, a member of the Harley Davidson family. An extraordinary year ended with an extraordinary bus trip from New York to Los Angeles.

My foreign student experience contrasts starkly with that of a German foreign student who is about to end a year’s stay in New Zealand. Reka is sixteen and comes from Cologne. She has spent much of her year training and competing for the West Auckland Aquatics Swim Team. Her participation has been well past the recreational level. Week after week she has swum 60 kilometres; 362 kilometres in the past six weeks. And her swimming has improved as a result. She qualified to swim in the Age Group Nationals but the stupid Coach (that’s me) didn’t get her entries in on time. She made the finals of the Auckland Championships and last weekend ended up fourth in a good quality “skins” competition at the Waterhole 400 Meet. Reka is a good swimmer. She works hard and is that rarest and most valued of products: she’s terrifically low maintenance.

But best of all Reka is great fun to have on the team. She knows every second hand clothing store in Auckland. It’s an education seeing the new and interesting outfits she manages to buy for a few dollars. She went sky diving in Queenstown and, according to her, bought New Zealand’s best pizza in Wanaka. A second earring has been installed in the top of her left ear. She loves New Zealand but is not so sycophantic that she is afraid to enjoy our many odd foibles. She clearly thinks some of the school conversations are a bit limited. “All they talk about” she says, “is drugs, alcohol and make up.”

Reka was the source of a lovely moment at the New Zealand Olympic Trials. She was employed by Auckland Swimming to guard the main doors into the competition pool. Her duty was to prevent members of the public sneaking onto the pool deck without paying. With efficiency characteristic of her nation, Reka policed the door. All was well until I noticed two of New Zealand’s outstanding swimmers, Matthew Stanley, the swimmer who just broke double Olympic Gold Medallist Danyon Loader’s 200 and 400 freestyle records, and Lauren Boyle, New Zealand Olympian, record holder and champion over 400 and 800 freestyle, advancing towards Reka’s door and the toilets on the other side. Unaffected by, or perhaps unaware of, the status of the intruders, Reka firmly and politely asked to see their passes. Neither swimmer could oblige. For Reka, no pass, irrespective of rank, meant no exit. The moment was a gem.

The sort of student exchange that brought Reka to New Zealand is good for Reka and the school she attends here. It this case it has been especially good for our club. The presence of a bright and intelligent international visitor broadens the outlook of the New Zealanders on the West Auckland Aquatics team. It brings a refreshing foreign view that benefits us all. It demands more understanding. It is a good thing.

In five weeks Reka will return to Germany. She will be missed. It’s been great having her here in New Zealand. We wish her well on her return to her German homeland. Haere Ra. Kia Kaha.

Mark Berge

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

By David

The internet tells me that the “possibly-not-for-long” SNZ Director, Mark Berge, has the following skills and expertise:

Project Portfolio Management, Strategic Planning, Benefits Realization, Governance, Board, Sports Admin and Governance, Strategy Execution, Group Work, Value Stream Mapping, Organizational Change, Change Leadership, Business Outcome / Benefits Mapping, Facilitation and Training and Strategy Development

It is ironic that someone who claims this impressive resume of talents should be a long term member of a Board that is about to be voted into oblivion. The performance of the Swimming New Zealand Board does not appear to have benefitted from Berge’s expertise in governance. I suspect the only skill that may have immediate relevance is “strategy execution” – especially the execution bit. The resume may be impressive but Berge’s deeds at Swimming New Zealand have not measured up to the hype. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” In this case, we certainly do.

Yesterday Berge added another dark chapter to the acts that have brought Swimming New Zealand to its knees. He published the selection criteria for the 2012 World Short Course Championships. The times required by Swimming New Zealand to get on the team are tough but not unreasonable. The times required to be on the team and be fully funded however are much tougher. They are based on achieving a time equal to the eight placed swimmer at the Dubai World Short Course Championships in 2010. Here is a table that shows both the New Zealand qualifying times and the times needed for a swimmer wanting to have their journey to the championships paid for.

The times, published by Berge, are not too bad. I’m all in favour of swimmers having to work hard to achieve fast times. Representing your country is not something to be done on the cheap. It is not, however, the times that tell us why Swimming New Zealand will be a better place when Berge is away doing something else. It is the selection criteria surrounding the times that reveal Berge’s incompetence.

But, before dealing with these issues, I do find it upsetting when Berge appears to distort the truth. We’ve had too much of that stuff coming out of Pelorus House. This is what the selection criteria, published under his name says.

Funding: Swimmers who meet the Selection Criteria as above and achieve a time, in an Olympic Event, that would have placed them in the final (top 8) at the 2010 FINA World Short Course Championships, will be fully funded by SNZ.

For swimmers who meet the Selection Criteria as above and achieve a time that would have placed them in the semi-final (top 16) at the 2010 FINA World Short Course Championships, SNZ will distribute any remaining funds on a declining graded scale.

The bits that I object to are those that say, “will be fully funded by SNZ” and “SNZ will distribute”. The impression is that Berge’s hard working Board is generously providing the funds for New Zealand’s swimmers to compete in Istanbul at the end of the year. However, as I understand it, the reality is that FINA pays the cost of qualified athletes attending this event. It appears Berge may be as good at gilding the truth as Coulter and Butler were before him.

However the real injustice; the item in this document that highlights the importance of getting rid of people like Berge is the one that says:

Selection Events – New Zealand Short Course Championships, Wellington, 30th September to 4th October 2012.

Having said we agree with Berge that the selection times should be tough and internationally competitive, doesn’t Berge and mates feel any obligation to provide the athletes attempting to achieve those times with a facility that meets internationally competitive standards. Instead they provide the tired old Kilbirnie Pool. That’s a bit like asking Usain Bolt to qualify for the Olympics running up the South Col of Everest.

The time standard of eight in the Dubai 2010 World Short Course Championships was set in a new pool that was three meters deep and had the latest “back-plate” starting blocks. It was, in all respects, an internationally competitive facility as the times of the eight fastest qualifiers confirm. What Berge is asking New Zealand’s swimmers to do, is swim the same times in a backyard paddling pool in Wellington. The Wellington pool does not comply with FINA minimum standards, it is slow and shallow and it has low, old fashioned starting blocks with no back plate. Without question the combination of the Kilbirnie Pool’s failings could cost a good swimmer 0.5 to 0.7 of a second per 50 meters. Just look at the disadvantages of swimming in the Kilbirnie Pool. The starting blocks are small, they have no back plate to assist the start and they are low to the water. Every swimmer’s start is going to be slow. The water entry speed is also going to be slow. The distance over the water, at the start, is going to be short and the critical initial underwater speed is going to be seriously slow. The shallow water will mean all good swimmers will have to change the shape of their normal dive, they will not travel as far under the water and because 70% of their race will be swum in shallow water the resulting drag will reduce their swimming speed. Over a 50 meter race Berge is asking New Zealand’s swimmers to give the world’s best swimmers half a second start and then beat them. Berge is either incompetent or has a really, really sick sense of humour.

Besides all that, FINA rules say the Wellington pool is not up to international standards. It is clearly not right to ask for international performances in a non-international facility. If we have to live by the rules, so must Mr. Berge. His job is to provide swimmers with proper conditions. He has not done that. He should go.

The solution? Shift the event to the West Wave Pool in Auckland. It has proper starting blocks and it is 1.8 meters deep.