Archive for October, 2012

Carterton, Russell and Bridget

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

By David

A few years ago Stacey Friel described New Zealand’s leading swimming coaches as the “cool coaches”. In those days Brett Naylor, Mark Bone and Hilton Brown were the coolest of the cool. Today New Zealand’s cool coaches are not as successful as their predecessors but are still recognized as cooler than the rest of us. You may think that last comment is gilding the lily. But name me a New Zealand coach today who can claim a world record or two Olympic bronze medals.

Government employed bureaucrats, Mark Regan and Scott Talbot, lead today’s cool group of coaches. Behind them several fawning toadies clamber to earn the “cool coach” accolade. But I tell you what. You could bundle Regan and Talbot into a plastic bag and add any other three coaches including me and our combined coaching skills would not touch those of New Zealand’s best swimming coach. Who is he? Allow me to introduce Russell Geange from Carterton.

To understand the extent of his coaching resume I need to tell you a little about his coaching catchment area, the town of Carterton. Here is what Wikipedia tells me about Coach Russell’s home.

Carterton is a small town in the Wellington region of New Zealand. The town’s population is 4,122. Carterton was founded in 1857. Originally known as Three Mile Bush, Carterton served as housing for workers building the road between  Wellington and Masterton. It was later renamed after Charles Carter who was in charge of the building of the Black Bridge over the Waiohine River. The town describes itself as New Zealand’s daffodil capital, holding a Daffodil Festival each year on the second Sunday in September.

Carterton claimed to be the first place in the world with a transsexual mayor, Georgina Beyer. Georgina went on to become the MP for Wairarapa. Carterton was the birthplace of Sir Bob Charles, the first left-handed golfer to win a Major, the British Open in 1963. The Carterton District library on Holloway Street is New Zealand’s oldest purpose-built library that is still in use as a library today. Carterton has three primary schools; there are no secondary schools in the Carterton District.

So how does Coach Russell’s population catchment of 4,122 compare. Well, Regan and Talbot claim the entire country are their territory. So they have to be 1069 times more successful to match Coach Russell’s record. Here in Auckland we’d need to out-perform Russell 344 times. In Wellington Garry Hurring has 92 times the population. Christchurch has 87 times more population. Even Napier and Hastings are 30 times bigger.

From the town of Carterton Coach Russell has nurtured three National Open Champions and one other very good distance swimmer. Anna Betham won a medley title. For several years Jolie Workman was the country’s best breaststroke swimmer. And Jonathan Winter started his illustrious swimming career with Russell in Carterton. The distance swimmer now swims with Coach Judith Wright at the Waterhole Club in Auckland. But more of Bridget later in this story.

Three national open champions from a town not even big enough to merit having a high school. Not only that. The pool he uses is three or four lanes wide and is covered in that horrible clear corrugated plastic. The place must be a freezing in those frosty Wairarapa winter mornings. How incredible is all that? While the rest of us snooze in council provided air conditioned luxury and moan about pool space, Coach Russell preparing champions in the most primitive of conditions.

Regan and Talbot will need to coach 3207 national champions just to match Russell’s record. I’ve coached 29 open champions and am still 1004 behind the Russell total. Hawkes Bay’s coaches need to find 90 national champions to match Coach Russell’s total. Of course we’ll never do it. On a population basis, Coach Russell is clearly New Zealand’s best swimming coach.

My association with Russell began long before we both started coaching swimmers. Russell was the Lamb Cutting supervisor at Borthwick’s Waignawa Freezing Works in Masterton. At the same time I was responsible for the Borthwick Group’s new product development in their London Head Quarters. One of our prize projects was to ship chilled lamb from New Zealand. We were confident chilled “fresh” lamb could be sold at a healthy premium compared to the traditional frozen product. Well, the first container of chilled lamb ever shipped from New Zealand was cut and packed by Russell in Masterton and was sold to the Marks and Spenser’s London Marble Arch store by me. Today many thousands of tonnes of chilled lamb are exported from New Zealand to the UK, USA, China and a dozen other countries. At the national swimming championships in Wellington three weeks ago, Russell and I had a laugh about our roles in getting the whole thing started. It could be that successful swim coaching is best founded along the mutton chain of a New Zealand meat plant.

And finally back to Bridget. She too began her swimming career with Coach Russell in Carterton. Today she swims with Judith Wright at the Waterhole Club in Auckland. She is a good swimmer – 5th in the senior women’s 800 freestyle at this year’s Spring Championships. Three mornings a week Bridgett swims at the West Wave Pool. Every day she parks in the same parking space and works through Judith’s tough and exacting schedules. Every morning she has a smile and warm welcome for the coach who opens the door at 5.15am – that’s me. If Bridgett is an example of the swimmers Russell is still producing from his Carterton Pool his standards remain that of New Zealand’s best coach. One thing is for certain though. His record deserves a much better pool even in a small community like Three Mile Bush, Carterton.