Auckland Open Championships

By David

Do you remember The Fast Show? Especially the line, “This week I have mostly been doing – – -.” At which point you fill in the rest. In my case I spent a worthy and entertaining few days at the Auckland Open Swimming Championships. I liked the meet. It was unusual. It was important. However it was certainly not your typical swim meet. The entries were low. I’m told that was because many of Auckland’s age group swimmers were preparing for the national age group championship in Wellington next week.

To digress for a second – I did hear that the Wellington meet will start from the deep end of the Kilbirnie Pool. It’s hard to escape the feeling that words like dishonesty, fraudulent and duplicitous characterize some of the behaviour of Swimming New Zealand. A year ago they tore into me like savage dogs for protesting the use of the shallow end at the Championships. Their press release actually called me a trouble maker. Certainly my protest was rejected and my $50 confiscated. Swimming New Zealand looked pretty pathetic when FINA officials supported my protest. A few hurried meetings and a quarter of a million dollars later and deep end starts have become normal. However I’m still waiting for my $50 back. Come on Swimming New Zealand – do the descent thing. FINA said my protest was a good one. You changed the Wellington Pool because of it. You owe me $50. I want it back – please.

Anyway back to the Auckland Opens. The number of entries was small but the quality was good. The Millennium Institute plus its Wellington Branch office turned up. They had been at a training camp last week and must have decided to swim the meet as a sort of end of camp fling. The best swimmers from Roskill, North Shore, WAQ and a few smaller clubs made up the balance of the entries.

The presence of the Aqua Blacks gave me a chance to observe them en mass; to decide first hand whether they were any different from the last time I saw them together. The answer is worse. You must appreciate that none of this has anything to do with the swimmers. This is about a toxic, losing environment nurtured by Miskimmin and those he employs to look after his Millennium folly. Swimmers subjected to that environment will need to be super good – good enough to beat the world’s best swimmers and good enough to overcome the disadvantage of being coached in an environment that has institutionalized failure.

Their real problem is entrenched arrogance. Miskimmin and his mates do not see this as a problem. For them it’s team spirit and pride. But it’s not. I’ve been fortunate enough to coach at meets that have also included, Matt Biondi, Camille Muffat, Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Oussama Mellouli, Amanda Beard, Amanda Weir and a host of other Olympic Champions and World Record holders. In every case, even in the most extroverted “Gary Hall” type champion, there is a characteristic modesty about their demeanour. They are good at what they do. They are very, very good and they are consciously aware of the need not to flaunt it. Like the time I saw Gary Hall, Olympic sprint champion, happily pay at the spectator gate to get into a meet at which he was due to present winner’s medals. Or the morning in an Indianapolis café when Michael Phelps was mistakenly charged and paid for my breakfast and steadfastly refused my offer of a refund.

But that’s not the personality Jan Cameron fostered at her Millennium Institute. It’s not the temperament Peter Miskimmin wants today. What they want is a small select assembly of New Zealand’s best swimmers who train together, dress in the same fake national uniforms and sit with each other at meets; avoiding the great unwashed. Understandably the majority seem to buy into their own importance; with three exceptions. It seems to me that Lauren Boyle, Hayley Palmer and Gary Hurring preserve a humility that does them proud – probably because all three have been really good and appreciate the pretention of local success. International swimming success for the others will be difficult; probably impossible. Peter Miskimmin is already providing them with all the self-esteem they will ever need. In 1954 Abraham Maslow could have explained to Miskimmin why his grand Millennium scheme will never work. “Man”, he said, “is a tension reducing animal.” From what I saw at West Wave Pool this weekend there’s not much call for self-actualization at the Millennium Institute. They have all they need already.

Even more interesting was the number of coaches and support crew that Miskimmin employs to care for New Zealand Swimming’s chosen Millennium people. I didn’t see the expensive Bill Sweetenham. Perhaps the comforts of the Crown Plaza were irresistible. Swimming New Zealand’s new Director of Swimming Luis Villanueva was present; running along the pool deck clutching a stopwatch; timing the warm up laps of the selected few. Then there is Gary – he was certainly legitimate. There was also another guy who, I’m told, normally does lactate tests. He had a stopwatch as well; ready to pick up any swimmer Villanueva missed. A data analyst and an office person completed the Millennium army. My guess is that Miskimmin employed six staff this weekend to look after a dozen swimmers.

But back to the Auckland Open Championships. I enjoyed the weekend. The meet plays an important role in preparing swimmers for the National Championships, three weeks away in March. West Auckland Aquatics’ swimmers would like to thank Brian Palmer, the Executive Director of Auckland Swimming, for the chance to compete over four days. Putting on this event must have involved a huge amount of work. Work undertaken, I imagine, without the benefit of Peter Miskimmin’s money and staff numbers. Take heart though Brian, according to Maslow satisfying the need of self-esteem is a far more worthy human goal than Miskimmin’s Millennium money.