Archive for July, 2019

Women Athletes Have It Tough

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

Two internet events occurred this week that were related and require action. The first is an essay written by Jane Copland. Here is the link.

Jane tells the story of a sexist event that happened to her recently while she was out running on a trail along the River Thames just outside of London. Believe me Jane knows quite a bit about the sexist behaviour inflicted on female athletes. I know that’s true because I was her coach until she left New Zealand to swim on a four year swimming scholarship at Washington State University.

In fact some of the best swimmers I have coached have been women – Jane, Alison, Rhi, Toni, Nichola, Penny and another Jane. Those seven have all won national championships or set national records or been national representatives. In most cases they did all three.

In every case the problems they faced and had to overcome were vastly more difficult than their male team mates.

Take, for example, the guys in the gym who insisted they reduce the weights they were lifting, “because they were girls”. Or the guy who told Toni she should stop doing chin-ups because it was bad for childbirth. Or the idiots who risk a heart attack trying to prevent a woman passing them and then hurl abuse when they realise it is a lost cause. Or the four surf club morons who in an empty pool jumped into Toni’s lane for the sole purpose of disrupting the training of a woman that could swim faster than them.  Or the guys on a track in Hawke’s Bay who chose to deliberately walk in the lane Alison was using to run a set of 10×200. Or the guy riding his bike in Dunedin who was passed by Alison running and exclaimed, “Oh my God, that’s all I need”. Or the whistles and offers of sexual “favours” athletic women endure as a matter of course. Or the books that instruct women that their training load should be less than men.

I’ve seen all that and much more. And so discrimination is not just about prize money not being equal. It’s not only about a President of Athletics New Zealand who said, “A woman should never be selected for the Olympic Games if a good man was available.”

It is about an endless stream of putdowns that women must endure; putdowns that men never experience. It is unfair. It is unjust. It is wrong. Climbing the sporting mountain is difficult enough without male morons making it even more difficult.

And with that thought in mind I absolutely support an initiative sent to me in an email I received two days ago. The cause is a good one and long overdue. Well worth your backing. Well worth changing sport for the better.

Here is what the email said.

Feminists launch campaign to defend women’s sport

July 29 2019

Feminist group Speak Up For Women is today launching a campaign encouraging Kiwi sports fans to demand the government defend women’s sport, given inaction over the issue from sport officials.

This follows trans athlete Laurel Hubbard, who has competed as a male, controversially taking the gold medal in women’s weightlifting at the Pacific Games earlier this month, displacing Samoa’s Commonwealth Games gold medalist Feagaiga Stowers and her compatriot Iuniarra Sipaia, who would otherwise have placed first and second overall.

Speak Up For Women’s spokesperson Ani O’Brien says: ‘Kiwis know that males competing in women’s sport is blatantly unfair. As a nation we pride ourselves on being good sports, and going into the Olympics next year this is not a good look.

“We’ve met with senior figures in the sports community who agree the rules allowing this to happen are not fair – but they won’t speak out for fear of backlash from transactivists, who quickly shut down any discussion with accusations of bigotry,” said Ms O’Brien.

Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi said he was shocked when he heard about Hubbard’s win and that it should never have been allowed to happen. “The Samoan government has spoken up for its female athletes and it’s time ou government did the same,” says Ms O’Brien.

“We’re calling on Kiwis to head over to the Speak Up For Women website, where they can easily email Hon. Grant Robertson, Minister for Sport and Recreation, and tell him to step up now and kick these rules into touch.”

Media contact: Jenny Whyte Email:


A Matter of Timing

Monday, July 29th, 2019

From a New Zealand perspective one of the most concerning issues to come out of the 2019 World Swimming Championship was the appalling lack of personal best swims. Ignoring individual swims in relays New Zealand swimmers managed just three personal bests from twenty trips to the starting blocks. 15% is a terrible statistic. Any number below 50% means a country’s swimming is not progressing.

It is important to examine why. There has to be a reason. Numbers as bad as 15% do not happen by chance. Everyone just had a bad week does not excuse New Zealand’s failure to perform. The excellent swimming of one swimmer should never be allowed to hide from the issues affecting all the others. That trick was used by Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) for years. The performances of Lauren Boyle and before her Danyon Loader were used to paper over issues that the sport should have addressed. Make no mistake, the current batch of poor SNZ administrators will have no problem using Clareburt’s bronze medal to hide from a rotten core that is of their making.

So why did New Zealand only swim three PB’s from twenty swims. Why was it that Clareburt in the 400IM, the men’s 4×200 relay team and Galyer in the 100 backstroke were the only three to perform better than ever before? Define the question as personal bests in an individual swimmer’s main event and only one swimmer, Clareburt, managed that. One was a relay, Galyer was in her off-event the 100m and only Clareburt swam a personal best in his main championship event. One out of 20 – 5%, wow that’s a problem.

So what is the reason? Oh, Johns and Cotterill will blame the coaches. They always do. The number of times I’ve heard them and others from SNZ say that our coaches need “education” is countless. For 15 years the SNZ policy of centralised training tore the heart out of New Zealand swim coaches. The destruction was stunning to watch. The national body went around telling New Zealand’s best swimmers that only SNZ could provide them with international standard coaching. That is Jan Cameron’s legacy to New Zealand – a broken and dispirited coaching structure. It will take time for that to be repaired. It is a wonder that any who lived through those years has survived at all. It is no coincidence that Clareburt’s coach arrived in New Zealand after Jan Cameron, Cotterill and others had done their worst. Clareburt’s coach took over after a very good coach called Gary Hurring had taken the worst SNZ had to offer. In comparison to New Zealand coaches who lived here through the 15 years of SNZ abuse Clareburt’s coach has had a VERY easy ride indeed.

And second we must never ignore the importance of the timing of selection trials. In my opinion this has been a major factor handicapping the performance of New Zealand swimmers in championship meets. Let’s talk about the theory of that first.

Setting a date for the final trial to decide on team selection depends on one central performance concern. The date has to be soon enough before the main event that the swimmer peaks for the trial and continues their peak on to the championship. Or the trial has to be far enough away from the main event that the swimmer and their coach have time to go back to training basics and prepare again for the championship meet. Both these timings work well. What does not work is a trial placed between continuing on and starting again. All that does is leave the coach and swimmer in the impossible position of not knowing whether to hold the trial peak or squash in a short and invariably inadequate short second season.

The table below attempts to put into graph form this timing issue.

Weeks prior to meet Weeks prior to meet Weeks prior to meet
More than 20 weeks 4 to 20 weeks 3 weeks or less
Trial in this period OK Never trial in this period Trial in this period OK
Begin new season to  prepare for main meet Unsure what to do Continue peak through to main meet

And so after 3 weeks and before 20 weeks is forbidden territory when it comes to timing a trial for an international swimming competition. So what did the geniuses who run SNZ do before the 2019 World Championships? They program the trials 5.5 weeks before the World Championship, well into the “never trial” period. And next year they have done the same thing again. Final trials before the Tokyo Olympic Games are 15 weeks prior to the Games, still inside the “never trial” period – but at the other end from their mistake this time. They couldn’t organise a “proverbial” in Speights’ brewery. The rules are so bloody simple – why don’t they just do what they are told.

But, I hear some say, how come Clareburt did so well if there was all that much wrong with SNZ’s trial dates? Good question with a simple answer that proves the point. You see Clareburt had already qualified for the World Championships. He did not have to peak for the trials. His coach could, and told us all he was continuing on with Clareburt’s training as though the trials were not there. In other words Clareburt had the luxury of timing his own preparation unaffected by the ridiculous trial dates set by SNZ. And it worked. Of course it worked. Obey the rules and it always does.

The other swimmers who did not have the luxury of having qualified and had to peak according to a SNZ-imposed timetable for the trials and then peak again at the World Championship – failed. Break the rules and it always does.

The conclusion? Inevitably SNZ screwed up and it affected most of the team. SNZ need to do something about the Tokyo trial or the same thing will happen again. Clareburt will not be affected. His Korea swim qualifies for Tokyo. He will be able to set his own schedule unaffected by SNZ’s ignorance.

World Championships Daily Report – Sunday

Monday, July 29th, 2019

So what happened on the last day in Korea? Did New Zealand swimming make progress on day six of the championship – Saturday 27 July 2019?

New Zealand had one swimmer in the pool – Clareburt (400 IM).

Clareburt placed 5th in his heat in a time of 4:14.56s and qualified for the final. He was 0.29s away from his personal best time. His ranking after the heat was 5th, an improvement from 11.

In the finals tonight Clareburt placed third in a New Zealand record time of 4:12.07.

After today’s heats and finals the team’s final PB ratio is 3 PBs (men’s 4×200 relay, Clareburt 400IM and Galyer 100 back) from 20 swims or 15%; not good at all.

Excluding Galyer who qualified for the semi-final and Clareburt who qualified for the final, 18 swims by New Zealand swimmers averaged 1.8% behind the time required to progress to the next round.

Sunday 28 July

Name Event PB Swum Ranking Swum
CLAREBURT 400m IM 4:14.27 4:14.56 11 5
CLAREBURT 400m IM Final 4:14.27 4:12.07 5 3


So that’s the world championships done for another year. What has been learned. Here are some facts.

Gary Francis is right. Repairing New Zealand swimming is not going to be an overnight fix. The damage caused by the inhabitants of Antares Place has been serious. It took a decade and $15million to create this mess. There is no reason why repairing it should take any less time or cost any less money. The real question is do Cotterill and Johns know what to do or how to spend the funds needed to fix the harm? I don’t think so.

Three New Zealand records were broken. That may seem like success. New Zealand’s problem is that at the Championships the rest of the world broke 8 world records. Quite simply that means the world is moving ahead far faster than New Zealand is catching up. There is no other way of explaining a ratio of 3 to 8. Here is a list of the world records broken this week.

100m breaststroke 56.88 Adam Peaty
200m breaststroke 2:06.12 Anton Chupkov
100m butterfly 49.50  Caeleb Dressel
200m butterfly 1:50.73 Kristof Milak
200m backstroke 2:03.35 United States
4×200m women’s freestyle relay 7:41.50 Australia
4×100 mixed freestyle relay 3:19.40 United States
4100 women’s medley relay 3:50.40 United States

Confirming that problem, and excluding Galyer’s qualifying swim in the 200m backstroke and Clareburt’s qualifying swim in the 400IM, the New Zealand team ended up averaging 1.8% behind qualifying for a final or a semi-final. Remember that is not behind winning an event – that is 1.8% on average behind progressing to the top 8 or top 16. The American Swim Coaches Association tells us swimmers should be improving at an average rate of 3% per annum. New Zealand is 1.8% behind the world. If the world stands still that’s about 7 months of improvement. New Zealand’s problem, of course, is that the world is not standing still. In fact it’s improving close to 3 times faster than we are. Remember the ratio of 8 world records to 3 New Zealand records.

Exacerbating that concern is the awful PB ratio of New Zealand’s swimmers. Not only is the world improving faster, New Zealand is improving far too slowly – nowhere near the ASCA 3% per annum standard. Ignoring individual swims in relays, the team swam 3 PBs (men’s 4×200 relay, Clareburt 400 IM and Galyer 100 back) from 20 swims or 15%; that is terrible. Club coaches all over the world would be asked difficult questions about a 15% PB ratio. If New Zealand swimming is going to catch the rest of the world it will have to do a lot better than 3 PBs from 20 swims. Our current PB ratio of 15% needs to be well over 50%. Sadly we are miles behind. Eyad at the last NZ National Championships achieved 100%. That’s how to catch up. Remember this problem is not the swimmer’s fault. This mess is down to Cameron, Miskimmin and Cotterill. Francis could fix it if only he managed to summon the courage to tell Johns to bugger-off.

Because, you see being 1.8% (7 months) away from making a semi-final or a final is a difficult hill to climb – especially when the world is moving ahead at three times New Zealand speed. But what is going to take time is winning a world event. The average gap between the New Zealand swimmers in Korea and the winner of each event was 5%. That is a huge problem. According to ASCA data New Zealand is close to 2 years behind – that is assuming the world stood still and New Zealand improved at the ASCA rate of 3% per annum. Sadly 8 world records tells us that the world is not standing still and 3 PBs from 20 swims tells us we are not improving at anything like 3% per annum.

The table below shows the gap between the time swum by the winner of each event in Korea and the time swum by the New Zealand swimmer. The table also shows the percentage gap between the two times.

 Swimmer Winning Time NZ Time % Gap
Galyer 58.60 1.01.53 4.8
Ashby 52.43 55.02 4.7
Stanley 1.44.93 1.49.36 4.1
Fairweather 1.54.22 1.59.68 4.6
Hunter 46.96 49.78 5.7
Reid 7.39.27 7.57.46 3.8
Reid 3.42.44 3.51.25 3.8
Fairweather 3.58.76 4.12.30 5.4
Hunter 22.35 24.21 7.7
Ashby 49.66 53.73 7.6
Women 4×200 Relay 7.41.50 8.03.28 4.5
Men 4×200 Relay 7.00.85 7.13.06 2.8
Galyer 2.03.69 2.09.98 4.8
Ashby 1.56.14 1.59.96 3.2
Thomas 8.13.58 8.44.65 5.9
Pickett 21.04 22.59 6.9
Edwards 24.05 26.05 7.7
Claireburt 4:08.95 4:12.07 1.2
Average     5.0

So let’s do a theoretical exercise. The table shows us that the winners at this championship were 5% ahead of New Zealand’s swimmers. We also know the world is progressing at about 2% per annum. So what rate do we need to improve at to catch the world by the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France. The answer is simple maths. If New Zealand wants to catch the world from where we are at after this world championships Gary Francis and Steve Johns have to secure an improvement in New Zealand elite swimming that is 1% higher than the rest of the world. If the world is progressing at 2% New Zealand has to achieve 3% to catch up by 2024. Is Steve Johns capable of improving the sport by 3% per annum for five years? I don’t think so, but we are about to see. He’s great at holding everyone else to various KPIs. Let’s see how good he is at meeting some of his own.

What we need to avoid like the plague – and what Johns is almost certainly going to do – is focus excessive attention on the performance of one swimmer, Clareburt. It is a temptation encouraged by Sport NZ’s allocation of funding and accepted by weak administrators. Too often SNZ administrators have grabbed hold of one good swimmer in a desperate effort to impress Sport NZ. Too often the focus on one individual has been at the expense of the rest of the sport. SNZ did it with Lauren Boyle, and before her Danyon Loader. That “cult of personality” management has badly hurt the sport of swimming. It has been yet another reason behind the performance-desert faced today.

Nothing can detract from the bronze medal performance of Clareburt. It is admirable in every way. But we need to maintain a sense of balance and remember it was not so long ago that Boyle was winning 1 Gold, 2 Silver and 4 Bronze medals at world championships or Danyon Loaders 2 Gold, 2 Silver and 2 Bronze. I remember traveling with a New Zealand team of three swimmers to what was then the world short course championships when all three swimmers came home with medals. On the list of all time medal winning countries New Zealand ranks 30th. Indeed we have a long way to go.

World Championships Daily Report – Saturday

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

Sadly yesterday’s Swimwatch report told you that Ashby’s 100 butterfly swim of 53.73 was a personal best time. In fact it was faster than his entry time of 53.75 but was slower than the 53.72 he recorded four years ago in the 2015 NZ Open Championship. So no PB.

What that means is that as at yesterday the team’s PB ratio is 2 PBs (men’s 4×200 relay and Galyer 100 back) from 17 swims or 12%; not good at all.

I was disappointed to see Lilly King disqualified for a non-simultaneous two hand touch in the 200m breaststroke. The slow motion movie of her touch certainly seems simultaneous enough. Immediately rumours began to swirl. Had FINA disqualified the American because of her outspoken views on the Sun Yang affair? It wouldn’t surprise me if that was true.

A few years ago my daughter Jane was the NZ open record holder for the 200m breaststroke. She was at the National Championships competing in the 100m breaststroke heats. A short time after she won her heat a West Wave lifeguard approached me and said, “I think you should know that I have just taken the meet referee, Jo Davidson, down to the underwater viewing windows with the referees in charge of tonight’s finals. Davidson told the referees to watch Jane’s swimming and this is what she should be disqualified for tonight.”

I protested and Jo Davidson looked like she had been caught stealing the petty cash. Clearly Jane was about to pay for the sins of her father. In the final Jane won and was not disqualified. But after that, don’t tell me FINA officials don’t cheat.

You may be interested to read another Jane sporting story. It covers a topical subject of interest and importance to us all. Here is the link.

So what happened in Korea today? Did New Zealand swimming make progress on day six of the championship – Saturday 27 July 2019?

New Zealand swimmers in the pool were – Galyer (200 back semi-final) and Edwards (50 free).

Galyer swam in the semi-final of the 200 backstroke. She placed 12 in 2:10.19s and failed to qualify for the final. She was 0.42s away from her personal best time. Her ranking ended up as 12, an improvement from 19.

Edwards failed to make the semi-final. She was 37th, 0.17s slower than her personal best time. Her ranking improved from 40 to 37.

After today’s heats the teams PB ratio is 2 PBs (men’s 4×200 relay and Galyer 100 back) from 18 swims or 11%; not good at all. With one swim to go the PB ratio may improve but is never going to get anywhere near the 50% plus acceptable PB standard.

Galyer was 0.79s (0.6%) behind qualifying for the final.

Edwards was 0.98s (3.8%) behind qualifying for the semi-final.

Excluding Galyer who qualified for the semi-final, the 17 swims by New Zealand swimmers to date have averaged 1.8% behind the time required to progress to the next round.

The New Zealand record in the women’s 50m freestyle of 25.01s would have been 15th in the heats and would have qualified for the semi-final.

The New Zealand record in the women’s 200m backstroke of 2:09.13 would have qualified 8th for the final. I’ve always said Melissa Ingram was better than she got credit for in her career.

Saturday 27 July

Name Event PB Swum Ranking Swum
EDWARDS 50m Free 25.88 26.05 40 37
GALYER 200 Back Semi-Final 2:09.77 2:10.19 19 12


World Championships 2019 Daily Report – Friday

Friday, July 26th, 2019

I was in a North Shore Hospital clinic yesterday when a patient came by and asked for my opinion on the Sun Yang drug saga. “I don’t know,” was my rather lame answer. I am conflicted between dismissing a guy who has been caught for taking banned substances and wondering whether his bottle smashing act may have been the last desperate act of a man provoked beyond belief.

I have no time for drug cheats – none at all. Sun Yang is a drug cheat from a country with a bad history of cheating. But I have also witnessed drug agencies screw over athletes in ways that might provoke me to stop at Mitre10 and buy a hammer.

Take for example the case of my daughter, Jane, who was tested after the National Championships in Dunedin. She signed and kept the receipt of her sample number 12345. A month later the Sydney testing laboratory sent her the results of the test. Sample number 67890 had been tested and was clear. I contacted the New Zealand drug agency and asked the obvious question. Jane’s sample was 12345 and the sample tested was 67890. What was going on? Oh, don’t worry I was told. The New Zealand drug agency had lost the paperwork in transporting the sample to Australia. A new number was allocated but rest assured it was Jane’s sample. When a person’s sporting life is at stake, that incompetence is not good enough.

And consider the case of Trent Bray whose sample lay in the sun, unrefrigerated, in the Sydney testing facility for a month over Christmas before being tested. That was an injustice beyond belief. The sample should have been thrown away and a new test performed. In that case I would have gladly bought Trent a hammer. It would have been a cheaper and more just reaction than the thousands he spent clearing his name.

Having said all that, in Sun Yang’s case his past history combined with the reputation of swimming in China would lead me to believe the guy’s a crook. Certainly for the good of the sport Sun Yang’s case should have been dealt with far sooner. The drug spectacle that has distracted the Championships is as much the fault of WADA’s incompetence as it is of Sun Yang.

And, in case you have forgotten, remember there is a Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) link to WADA’s stunning ineptitude. SNZ might struggle in the pool but will not be left out when it comes to incompetence. One of the leading lights of WADA – the SNZ link – is SNZ President, Dr Dave Gerrard.

So what happened in Korea today? Did New Zealand swimming make progress on day six of the championship – Friday 26 July 2019?

New Zealand had a big day in the pool – Ashby (100 fly), Galyer (200 back), Pickett (50 free), Thomas (800 free) and the men’s 4×200 free relay team of Hunter, Clareburt, Stanley and Reid were involved in the competition.

The 4×200 men’s relay team swam 7:13.06 and broke the New Zealand record for the event. The new time however failed to make the final. Their ranking improved from 22 to 14. A good result but still an indication of how far there is to go.

Ashby failed to make the semi-final in the 100 fly. He recorded a personal best time of 53.73. His ranking improved from 42 to 36. A PB is always a good result.

Galyer qualified 8th for the semi-final. She was 0.21s away from her personal best time. Her ranking improved from 19 to 8. New Zealand’s first semi-finalist. It is an open question as to whether American-nurtured Galyer’s success reflects the different policies followed by a diversified American system and the centralised control imposed on New Zealand by Cameron and Miskimmin. Diversification works.

Pickett failed to make the semi-final. He was 38th, 0.25s away from his personal best time. His ranking stayed the same at 38th.

Thomas failed to make the semi-final. She was 21st, 3.34s away from her personal best time. Her ranking improved from 24 to 21.

After today’s heats the teams PB ratio is 3 PBs (Ashby 100 fly, men’s 4×200 relay and Galyer 100 back) from 15 swims or 20%; not good at all.

The relay team was 4.61s (1.1%) behind qualifying for the final.

Ashby was 1.29s (2.4%) behind qualifying for the final.

Galyer qualified for the semi-final.

Pickett was 0.38s (1.7%) behind qualifying for the final.

Thomas was 14.95s (2.9%) behind qualifying for the final.

Excluding Galyer who has qualified for the semi-final, the fifteen swims by New Zealand swimmers to date have averaged 1.8% behind the time required to progress to the next round. If the world stood still and New Zealand swimming progressed at the 3% rate recommended by ASCA we are 7 months behind making finals in international competition. We know the world is not going to stand still waiting for New Zealand to catch up. I guess that means the only question is – are we going to improve at the ASCA 3% rate or faster?

The new New Zealand record in the men’s 4x200m freestyle of 7:13.06 failed to qualify for the final.

The New Zealand record in the men’s 50m freestyle of 22.27 would have been 20th in the heats and still not qualified for the final.

The New Zealand record in the women’s 800m freestyle of 8:17.65 would have qualified 3rd for the final. Lauren Boyle could swim a bit.

The New Zealand record in the men’s 100m butterfly of 51.61 would have qualified 5th for the semi-final.

The New Zealand record in the women’s 200m backstroke of 2:09.13 would have qualified 4th for the semi-final.

Friday 26 July

Name Event PB Swum Ranking Swum
ASHBY 100 Fly 53.75 53.73 42 36
GALYER 200m Back 2:09.77 2:09.98 19 8
PICKETT 50m Free 22.34 22.59 38 38
THOMAS 800m Free 8:41.31 8:44.65 24 21
RELAY MEN’S 4x200m Free 7:13.83 7:13.06 22 14