Archive for September, 2021


Thursday, September 30th, 2021

We lived in three homes during the ten years of Alison’s athletics’ career. Two were on the edge of Windsor Great Park. The first in Sunningdale, on the south side of the Park and then in Windsor on the north.

Very different from the manicured order of southern England, our third home was in the central Scottish village of Auchterarder. You probably know Auchterarder better as Gleneagles Golf Course.

Finding a place for Alison to run was vital to the choice of each home. Fortunately, the three houses had two geographical advantages. The first two bordered the 3000 acres of Windsor Great Park and the third was a couple of fences away from Gleneagles Golf Course.

This was before the days of GPS. Of course, driving through Windsor Park or Gleneagles was not allowed and so finding Alison three training tracks involved some careful study. Maps were bought and three pieces of string were cut to scale, five miles long, eight miles long and ten miles long. Oh, you didn’t need to do all that I hear you say. You could have just run anywhere for time. Yes, I know that is true. Both Arch Jelley and Arthur Lydiard have told me the same thing. However, I could never escape the imperative of knowing Alison’s weekly mileage.

After all, hadn’t Jeff Julian run the Waitakere Ranges twice one Sunday to get his weekly distance up to 100 miles, not some ten or eleven hours? I’ve heard John Walker and Peter Snell were more relaxed about their number of weekly miles. But I just had to know.

And so, with my three pieces of string I sat for hours plotting five, eight and ten mile runs around Windsor Great Park and Gleneagles Golf Course. Why those three distances, you may be asking? Well, the five was Alison’s normal shortest run in the build-up, usually run at lunch times and evenings during the ten build-up weeks. The eight was her six days a week morning run. And the ten formed the basis of her Sunday run.

The ten took a lot of planning. You see I was forever trying to find a Waitakere equivalent – gentle undulations at the beginning, then a steep climb to the highest point, some more undulations along the top and then some gentle slopes down to home. Finding that in Windsor Great Park was difficult. I doubt anyone could find a Waitakere climb anywhere in the Queen’s 3000 acres. The highest point is only 650 feet above sea level compared to the Waitakeres 1550 feet. The best you could call the Windsor Park ten was undulating.

It began with a 2.5 mile straight run up the Long Walk to the Copper Horse statue of George 3rd, then turned right, passed the Village School and up the hill to the Game Keeper’s Lodge, where the Queen’s Corgis lived. Then across the big dip, through a grove of trees and onto Smith’s Lawn, where the Guard’s Polo Club do their thing. Believe it or not Alison and I were members there one season. It was our reward for supplying the Park gamekeeper with a weekly leg of New Zealand lamb (with thanks to my employer, Borthwicks). Then about two miles around the picturesque Virginia Water. Our black Labrador, Tweed, was expert at stealing sandwiches from fisherman’s lunches as she galloped by. In the Valley Gardens at the Totem Pole (a gift from Canada) a right turn took us up Rhododendron Walk. Through the gate at the top, always an excuse for Alison to have a short walk, and past the Royal Lodge, now home to Prince Andrew but in our day, the better-behaved Queen Mother, and 400 meters around to the water trough, for Tweed to cool-off. Back down the Long Walk towards Windsor Castle, through our back fence and we were home. Ten miles done in what is the best kept, traffic free, picturesque, and historic run in the world.

In Scotland Alison did her shorter runs on Gleneagles Golf Course. Gleneagles is actually three golf courses, the Kings, the Queens and the PGA. They are not as manicured or as pretty as Windsor Great Park but are as stunningly beautiful and well kept, in a Scottish Highlands sort of way. Best of all the hills on Gleneagles are real hills. The Waitakeres would recognise them immediately. You can imagine my joy when I found these well-kept hills for Alison to climb. By the end of our time in Scotland she knew Gleneagles as well as any Scottish golfer. I am sure the fact she was representing Scotland and Great Britain had a lot to do with the authorities ignoring her presence on one of the world’s leading golf courses.                       

In Scotland, I found a smaller copy of Arch and Arthur’s Waitakere’s run. An undulating few miles at the beginning. Followed by a climb. Oh, what a climb, indeed. I swear it was steeper than the last section, up to the TV tower, at the top of the Waitakeres. Good God this was almost as steep as the Hillary Step on Mt. Everest. I traveled the world looking for a hill like this and here it was, on our backdoor step. But best of all it was followed by a gate and then another climb, not quite as steep, across paddocks, past grazing sheep, and up to the top of Borland Glenn. Through the Glen and down long, winding paths to the run’s ten-mile end.

It was a stunning run. The English poet, Wordsworth, wrote about London but could just as truthfully have been talking about the Borland Glenn run. He said.

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty.

At the top of Borland Glenn in mid-winter, it could also be bitterly cold. Another poet, this time Scotland’s Robbie Burns, described Borland Glenn in these moments.

Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west,
The drift is driving sairly;
Sae loud and shrill’s I hear the blast,
I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

With places like this to run, no wonder Alison became an NZ/UK representative and UK indoor 1500-metre champion. The surroundings helped. But 100 miles is never easy. Neither is the climb to the top of Borland Glenn.


Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Things are quiet in the swimming world. COVID 19 has closed Auckland’s swimming pools. Judging from the 50-car gridlock on Auckland’s Lincoln Road, KFC and McDonalds are back to normal. Swimming pools cannot be too far behind the delivery of an Almighty Texan BBQ Burger. And so instead discussing swimming I am spending some Swimwatch time on events that occurred when I was involved in Alison’s running career.

I have been fortunate enough to go on training runs with some pretty impressive runners. There was Alison of course, and Barbara Moore, and Anne Audain. On the men’s side I have run with Rod Dixon, Dick Quax and John Walker. Tell me that’s not impressive. In today’s post I want to share what happened in my first runs with the three guys, Dixon, Quax and Walker.

Rod Dixon

 I went for my first run with Rod Dixon through a Bavarian Forest, just outside the town of Freising, about 20 kilometers north of Munich. Rod was running a 3000 meter race the next day. Alison was entered in the 1500 meters. And so, after a 400-kilometer drive from Frankfurt we thought a loosen-up run was in order.

Loosen-up run? You should have been there. Not two minutes had gone by and Alison and Rod had disappeared down a maze of winding trails. I was lost and alone somewhere in Germany.

No wonder Rod had a bronze medal from the Munich Olympic Games. No wonder he had run a sub-four-minute mile. And no wonder he was the owner of the world’s fastest 3000-meter time. But did he need to lose me in the middle of Germany? Where was our hotel? How was I going to survive the night? How cold did it get during a German night?

After 20 minutes Alison appeared running back down the trail towards me. Completely unconcerned about the seriousness of our plight she said, “Wow, Rod runs fast.”

“Do you know where the hotel is?” I asked.

 “Oh, it’s up there somewhere. We’ll find it,” she said. And off we jogged at David’s pace.

About ten minutes later I heard footsteps behind us. “What now?” I thought.

Then a voice in perfect English said, “Hi, you guys. It’s a lovely place to run. Are you enjoying yourselves?”

I lied to one of the world’s best runners and said it was my best run in Germany. Only I knew it was the only time I’d been for a run in Germany. The three of us jogged back at David’s pace to our most welcome hotel.

Dick Quax

Dick Quax had just run 13:12.9 to break the world 5000-meter record when we went for a training run together. On this occasion our run was in the very familiar Windsor Great Park. My Windsor home backed on to the Park. Alison trained there every day. She was on “Good Morning” terms with the Duke of Edinburgh who was often out training his horse and carriage team.

After getting lost in Germany behind Rod Dixon I prepared myself to be quickly dropped by Dick. We set off and nothing happened. There we were jogging gently up to the Game Keeper’s house chatting away – no problem at all. Then down across the Big Dip I noticed a slight increase in pace. Dick was still chatting, but I was taking little part in the conversation. By the time we got to Smith’s Lawn – that’s where the royal family play polo – I was hanging on for dear life.

Up Rhododendron Walk was agony. Down around the Royal Lodge (the Queen Mother’s home) to the top of the Long Walk and I knew exactly why Dick was the fastest man on the planet over 5000 meters. We stopped at the Long Walk and agreed Dick would run the three kilometers down the Long Walk to home on his own. I would jog the 200 meters to where our run began and drive my car home.

I jogged and walked to the car and drove home. And then the final embarrassment. Dick was already there, talking to Alison about what a lovely place to run. He had not only beaten me, he was faster than my car as well.

That evening Alison, Dick and I had a lovely dinner at the “House on the Bridge” restaurant in Eton. It is close to the floodlit Windsor Castle and overlooks the River Thames. Two or three glasses of wine and I admitted Dick’s idea of an easy run in Windsor Park was a novel way of inflicting pain. Start off slow and gradually turn the screws. I still believe that run is the fastest I have ever run, anywhere.

John Walker          

My first run with John was through the huge Gateshead Cemetery in the north of England. Alison and John were there to run in the Brendan Foster track meet. We enjoyed the meet. Our black Labrador, Tweed, was welcome into the Five Bridges Hotel. For some reason the breakfast waitress always mistook me for Dave Moorcroft. And after I explained to a young autograph hunter that I wasn’t a runner, he demanded to know why I was allowed to wear a tracksuit.

After my experiences with Rod and Dick I was prepared for anything as we set off through the cemetery. Ten minutes went by. John was clearly not a Rod. He was still running along at my pace, chatting away. Twenty minutes later Alison was away ahead of us somewhere. John appeared to be quite happy dodging gravestones and talking about my meat company business.

“There must be something more to this,” I thought. John is not doing a Rod or a Dick. But he is a bloody good runner. What pain is he about to inflict? Something had to happen. But no, forty minutes went by and we arrived back at the Five Bridges Hotel at the same speed as we had set out. A lovely run.

The next day John won the mile in, I think, 3.59. I think the real Dave Moorcroft was second and Sebastian Coe third. I could not wait to tell Alison that the guy who won the men’s mile, I had kept up with him in training. She did not seem at all impressed.

So, there you have it three very different runs with three great runners. But you know what was the same. It was all good fun. No sign of arrogance or superiority. No, I’m faster than you. Just runners and hangers on like me, 12,000 miles from home, doing their thing. I suspect the centralised, scientific training stuff that we have today might have lost a bit of the fun of a run in a Bavarian Forest or Windsor Great Park or even a Gateshead cemetery.

From what I’ve seen at the Millennium track there is too much yelling and not enough laughing. It seems to me the work Rod is doing with young athletes in Nelson and John with his Field of Dreams in Auckland is where the next champions will be found. It’s where you’d want your children to be as well.   


Sunday, September 26th, 2021

Two weeks ago, I read a Facebook comment that implied that New Zealand runners, John Walker, Rod Dixon and Dick Quax were part of a well-planned Athletics New Zealand centralised training program. The most superficial knowledge of their careers reveals that opinion to be rubbish. For a start, the three runners had different coaches. Walker was coached by Arch Jelley. Dixon was coached by his brother, John. Quax had John Davies giving him coaching advise. No Sport New Zealand centralised programme would allow athletes to choose their own coach – especially if one of them happened to think his brother should fill that role.

Probably the most vivid example of the runner’s independence was the row Rod Dixon had with Athletics New Zealand and the New Zealand Government when the African nations threatened to boycott the Montreal Olympic Games. Dixon felt the New Zealand government had no business meddling in the Olympic Games. In pretty clear Nelson vernacular, he made it known that the athletes should have been consulted and been part of the decision-making process. Dixon was right, of course. But can you imagine any centralised training puppet explaining the facts of life to the Government these days? Sadly no. That spark has long been put out by Sport New Zealand obedience and money.

Especially when Dixon’s Wikipedia page tells me the following story.

After winning the New York Marathon, Pan Am put his name on the side of one of its 747s and gave him a “self-write ticket” – for first class. He used to say to his “friend”, Want to go to Zurich tonight? And off they’d go, for dinner.

Bloody hell, first class to Zurich on Pan Am. That sure beats the days spent driving thousands of kilometres with Alison and Rod, between meets in Europe in a blue 1975 Audi 80.

But the story I remember most happened fifty years ago, on the 26 January 1972. I was working for the meat company, Thomas Borthwicks. I didn’t have enough time to swim any more and so I set myself the task of running Lydiard’s 1000 miles in ten weeks.

About halfway through, things were going well. I was becoming quite interested in this running business. I noticed an article in Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper. Wellington Athletics was going to host a track meet on the Hutt Frazer Park. An up-and-coming young runner from Nelson was going to run. I was told Rod Dixon was showing potential. His ambition to run in the Munich Olympic Games was admirable but possibly a step too far. Perhaps next time. I suggested to Alison we should go and watch the meet.

And so, we joined quite a good crowd at Frazer Park. Alison pointed out the guy from Nelson jogging around, clearly doing his warm-up. I was impressed. The good ones, whether it is swimming or running, run and swim taller than mere mortals. Good swimmers take a stroke less to swim each 25 meters. Good runners run taller. Rod Dixon ran tall.

I was impressed but did not expect anything special from the mile race. After all it was being run on a grass field, far better known or hosting contact sports. Even today the Hutt Council website tells me the park is home for rugby, rugby-league and soccer. I had been told Dixon was very good at cross country. I suspected tonight we would find out whether that was true.

My first impressions proved correct. Dixon was a class above. I have always been fascinated by the seemingly endless gears locked inside the very best. Someone in the race goes faster and runners like Dixon find another gear as well. The field goes faster again and so do the very best. It is quite incredible to watch. How many gears are there?

It was only years later when I noticed exactly the same quality in the best swimmers, that I realised, sure they were talented, sure they had been born with a natural gift. But the skill to use that gift had been developed over thousands of miles running or in a swimming pool.

I have frequently been asked by parents, “Can you make my daughter swim like Toni, or Jane or Nichola?”

I have never explained that if she has the talent and swims 10,000 kilometres then she might swim like one of those talented few. No one displays that talent without the 10,000 kilometres

And in Lower Hutt on the 26 January 1972, I was clearly watching one of the talented few. One of the even fewer who had spent hours on the hills at the back of Nelson. One of the few who could change gears.

 I watched Dixon run for as long as I could. It turned out to be not that long at all. The announcer told us his time for the mile was 3:59.6. Rod Dixon had run his first sub-four-minute mile. And as is usual for the very good, he had made it look so incredibly easy.

I said to Alison on the way home. “You know, I think two things. That Munich dream might not be a step too far after all, and the guy is bloody good at cross-country.”

PS – I did finish the 1000 miles in ten weeks. Thank you Rod.   


Friday, September 24th, 2021

I never met Waka Nathan. I wish I had. Our paths sort of crossed on two occasions. I think he would have enjoyed them both.

For one year in the early 1970s Alison and I were living in a house called the Toll Cottage, close to the stone bridge that crosses the River Tweed, halfway between Melrose and Galashiels, under the Eildon Hills, in the Scottish Borders. I was working for Thomas Borthwicks in their meat plant in Galashiels and Alison was a secretary for Galashiels accountant James Rosie & Co..

It is a lovely part of the world. And made the more so by the warm hospitality we received every Saturday evening at Burt’s Hotel in Melrose. It is the sort of place you could forget to pay and go back on Sunday to settle the bill without any comment on your transgression.

Across the road from Burt’s Hotel was Melrose Abbey, the location of the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart. But a few metres down the road from the Abbey is the Melrose Rugby Park, a site I was told many times of far more significance in Scottish history than any buried remains. “Why,” do I hear you ask?

Well, in 1883 Melrose Rugby Club began the game called Rugby Sevens. The ladies of Melrose raised the funds for a small but stylish Ladies Cup which was to be presented to the best team. Melrose butchers apprentice, Ned Haig, accepted the trophy and it was never competed for again. It now sits proudly in a Sevens display cabinet in the Ned Haig lounge at Melrose RFC. I know that’s true because as a New Zealander working in a meat plant, I was taken by the owner of Burt’s Hotel to see this item of rugby history.

As I wandered around the lounge, I was taken to an item that clearly held pride of place in their rugby display. Yes, more so than the trophy that began the game of Sevens. In central position above all the championship medals and jerseys were the rugby boots worn by Waka Nathan when he played for the All Blacks against Scotland at Murrayfield on 18 January 1964. I swear my host had a tear in his eye as he told me he was there. He had seen the best that ever played the game. He had been given The Black Panther’s boots – clearly the boots of a rugby God.

Sometimes you can have great pride in the history and tradition of the sporting men and women that have represented this small country. Waka Nathan was most certainly one of those.

His name came up for a second time in my life, in 1977. Alison and I were at Brendon Foster’s Gateshead Track Meet in the north of England. Two other New Zealanders were at that meet, John Walker and his coach, Arch Jelley.

After the meet the tradition was to go off to the Gateshead Wheel Inn. Athletes and hangers-on would take turns at various cabaret acts. On this night a call came out for New Zealand’s turn. John, Arch and Alison had done more than their share at the meet. And so I felt some pressure to represent my country in a suitable performance.

I know you are not going to believe this but back in those days I was the owner of a pretty impressive Haka. I had been brought up in an all Māori school, Te Reinga, and had competed in what was then the East Coast Championships. And so, at three in the morning I stepped forward and threw myself into the best version of a Haka I could manage.

It must have been okay because I did notice Olympic Champions, world record holders, and world champion runners go strangely quiet as I called on as much pukana as a very pale pakeha could manage. The applause at the end was gratifying, probably because with the exception of Arch, John and Alison no one else in the Wheel Inn had any idea of what I was doing. But back then to be applauded by Brendan Foster and David Jenkins, and even John Walker and Arch Jelley was certainly great for my ego.

The next morning Alison and I were setting off to drive to our home in Windsor. By this time, I had been promoted from the meat plant in the Scottish Borders to Borthwick’s Head Office in St. John’s Lane, London EC1 – an address my daughter Jane also had when she first moved to the UK many years later. Alison had become a full-time runner and was competing for New Zealand.

Anyway, before we left Gateshead we went up to John and Arch’s room to say goodbye.

As we walked in John looked up and sleepily said to Arch, “Look who has arrived, Arch. It’s Chief Waka Nathan.”

You know what – that Haka must have been bloody good, to get that superlative from John Walker, now, of course, Sir John Walker.

Rest in peace, Chief Waka Nathan.  


Thursday, September 23rd, 2021

Does the CEO of Sport NZ share responsibility for the tragic death of Olivia Podmore?

I imagine some Swimwatch readers are saying, “Why is he writing about cycling? What does he know about the sport?”

The answer is that for 25 years I sat and watched the same centralised culture that is being imposed on cycling infect, take hold of, and almost destroy my sport, swimming. The death of Olympian, Olivia Podmore, could just as easily have happened in swimming and, I believe, for similar reasons.

I doubt that the independent inquiry into Cycling NZ (CNZ) is going to achieve much progress. My reason for saying that is contained in the inquiry’s terms of reference. Here is what they are.

  • To assess the adequacy of the implementation of the recommendations from the 2018 Heron report
  • To identify areas of further improvement that would ensure the wellbeing of athletes, coaches, support staff and others in Cycling NZ’s high performance programme are a top priority
  • To assess the support offered to athletes at critical points within Cycling NZ’s high performance programme, particularly induction, selection and exit transitions
  • To assess the impact that HPSNZ investment and engagement has on Cycling NZ’s high performance programme
  • To assess the impact of high performance programmes that keep elite athletes in one location for most of the year, particularly Cambridge
  • To understand what steps can be taken to improve practices, policies and governance of Cycling NZ’s high performance programme to ensure safety, wellbeing and empowerment of individuals.

With the exception of the first point do you notice how the other five have one feature in common? They all assume the presence of CNZ’s centralised high-performance programme.

Question two asks how could the high-performance programme be improved? Question three wants an assessment of the support offered to athletes in the high-performance programme. Question four wants the inquiry to look at the money High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) makes to the high-performance programme. Question five wants to know if Cambridge is the right place to have the high-performance programme. Question six wants to know how the administration of the high-performance programme could be improved.

It’s all about fiddling around with the high-performance programme in an effort to make it better. Swimming was for ever doing the same thing. Do we need a new coach? What about a better pool? Are our administrators good enough? Is it the swimmer’s fault?

In this case, immediately after Podmore’s death, CNZ announced it would review its mental health support. Like swimming had done many times before, CNZ was dodging responsibility by implying there was something wrong with Podmore’s mental health. I doubt that is the case.  

No one asked the most basic question of all. Is the centralised high-performance policy a problem that simply can’t be fixed? Is the policy wrong? It certainly was in swimming. Is this panel about to address the wrong questions. Is it simply putting lipstick on a pig? Change this, alter that, but at the end of the day CNZ still has a pig.

We all know that no matter how qualified the panel is, if it is looking in the wrong place, if it fails to address the right question, it is going to reach the wrong answer.

Peter Miskimmin was an empire builder when he imposed centralised high-performance training on swimming. In his mind, the failure of the policy was never the policy’s fault. Those responsible for its implementation were clearly doing it wrong. In my view the same thing is happening here. The policy is wrong. But the panel are not charged with looking at that.

My guess is the panel will come up with a whole series of changes to protect and improve the life of those involved in CNZ’s high performance programme. But it will be to no avail. In some sports like swimming and I suspect cycling, crowding a dozen or so athletes into a high-pressure environment with one or two coaches will not work. Too much pressure. A coach not everyone likes. Programmes not suited to every individual. Boarding school, no matter how good it is, does not work for everyone. Podmore could well have been one of those. And if she was, if the policy she was being shoehorned into was the problem, this panel is not going to fix it. It is looking in the wrong place, for the wrong answers.

There are some brilliant athletes who hate the centralised environment. Look at the canoeist, Aimee Fisher, who couldn’t stand the pressure of the centralised canoe high performance training and walked out. I along with most of New Zealand said she wasn’t tough enough. That was the last we’d hear of her. Well, a week ago she won the K1 500 World Championship. We were wrong. Centralised training was not for her, and she had the courage to say, “I’m out of here.” Fisher said it had been, “very liberating to have so much ownership over my sporting pursuits’’.

I understand now and I agree. Sport New Zealand’s policy is wrong. Peter Miskimmin was wrong. Raelene Castle is wrong. My guess is they were all wrong for Podmore. In swimming they were wrong for almost everybody. Swimmers, like Lauren Boyle did a Fisher and got out. Dame Valerie Adams did the same in athletics. And no one could ever accuse those two of not being tough enough. No matter what this panel decides the Sport New Zealand centralised training policy can never be repaired.      

Twenty-five years ago, I identified this problem in what Peter Miskimmin and Jan Cameron were imposing on Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). The Chairman of SNZ, Bruce Cotterill, insisted I was wrong and spent $26 million of HPSNZ’s money putting lipstick on the swimming pig. He failed, of course, and a year ago SNZ saw the light and returned responsibility for high performance swimming back to the clubs. And what an improvement that has been.

And so, my hope is that this panel expands its terms of reference to include an examination of the centralised training policy. Was Podmore trapped in a sporting prison of Raelene Castle’s making? More than that I hope the conclusion the panel is to abolish that policy altogether. Why? For the protection of huge athletic talents like Boyle, Adams, Fisher and Podmore.