Archive for February, 2022


Monday, February 28th, 2022

This weekend has been a tough one for Eyad. I entered him in the Waikato Championships. The 100m freestyle, heats and finals on Saturday. The 50m fly and 50m freestyle heats and finals on Sunday. In two days, that’s six races. Nothing too tough about that, I hear you say. But Eyad is a student. He has to be careful with money and so he decided to drive down and back on Saturday and again on Sunday. He tells me the decision saved about $70.

From Eyad’s place to the Te Rapa pool is a 140k, one-and-a-half-hour drive. So now the weekend is six races and 560k and 6 hours of driving. In addition, there are three hours to fill in between the heats and finals. So now the weekend is six races, 560k and 6 hours of driving and 6 hours lying on the grass beside the Hamilton Lake. That’s a tough weekend.

But then I got to thinking. Is it really all that tough and is it all that different from the race and travel stories that have made New Zealand athletes respected around the world? Are these events truly a case of, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

I remembered the trip Alison and I did by car from London to Zurich for a 1500m, to Berlin for a 1000m, to Cologne for an 800m and back to London for a day before Alison flew to Montreal for the 1500m World Cup final. In two weeks, that was 4 races, 3000k of driving and a two seven and a half hour flights. The races weren’t too bad either – a 1500m PB, a 1000m New Zealand record that 43 years later still ranks 2nd on the New Zealand all-time list, an 800m PB that 43 years later still ranks 7th on the New Zealand all-time list and a 5th place in the World Cup final.

Jane and I did a similar trip for swimming. In four weeks, we flew from New Zealand to Glasgow where, in two days, Jane swam three breaststroke races and a 100IM. Then on by plane to Malmo in Sweden for the same four races in two days. Then on to Amsterdam to pickup a campervan to drive to Paris for the same race schedule. Then on by road to a meet in Gelsenkirchen. Then on again by road to Imperia for the Italian stop. And finally, by road back to Amsterdam to catch the flight back to New Zealand. In four weeks, that was 20 races, 64 hours flying and 4000k and 40 hours of driving.

I’ve heard similar stories told by runners like Walker, Quax and Dixon. I can’t remember the details but there was an amazing story of John Walker being held up on a flight from Sweden to London and arriving at Heathrow something like an hour before his race. A mad dash across London and John arrived with a minute to spare. No time for a warmup. And so, John set off against runners like Ovett and Cram. He won the race. In the taxi on the way to the up-market and well-earned Selsdon Park Hotel he sighed and said, “Well that was close.”

I imagine Walsh, Adams and Willis have similar stories to tell. In fact, didn’t someone forget to enter Adams in the shot put at one of her Olympic Games? That was close too.  

I guess the question is, do these occasions make you a better athlete? I think they do. Hand holding is all well and good until it gets to the mollycoddling that goes on these days. A year after Alison’s European trip she was Scottish Cross Country Champion, UK Indoor 1500m Champion and a UK international. Were those events related? I think they were. A year after Jane’s trip she was a three times New Zealand Open Swimming Champion, two times New Zealand Open Record Holder and a New Zealand international. Were those events related? Again, I think the answer is yes. And a bit of “have shoes will travel” hasn’t hurt the careers of Walsh, Willis, Adams, Quax, Walker and Dixon.

And so yes it was a tough weekend for Eyad. However, he did swim three season best times. But more important he was following in the footsteps of some pretty good athletes who have walked those difficult paths before. Tough men and women win big races not babies who can’t do without their coach for ten minutes. Well done, Eyad. I hope today’s recovery swim has gone well – especially as you did it on your own – lol.   


Friday, February 25th, 2022

The Swimwatch post, “So Where To Now” discussed the importance of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) building a vibrant environment of swimming throughout New Zealand. I received several emails commenting on the post, from people whose opinions I value. These are knowledgeable people. Experienced in coaching and administration. People who survived the Cameron and Cotterill gulag years.

I was surprised to discover a common flaw in their emails – a lack of trust. Clearly the dubiety and suspicion necessary to survive the Cameron and Cotterill period still has a grip on New Zealand swimming. That is not only dangerous, it is fatal to achieving international, elite success. Converting a vibrant base to international success requires trust. Trust from SNZ, trust from the coach and trust from the swimmer. But, before discussing the importance of trust, here are three quotes from the emails that indicate a lack of trust problem.

  1. My big concern though is swimmers reaching senior age and feeling isolated in young, age group centred programmes and coaches struggling to adjust their training programmes to the needs of a senior athlete. By giving support to clubs/programmes that want to invest in senior squads I think it will give swimmers more options and help them make the decision to carry on swimming an easier one. If coaches in small programmes are able to connect and receive support from larger programmes, either through coach collaboration or allowing swimmers to train part-time with them then that would be ideal
  2. Young teenagers are not known for asking a stranger for help. Totally agree swimmers need to learn to cope but while parents are still making decisions for their children they need to know the people responsible for their child are equipped and able to   be trusted.
  3. Firstly the 14 year olds of today are significantly different to the 14 year olds of the 1990’s and in my professional opinion unable to adequately look after themselves – not withstanding they may have not had a national meet of any value in over 2 years some of our 13 year olds haven’t ever competed away from home. My comments were more aimed at the lack of respect for coaches.

Cameron and Cotterill have much to answer for. On numerous occasions Swimwatch has made the point that the damage done in the Cameron and Cotterill years will not be fixed overnight. These quotes are an example. The very flaws of suspicion and anti-SNZ attitudes necessary to survive those destructive 20 years will take time to repair. Trust was quickly lost. Cameron trusted no one, except herself. Trust will not be quickly recovered. Tongue, Johns and Francis are doing a good job of earning trust back. That’s why the constant sniping from Facebook is so damaging. It drags us back to the bad old days instead of supporting the trust needed to succeed.

The fundamental theme running through these email quotes is a lack of trust. A lack of trust in SNZ. A lack of trust by SNZ in coaches. A lack of trust by coaches in teenage swimmers. A lack of trust in small town coaches. A lack of trust by swimmers in their caregivers. And that disease is fatal.

A highly successful coach whose athletes won 6 Olympic medals told me the most important quality of a good international coach was, “always trust your athletes”. While the impression is out there that the coach in Wanaka has to send his swimmers to Dunedin or the TeKuiti coach needs to lean on Hamilton, New Zealand swimming is dead in the water. The coaches in Wanaka and TeKuiti need more trust than that. That’s not to say they can’t be educated and improved by Schubert and Boyle type visits suggested previously in Swimwatch. But to suggest they need the permanent crutch of a large town centre is destructive nonsense. As I have said before – if 5 snow medals can come out of Wanaka so can 5 swimming medals. But it won’t happen if the coach there is told often enough that he is nothing without Dunedin.

Equally absurd is the lack of trust demonstrated by coaches who can’t sit in a room beside the pool watching their swimmers compete. The lack of trust that demonstrates is staggering, and destructive. How a swimmer gets from that mistrust to an Olympic medal, I have no idea. These coaches are sending a terrible message, all based on a lack of trust. They are going to be “separated” by a wall for ten minutes. The negative lesson of overprotection and lack of trust far outweighs any benefit from being on the pool deck.

The lack of trust in SNZ also needs to stop. I’m not saying SNZ should be above constructive criticism. But the constant snipping nastiness is not justified. The bad eggs of the Cameron and Cotterill era have gone. Tongue, Johns and Francis know their stuff – so does Margaret McKee and Lauren Boyle. They are not a continuation of Cameron’s gulag. I trust them. For the good of swimming, it is time for the critics to do the same. Is it my imagination or are many of those who cosied up to the authoritarian Cameron and Cotterill now the reformed SNZ’s worst critics? There truly are none so strange as folk.

And so, building an elite pyramid on a healthy base takes trust. Of course, there will be occasions when trust is misplaced. SNZ will let us down. The coach will screw up. The swimmer will sneak out of camp in the middle of the night to meet his girlfriend. That is life. These events will never justify abandoning trust. At least not if you want to win a swimming race.

To end this post, let me tell you a story from the Cameron era. At the entrance to the pool in Rotorua there is a tree. It is short, about 5 foot 5 inches and very wide, about 4 foot 5 inches across. Our club and North Shore Swimming were staying in the cabins at the pool. After a late dinner we drove into the pool and there was Jan Cameron hiding behind the tree checking that none of her swimmers were breaking curfew. It was perfect. The tree and Cameron had the same dimensions. She had the ideal hideout. One of my swimmers named it the “Cameron Tree”. For years afterwards the tree was known by our club members by that name. The tree is still there – testament to a lack of trust.


Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022

For twenty years swimming in New Zealand was taken through a Soviet era of centralised control. Jan Cameron and Bruce Cotterill were New Zealand swimming’s Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. When Cameron and Cotterill finally moved on, just like Stalin and Khrushchev, they had spent millions ($25million to be exact) and left the current Board with a wasteland – “I think we are in rats’ alley, Where the dead men lost their bones.”

Nick Tongue, Steve Johns and Gary Francis have never received sufficient credit for abandoning the centralised model and replacing it with a club and region diversified alternative. Ignore the Wellington Facebook critic. He is a “Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!” A diversified foundation has been put in place from which swimming in New Zealand can grow and prosper. But reform should not stop here. Step one has been taken. So where to now? Here are my thoughts on that subject.

Two principles should guide Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) future.

  1. SNZ’s primary function should be to create and maintain a healthy diversified environment in which the sport throughout New Zealand can prosper and grow.
  2. Every decision should recognise a principle described by track coach, Arthur Lydiard as, “There are champions everywhere. Every street’s got them. All we need to do is train them properly.”

The obvious negative that screams from these principles is AVOID CENTRALISATION. Diversity and healthy competition are the lifeblood of sport. For example, I heard that two clubs in Hamilton had joined forces. There is nothing wrong with that. The cooperation is in the same city. It is strengthening the sport in a local area. It would become a negative only if SNZ encouraged the best swimmers in Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Otorohanga, Te Kuiti and Taumaranui to be absorbed into some burgeoning Hamilton empire.

The principle of swimming’s growth is based on strengthening swimming and especially the coaching of swimming in Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Otorohanga, Te Kuiti and Taumaranui – not stripping clubs of their best swimmers.

Years ago, SNZ used a phrase in their publications that said, “Excellence in every pool”. SNZ never meant it and never followed policies likely to make it happen, but the idea was exactly right.

So how should SNZ strengthen swimming in New Zealand’s base? How should swimming be strengthened in Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Otorohanga, Te Kuiti, Wairoa, Foxton, Levin, Stratford, Wanaka, Taihape, Taumaranui, Westport, Waipukurau, Cromwell, Queenstown and dozens of other New Zealand towns? After all New Zealand has recently seen five Olympic snow medals come out of Wanaka. What’s stopping five swimming Olympic medals coming from the same town. Wanaka has an indoor pool with water in it and concrete walls 25m apart. The Millennium Institute in Auckland is not New Zealand’s sole source of swimming wisdom and talent.  Peter Snell was born in Opunake, Murray Halberg in Ekatahuna, Lisa Carrington in Whakatane, Valerie Adams in Rotorua, Danyon Loader and Tom Walsh both in Timaru. Lydiard was right, “champions are everywhere. Every street’s got them”.

If implementing the principles of diversification and competition are accepted as the goal, what does it mean for SNZ? Well, it involves traveling the length and breadth of New Zealand every year to do two things – identify and inspire the talented and coach the coaches. Don’t bring them to Auckland – it sends all the wrong messages. Go to their home turf.

One of the most inspiring sporting moments of my teenage years was when Lydiard brought Peter Snell to the Wairoa Athletic Club to run a handicap 800m race. The race was followed by a Lydiard led coaching talk. A year later our Wairoa College cross country team won the Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay Championship. That win and the visit of Lydiard and Peter Snell were very much related.

Just imagine the shot in the arm a visit by Lauren Boyle or Lewis Clareburt or Erika Fairweather plus their coaches and Gary Francis would be to the Wairoa Swimming Club. Lauren still looks pretty fit. A 100m handicap race against her would have those Wairoa kids buzzing for years. A coaching session explaining American University swimming, distances and speeds would progress swimming beyond measure. The photographs, the medals, the uniforms would leave a lasting legacy. Over a period of years repeating the same thing throughout New Zealand and swimming becomes a better, a far better place.

Imagine the effect on Wanaka and Queenstown of a visit from American coach Mark Schubert. Don’t drag everyone to Auckland. Take Schubert to New Zealand. That is where the swimmers and coaches live. Go find them and look after them. Make them feel important. Why? Because they are.    

And it should not be expensive. Swimmers, parents, and coaches would be pleased to pay a fee for the experience. Who knows? SNZ may even turn a profit.

And the natural arrogant superiority of Aucklanders to the rest of New Zealand needs to stop. I remember a CEO of Auckland Swimming mocking my frequent visits to competitions in the Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay and Counties. “Been to the colonies again, David,” he said. He is the same moron who ridiculed the SNZ logo of “excellence in every pool”. That supercilious conceit has done swimming enormous damage.  

And so, the way ahead is to control the ever-present danger in New Zealand sport of empire building. And instead build an exciting, vibrant, and enthusiastic base. SNZ’s success in the future will be determined by what is happening in Wairoa and Wanaka. When those towns are buzzing, champions will follow. As sure as God made little green apples, from that base will come another Loader, Hurring or Simcic.

SNZ’s future is in how well it tends the dozens of gardens where champions grow.


Sunday, February 20th, 2022

This week the Ivy League Conference in the United States held their women’s swimming championship. Normally that would mean very little in New Zealand. Finding the fastest swimmers in a competition of elite American universities is not of great importance here. But things have changed. This year Penn University have a swimmer on their team who was born male, grew up as male, competed in swimming as a successful male and then decided he wanted to be a female and compete as a member of the Penn university women’s team. His, her name is Lia Thomas.

She has successfully undergone the hormone therapy aimed at reducing her testosterone and other measures to female levels. She is however still anatomically male. She has not had male conversion operations. The stories I have read of her wandering naked around the female changing rooms are disgusting. What a freak show Penn, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth have become. No swimming scholarship to a posh university is worth that perversion.

However, it seems the Penn coach, Mike Schnur, is so obsessed with winning that any obscenity is fair play. And of course, fair play is exactly what the presence of Lia Thomas on the Penn Team is not. She had 20 years of male strength development that will not be washed away by 20 months of female therapy. Schnur and Thomas and the Penn Athletic Department are cheating on sport in general and the female gender in particular. Winning is not that important.

No one is saying Lia Thomas cannot be a heart surgeon, or a Supreme Court judge, or, as Craig Lord so aptly put it, a butcher, a baker, or a candle stick maker. But competing in a sport where male strength is a huge advantage, that is cheating. That should be banned. Lia Thomas cannot swim in female races.

But she did. Here is what happened.

500 yards freestyle

  Place Time US Record Conf. Rec. NCAA Qual
Heat 1st 4.41.19 4.24.06 4.36.37 4.35.76
Final 1st 4.37.32 4.24.06 4.36.37 4.35.76

Penn’s cheating got them the win and the 32 points. I wonder if the coach thinks the win makes him a better coach. All that testosterone to work with and he can’t even break a US or Conference record or qualify for the NCAA finals. Real women like Jane and Rhi, that I have helped, did better than that.

200 yards freestyle

  Place Time US Record Conf. Rec. NCAA Qual
Heat 1st 1.44.91 1.39.10 1.43.78 1.42.98
Final 1st 1.43.12 1.39.10 1.43.78 1.42.98

Well, look at this. A new Conference record by 0.66sec. Every year that time will appear on the meet programme reminding the swimming world that Penn, Lia and her coach Mike are cheats. They still couldn’t get her fast enough to qualify for the NCAA finals or get anywhere near Missy Franklin’s US record.

100 yards freestyle

  Place Time US Record Conf. Rec. NCAA Qual
Heat 2nd   48.71 45.56 47.85 47.18
Final 1st 47.63 45.56 47.85 47.18

And so, another Conference record but still a mile away from Simone Manuel’s US record or qualifying for the NCAA Championships. All that cheating on every female athlete for two Conference records and 96 points. I do hope the Penn Athletic Department think it was worthwhile. They probably see themselves as torch bearers for an oppressed minority. In reality they should hide their head in shame. Banning the swimmer, the coach and the school from NCAA sport would be entirely appropriate.  

There is nothing that justifies 20 years of steroid use just to swim in the women’s events at university. Penn has become America’s East German Potsdam. Penn just found a different way of administering their male drugs. Dress it up anyway you like but Penn and US sport have been stained by what America’s best universities have allowed to take place in their domestic competition this week. Lead the world? I don’t think so.

PS – All that cheating, and Penn University still only managed to get third in the Championship – behind Harvard and Yale. Looks like cheats do not prosper.


Friday, February 18th, 2022

Before leaving the subject of New Zealand and the World doping rules, we need to consider the future. Many commentators have written about the terrible consequences of systematic doping programmes in sport. But what should we do? Well, reform ranges from major steps that can only be taken by world organisations such as the IOC and WADA down to small steps that make a difference inside New Zealand.

Small steps matter. They can lead to major reform. Emily Pankhurst chained herself to the Westminster fence and eventually women got the vote. Rosa Parks sat in the Whites Only seats on a bus and eventually equal rights law reform followed. Is there something we can do to initiate the reform of sport’s doping rules?

You see the case of the Russian 15 year old ice skater, Kamila Valieva who tested positive for the banned heart drug, trimetazidine, and was cleared to continue competing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), came as a surprise to me and, I suspect the Board of Swimming New Zealand. The Court gave her a favourable decision in part because she is under 16, known in Olympic jargon as a “protected person,” and is subject to different rules from an adult athlete.

What that means is every time anyone enters a swimming race, they agree to the meet condition that says, “All participants must agree to comply with the Sports Anti-Doping Rules.” We now know that one of those rules has now been interpreted by sport’s highest court as meaning swimmers under 16 can be doped to their eyebrows and the court will let them off. There will be no sanction. Doping the young has the stamp of legal approval.

Every swimmer entering a meet is accepting that doping the young is fine by them. For example, Eyad accepted the rule when I entered him in the Hamilton Championships next week. And I know for certain he does not accept that swimmers under 16 should be doped and get away with it. Every club that includes the doping clause in their meet flyer is promoting a rule that allows doped swimmers to enter their meet as long as they are under 16. But I don’t think Mrs. McCaskill-Day had that in mind when she sent out the Waikato Championship’s flyer.

But that is what the precedent set by the World Court for Sport this week means. It is ridiculous, but true. It would not be the first time the law has been called an ass. That does not make it any the less dangerous.

This threat to clean sport needs to be taken seriously. How to address the problem is way above my legal knowledge. But Swimming New Zealand has a good lawyer. I would strongly recommend he is asked to find a solution to the precedent set by the World Court for Sport. It is a wrong that needs to be put right.

I know Swimming New Zealand do not want to be included in a group that endorses doping young swimmers. The opportunity is there to lead the world in correcting the disastrous error made by some legal nutters in Switzerland.