We have with us a man who has been involved in the area of research for a number of years; his name is Jack Daniels (don’t make fun!). Jack was a backstroker in high school. He has been the head track coach at SUNY Cortland for a number of years – since 1986. He did work with USA Swimming a few years ago, some of the first research in the swimming flume. He obviously has a lot of experience and we are very pleased to have him here to give our keynote address this afternoon about Science and Medicine, Research and Training.
Thank you very much. I haven’t been working with swimming for some time, although I did a lot of it in my early days. I think I can relate to most of you regardless of where you come from, though not too many of the foreigners, I was born in Michigan.
When I was six weeks old we decided to move to San Francisco, I grew up there in the Bay area, about seven or eight miles from Stanford University. I went through high school and grade school there, with a year up in Washington State, a year down in Arizona, and a winter in Utah. I then went to the Colorado School of Mines, but my brother was having too much fun at the University of Montana, so I transferred up there.
I swam at Montana, and in those days if you did not go to ROTC you went to Korea. I went through ROTC and shot on the rifle team, and swam. I did end up going to Korea, and while I was there I entered a triathlon competition. It was made up of pistol shooting, 45 caliber, swimming and running. Of course we didn’t have a pool so we skipped the swimming, and did just the shooting and running. I was a terrible runner (I had never run before), and that’s why I became a running coach, because I was such a terrible runner. I wanted to learn more about it.
I got back from Korea and got into a modern pentathlon, which involved pistol shooting, swimming, running, horseback riding and fencing. I was lucky enough to compete in Melbourne in ’56. I then stayed in the States for a couple more years, then moved to Sweden for a year; studied the pentathlon and sport. I was very, very lucky to have as a professor there – for those of you interested in exercise physiology – a guy named E. H. Christensen from Denmark. He was an outstanding researcher and my professor in Exercise Physiology at the school I went to. Ostrand is a world-renowned exercise physiologist. I didn’t even know at that time that he was that great, because I wasn’t involved with it then as I was later.
I came back to the US and wanted to go back to Texas, but instead I got a job with a guy named Bruno Balky. He was a German who was brought to this country to do altitude research for our initial space program. I worked for Balky for a number of years in the Federal Aviation Agency. We did a lot of altitude research, and I became the altitude consultant for the ‘68 Olympic team with the US distance runners.
[An interesting side note to this study- I had 26 subjects in that study in 1968, and 25 years later I got all 26 of them to come to Arizona State when I was down there doing some sabbatical work. For a follow up I got a 100% return on those 26 Olympians. It was interesting to compare all the tests: we did the VO2 Max test on them and sub Max test and a whole lot of different things, some day I will report all the findings for you].
After the work with the FAA I decided to go back and do graduate work, but I was coaching at the time in Oklahoma City University. (Anybody from Oklahoma here)? I loved it there, but the wind blew an awful lot for a track coach. We used to hang a logging chain out on the porch and if it was at 45 degrees that meant the wind was moderate for the day, and if it was at 90 degrees the wind was up for the day. I did age group swim coaching then as well – in fact my team were the Oklahoma state champs in age group swimming then. Through association I met Bob Timmons, who was the coach of the Kansas state champs – and we have been very good friends ever since. Bob Timmons later became Jim Ryan’s coach, that’s how I got involved with testing Jim Ryan.
Then I was unfortunate enough to have a new President at the University and he cut out track and cross-country, so I moved to South America and I coached the Peruvian National Team for a year. Then I came back to Michigan to start my graduate work. Later on I transferred to Wisconsin because Balky had gone there, and finished at Wisconsin. Then I went back to Texas for a couple of years, to Hawaii for a year or so, and to Texas to coach for another seven or eight years.
After all this moving I went to work for the Nike Shoe Company, did research for them for about six years (plus three years in Sport Canada up in Ottawa) and now I am in New York. You can hardly mention any kind of weather conditions that I am not used to, or haven’t done a little research in. What I want to do here is give you some general things about training, and some things we have learned over the years working with athletes.
These are the five ingredients of success:
Imagine someone 7 feet tall that weighs about 300 pounds, i.e. Shaquille O’Neil, and standing next to him is Shannon Miller, the gymnast who weighs about 95 or 100 pounds. If you were to take them both out to the track and hand them a shot- put and have a shot- put contest whom would you bet on? Well you sure wouldn’t bet on Shannon – you would be betting on Shaq, even if he had never seen a shot put in his life. That is inherent ability; it can be anatomical in nature. In this case it is anatomical – a big guy and a little person. Now if you want to give Shannon the edge in a sport, one that neither has ever tried before, put them both on the back of a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and see how Shaq does. You have to accept that fact that there are differences in how people are born. What they are born with and whether it fits into a sport or other ability is to be considered. There may be biomechanical differences – joint leverage arms where bones are joined, where muscle across those joints is attached and so on. Differences also might be other physiological factors. You might have two people the same height, same weight and age, – they both train the same number of yards a week, and after a year of training one of them beats the other one by 30 seconds in a 400. The difference might be physiological – it could be internal, but you can’t see that. You can see the anatomical differences but you cannot see the physiological biomechanical differences, and some people have advantages and that is a sad story but it is true.
Motivation is another important ingredient of success. I like to think of motivation most importantly as needing to be intrinsic – from within. You should be the one motivated to do something –not be motivated by your coaches or your parents, brother and sister or boyfriend and girlfriend. You are motivated to do whatever it is that you are interested in doing, and if you have ability in that area, that motivation goes a long way. In fact, you can say that there are only four types of people in the world in sport. The first are the ones with great ability and higher motivation – these are the champions. There is no doubt about that.
An example for the second type: let’s say you have someone who is 7 feet tall, pretty coordinated and has tremendous potential to be a good basketball player, but wants to be a concert pianist. They are not motivated to be a basketball player. They could do a good job playing basketball in all likelihood, especially if they are in still in high school, but they are not going to do quite as well as the one who wants to do it, and is physically built to. I would call this type of person the “the coach frustraters” because the coach sees this ability and talent, but the athlete doesn’t particularly want to do that activity. They will do it just because it is something to do, and they are somewhat gifted.
Then you have the third group, which is low in ability but high in motivation; they are self-frustraters. They just try and try and try, but are always frustrated because they are not doing as well as the #2 gifted athlete type – the natural athlete. I have often heard coaches talk about these types, and I hear it in track/ running all the time. I don’t know if you hear it in swimming or not, perhaps you do. The coach says ‘man, if you just had some motivation you would be a great swimmer’. Do you ever tell an athlete ‘if you just had some ability you would be a great swimmer’? Why don’t we? Because it’s true, unfortunately. I don’t think you should be saying either of these comments to an athlete.
What you need to do is provide the opportunities and the motivation for them, and if you can make it enjoyable. I used to say that training ought to be fun, but that is baloney. Training ought to be rewarding, but not necessarily fun. You should be able to finish a workout and say, ‘man, that was a tough workout’ and feel good about having done it. Finally you have type #4- at the bottom, you don’t have to worry about them because they won’t show up for practice anyway. They may, however, be at the first category in something else – perhaps literature – maybe poetry, who knows? Perhaps involved in another athletic endeavor, but not necessarily yours.
When I coached in Peru I was in many cities where there was no such thing as a swimming pool. There was no lake. There was no river. There was nothing available, so you could have all the ability to be a swimmer – you could have all the motivation as well, but you had no opportunity. You have got to have an opportunity to do what you want to do; we tend to take care of that in our school system. We have scholastic sports in the high schools and the colleges. Swimming is a whole lot better than running. I am involved in running more than swimming, but you have a lot more clubs involved in swimming than we do in track and field in this country; so we rely heavily on the school system and they have to provide good facilities. These are opportunities that everybody needs in order to succeed. You have to be able to compete against other people. Just being motivated, being able to train hard, and having ability doesn’t mean you are going to achieve real success unless you get the chance to compete now and then. You also have to have good equipment, and you need to be able to travel to other places to compete.
Direction, I place it last. Some people might say it is the most important, but I would place it fourth. By direction I mean a program to follow, a teacher or a coach. Direction has the potential for being negative. Inherent ability doesn’t. With inherent ability you either have none whatsoever or you have some degree of it. With opportunity you either have none or some degree of it. The same goes for motivation. However with direction you can have none, you can have some degree of it, or you can have directions worse than none.
An example would be if the coach goes out and tells an athlete that they have to lose 50 pounds, they are not skinny enough. Or if an athlete came to me and said ‘I want to run the marathon’ and I would ask the athlete about how much running they have been doing, and they would say none. I would ask them if they ever ran. And their reply would be ‘No, I never ran in my life’. Then I would ask – ‘What other sports have you ever done’? and they would reply that they never did any. If I then told them that good marathoners run between 120-150 miles a week, and that starting this week they had to go out and run 150 miles, which would be worse than nothing. It is worse than telling them to run if they felt like it. Let them figure it out. Telling an athlete something that will hurt them, discourage them; get them sick and tired of it before they even discover the sport is a negative direction. Make sure your direction as a coach isn’t negative.
Here is an example based on research we did with swimmers a few years ago. If you have a swimmer swim at different velocities they will use different amounts of oxygen obviously. If they swim at this velocity they will use very little oxygen, and if they will swim at a faster velocity they use more, more again at an even faster velocity and so forth. You end up constructing a study by measuring how much oxygen they are using, you don’t even have to say oxygen – if you want you can call it energy. How much energy are they using to swim at various velocities? You will get an economy curve like this. We call it an economy curve because it tells you how economical you are. You might think of it as efficiency, but we are really measuring economy; we are comparing energy expenditure with velocity of movement. We are not comparing energy expenditure with work done, because the velocity is just part of the work done. We call it economy – it is a little more accurate term. Some athletes are less economical than others and it’s reflected in this curve. I will show you some of those.
You also have aerobic capacity or maximum ability to provide energy to your swimming muscles. The typical male has more – a higher max than a typical female. I have shown them to have equal economy but that varies a lot. Some are as equal and some are not – that’s okay. But the men definitely have a higher maximum ability in that they have more muscle mass. If you extrapolate this economy curve to the max and draw a vertical line down here, you will get a velocity of swimming that is associated with your VO2 max. Everybody has one, and that velocity is very, very important because it tells you what velocity you swim at, at maximum effort, related to your aerobic capacity.
Now you can swim faster than that velocity, when using it as anaerobic energy. Here is a typical economy curve – just a generic one. We have this economy curve, and have our VO2 max up here. We have a velocity of VO2 max which is at 100%. There is the velocity associated with 100% of your max. You can swim at about 106% of your max, which is going to be about what you will do in 400 for example, and you will race at about 110% of your max for a 200, because you are working anaerobically when you are beyond your max. You would probably swim a 1500 at something less than 100% of your Max, maybe 94, 95 or 97% of your max. If you were swimming in a 25K open water race you would probably be swimming at about 80% of your max; everything is related to that. Every race you do is a percentage of what your maximum race intensity is at your aerobic capacity.
This is actual data we had on two different groups of swimmers and it shows you one very important thing. This was a group of young age group swimmers and they had the exact same max as a group of elite women. It happened to be a group of Stanford women some years ago that we tested, an outstanding team as they usually are. Their economy curve was way down here, but there max was no higher than this age group population, but look at the difference in their velocity. These women could swim that velocity at aerobic capacity, and these little guys could swim at this velocity for their aerobic capacity, but the whole difference in performance was a function of who is more economical.
Economy comes with growth, if you take a sport like running – young kids are not as economical as older people. If they didn’t run for eight years and you tested them when they are older they will be more economical. Just by growing you become more economical. But in swimming the economy factor is a function of growth and technique. There is a big, big technique factor in swimming. The better your technique, the less energy you put into swimming at any particular speed. This shows quite clearly that the young kids have just as good a work capacity, but they are just not very efficient or economical in using what they have.
Here are some results we got when we first tested in the flume. You are not as economical in the flume as you are in long course, and you are not as economical long course as you are in short course. Why not? Well, you get to do a turn. I mean, my gosh – you get to turn. This is an interesting thing about swimming. I used to use it as a kind of joke, but when I would talk to runners I would say ‘You know, those swimmers have it made because everything they do is intervals’. They never work steadily. They get to rest on every turn. When running on a track a helicopter doesn’t come along, pick you up and then carry you down the track 10 meters, then set you back down and off you go. In swimming your pulling muscles are resting for two or three seconds, maybe four seconds, depending on what stroke you are doing and how fast you are going. For example, one of the reasons that swim times keep getting faster and faster, and records are constantly being broken is because the faster you swim the faster you are capable of swimming. Think about it for a minute. Let’s just theoretically say that on every turn you rest your swimming muscles three seconds. It might be more or less. I timed some people out here today, not swimming very hard, they were taking more than that- but they wouldn’t in a race. So let’s just say the rest is 3 seconds, and it takes you 60 seconds to swim the length of a 50-meter pool and you rest three on every turn. You are resting 5% of the time – 5% of the time you are resting. What happens if you start swimming lengths of the pool in 30 seconds? Now you are resting 10% of the time. What if you swam lengths of the pool in 15 seconds? Now you are resting 20% of the time. What if you swam lengths in six seconds? Now you are resting 50% of the time – pretty soon you don’t have to swim at all – just rest the whole time. The faster you swim the greater percentage of your total time spent in the race is resting, because you are not cutting down on the turn time. You are cutting down on the time between turns.
Swimming is becoming such a different thing; such a technological thing. We don’t even know if the swimmers are fitter than they used to be. Breaking world records doesn’t necessarily mean they are fitter. It might just mean that the water is smoother, or the outfits they are wearing are less resistant, or they can come farther off the wall underwater than they used to be able to. The way to test this would be easy. Just take a bunch of current record holders, put them back in a slow pool with little skimpy shorts and see how fast they can swim. Maybe they would go faster. Maybe they wouldn’t go as fast. But we don’t know. It is hard to differentiate the differences in technological advances and in stroke technique from those in fitness. Perhaps we have already reached as far as we are ever going to go in fitness, who knows? Maybe it is a waste of time to focus on fitness. I don’t think it is, but it’s a possibility. It is certainly something to think about.
Lets look at sea level and altitude. We did swim research with swimmers under both these conditions and economy doesn’t change. You are just as economical swimming at an altitude as you are at sea level, but what changes is your aerobic capacity (obviously). The pressure of oxygen is less the higher the altitude; and lowers your VO2 max, so the velocity that you can maintain at your max is faster at sea level than it is at altitude. The higher the altitude the farther down this goes so all your race distances are percentages of that. Now, if we look at runners they have a built in advantage in this case. When they go to altitude the air is less dense, so they become more economical at altitude. It doesn’t cost as much to run against the air resistance; but water resistance is the same at altitude or sea level. Runners benefit by lower cost so they are more economical, the velocity they lose is about half of the aerobic capacity but the same is true for swimmers. The velocity they lose is also about half but for a different reason.
Here is what a swimmer might lose in aerobic capacity going to altitude. There is the difference in the cost of swimming relative to the velocity. Runners shown here come down about 10% in VO2; when they come down about 10% in velocity. A swimmer comes down 10% in V02 or 20% of V02 and they only come down 10% in velocity. That regression curve is such because it costs the swimmer much more to increase the speed a little bit. It costs about twice as much to increase the speed as it does for a runner to increase it because of the water resistance factor. The good side of this means that you can slow down just a little bit in swimming and save a whole lot of energy. In other words to speed up just a little bit costs a whole lot of energy, but to slow down just a little bit saves a whole lot of energy. That is the reason of course that swimmers swim closer to their absolute speed for an endurance race.
A runner who runs a mile in 4 minutes, that is 60 seconds per 400, they can probably run a 46 or 47 second 400 – they are 13-14 seconds per hundred per quarter slower than they average in the mile. A 400 swimmer might be at an all out 52 seconds per hundred meters. They are only 8 seconds off their pace that they hold. Swimmers always used to get on the runners’ cases, saying that runners couldn’t run anywhere close to max like they swim-well the difference is that it costs. The cost curve is so different; it’s nice to appreciate that. Swimmers can keep up a pretty darn good pace in swimming and save a lot of energy to do it. In other words, they don’t have to slow way down just to save a little.
Here are some affects of training that you might expect. Lets say this red curve is a typical group of swimmers. Their max is up here. Their velocity at max is here. If they become more economical with their training then their economy comes down here, and the same max they had here over here will allow them to swim a lot faster. And if this same person, this same group here just increased their max up to this level without their changing economy then they are going to swim faster. If they improve their economy down to here and raise their max up to here, they can swim way over this level so obviously it pays to increase your work capacity and it pays to become more economical. I tend to believe that at some point the bigger opportunity is in technique to improve economy. At some point you are going to get about as fit as you are going to get, and you are going to have to change technique – get the economy faster. In fact, I think that is probably where most endurance sports are going to benefit more.
Then we have the old blood lactate profiles that look something like this. This swimmer here shows their lactate curve, as they train that curve shifts to the right. This is what you want to see because that reflects endurance. My definition of endurance is: What intensity of effort can you endure? Without getting too uncomfortable? To improve endurance means that you can swim at the same speed that you used to, only keep it up longer or that you can swim at the same level of discomfort at a faster pace. Either way you want to look at it, it is endurance improvement.
Here are some of the purposes of training that we ought to keep in mind when we train. We are trying to increase energy. How much energy can you provide your body with for a certain period of time? Can that be done aerobically or it could be done anaerobically? You want to be able to increase the body’s ability to convert fuel into energy and you do that with training, obviously. If you get better vascularization the muscle cells change histochemically. The heart gets stronger – you can deliver more blood – all those kinds of things provide the muscles with more oxygen, then the energy gets converted or the fuel gets them converted to energy. You want to improve speed. You can improve speed by being stronger. You can improve speed by better technique so you want to improve available energy. You want to become more economical or more efficient or whatever – that is technique again, by changing what you wear, or changing the rules off the turns, improving endurance. Those are things that you have to consider when you train.
Every coach and athlete when they go into the pool to do a workout ought to be able to think about and ask ‘What is the purpose of this workout ‘? there ought to be one. Am I trying to improve my speed? Am I trying to become more economical? Am I trying to increase my aerobic capacity? Am I working on my endurance? You ought to be able to say that. You shouldn’t just say go in to the pool and tell the swimmer ‘Just do this’
My friend Bob Timmons (who started off as a swim coach) had runner Jim Ryan who was the world record holder in several running events. Because he was a colleague and swim coach I had Bob’s workouts when he first coached Jim. I used to carry them around with me because people couldn’t believe what he did. I remember one week when he ran on a Monday (he ran twice every day) but on Monday he did a constant distance session on the track, on Tuesday he did another set of 3,000’s and 1500’s, and Wednesday he did 50 repeat 400’s starting on a 3 minute send-off. Well, that is two and a half hours of repeat 400’s, but that is a swimming workout. That is not a running workout. That is like doing 50 repeat hundreds, right?
Bob was a swim coach – and didn’t know what to do with this guy who was a great runner, he just made him like a swimmer on the land and it worked. But he had 35 teammates that it didn’t work for. You never heard of any of them; at that time Jim Ryan was a high school junior of 17 years. He had only been running two years – 50 X 400’s in 69 seconds with a three-minute send off. That’s not bad. The next day was 18 X 800’s, and a race the next day. He lived through it, but what I am trying to impress on the coaches here is that just because an athlete does something doesn’t mean that that is the right thing to do for you. Everybody is a little bit different.
Jerry Lingram was another great runner of the same era as Jim Ryan – back in the 60’s. Jerry Lingram still holds the American high school record for 5,000 meters from almost forty years ago. He still holds that record. I asked him these questions, and these were his answers:
What is the longest single training run you ever went on? 66 miles.
What is the most mileage you ever ran in one week? 360.
What did you average for a year? He averaged 240 miles a week for a year.
Jerry Lingram used to run whenever he was awake (he went to Washington State). I knew of times that he got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and he would say heck, I am awake – I might as well get in ten miles and he would. See, it is a lot easier to be a runner than a swimmer – you don’t have to have a pool. You guys are limited. You got pool time to deal with. That is one reason you don’t want to take too much rest because you want to take advantage of the pool. You can’t say that Lingram’s training was the right way to do it; Jerry Lingram was 5’ 7 and weighed 123 pounds. He only had one injury in his running career – he got hit by a car once out on a run. He was a different kind of a guy.
Now, here is an interesting curve you ought to consider, as a coach particularly. Training intensity or training load; the amount of training that you are doing, associated with how fit you are getting or what percentage of your potential are you reaching? When you don’t train very hard at all you are about 50% of the way there, and when you double that training over here you sure are not doubling the benefits. This is what I call the diminishing return principle – the harder you train, the less benefit you get or the less- more benefit. You get more, but it becomes less and less, then you have to consider the accelerating set back curve. When you don’t train very hard you don’t have as many problems. At some point the increased training stress is associated with a rather rapid rise in injuries, illness or lack of interest or whatever you want to call it. We get it a lot more in running than you do in swimming because the injury thing is a big, big deal in running. To go from 80-100 miles a week can really wipe some people out. In this area of this graph, this window is the place to do most of your training because you are getting big benefits, with not much chance of things going wrong, so you stay in a kind of a safety zone.
You have to move out here in this zone to really get to high achievement levels, but when you go out there you don’t want to stay there too long because you have to admit that things can go wrong a lot easier. It’s hard to say by how much as it varies. For a beginner it’s not much at all. To the more experienced person it is a whole lot, but everybody has their zone that they can train in without getting hurt, so you want to look at the final ingredient.
I told you there were five ingredients of success right? And this is the fifth one: and it probably more than luck, probably concentrating on your own thing is the important thing. What you are doing that is really important? In my sport of modern pentathlon I can give you a perfect example of this ingredient of success. I came from Korea to San Antonio to train for a pentathlon four months before the Olympic trials. This was the first time I ever held an epee in my hand. It was the first time I ever got on a horse’s back and it was the first time I ever ran – four months before the Olympic trials and we only had 15 good horses. You draw your horse. You don’t bring your own horse. You draw a horse to ride and there were only 15. There weren’t enough for everyone so some had to ride last after the first 15 people had done their riding. Well I went into the ride in 8th place and I was really excited – to me that was great – that was my first ever pentathlon in my life. That is the sport to go into if you want to go to the Olympics, by the way, or the Luge – one or the other. So I went on this ride and I thought ‘this is fun’ because I love to ride. I just absolutely liked it even though I hadn’t done it very much, and I drew a good horse and knew the horse and we did fine.
The guy who was first had a conservative ride, he was pretty well up there, and the guy who was second had a conservative ride. He stayed up in the placements. They stayed in first and second. But the third and fourth contenders were only a few points apart. You don’t ride together, so you don’t know what the other person is doing. While one person is off riding, you are sitting there waiting, and after everybody is done they figure the scores out. The third guy didn’t want athlete #4 to pass him, because only four go on the Olympic team; of those four only three get to compete, the fourth is an alternate. He didn’t want to be alternate so he went out too fast. This is a 5,000-meter cross-country course with 28 obstacles. He went out too fast, and his horse quit about 1,000 meters from the finish line – just quit – stood there. He got off the horse and hit it with rocks, but it wasn’t going anywhere. This horse was finished so he is out.
The guy who was fourth didn’t know that had happened to the other fellow (#3) he was trying to catch. Athlete #4 got thrown three times taking chances, fell off his horse three different times costing him 80 points each fall so he was out. Then contender #5 moved up into third, the guy who was 6th drew a really strong horse named Douglas, but Douglas ran away with him and I think they are still going someplace. So the guy who was 7th was just ahead of me, I had a better ride and I passed him. I ended up 4th. I was on the Olympic team. Well, I thought this was great. I get to go to the Olympics and I don’t even have to compete. I don’t have to embarrass myself or my country or anything else. Well, a week later our #1 guy who had won the Olympic trials was riding Douglas, and they had a disagreement on which side of the tree to ride on, so instead they hit it and it shattered his leg. I competed in those Olympics and won a silver medal.
All I did was my thing. I didn’t have anything to do with what happened to the other people. Maybe bad luck is a better term than luck, but that was nothing compared to what happened four years later. I kept doing the pentathlon, I was the US champ a couple of times, and won the Swedish championships. I also went to a couple of world championships (at the time I lived in Sweden). I came back to the States and I was determined to do well again. This time at the Olympics they only had nine good horses, so they held the other events first with the ride last again. I went in at 3rd place. I was pretty confident because my ride was always my best event, and I wasn’t that far out from first two – I could have caught them with a good ride. The bad news was the guy who was 10th was only one point behind the guy who was 9th. He was confident he could qualify as well as the ninth place competitor. So with only nine horses available there were officials arguing about what to do with ten athletes and nine horses. They agreed finally to let ten people ride, but they would have to put another horse in the draw.
This other horse was named Grayboy. He was gray, about 17 years old, and had a crew cut. If given the opportunity he should have worn a helmet, because he loved to run into walls and trees and things like that. Naturally, I knew Grayboy. I knew about him. You could control him with a gag bit – it was a twisted wire bit; with a regular bit he would just grab and go wherever he wanted, but the gag bit worked pretty well. Well, you get 15 minutes to warm your horse up – not only did I draw Grayboy, I drew the #1 riding position so I had to go before anybody else, and they could see how miserably I would do. I warmed him up and had five minutes left to the start. Usually when your time is up they say 3, 2, 1, GO and they start the watch, whether you are there or not.
Well, we had five minutes to go and the bit was not even in his mouth. He had chewed it right in half or something – there was no bit in it. We had no control whatsoever, so we raced around. There were no other gag bits. We had to put on a regular one and he loved that. Grayboy could grab it and do whatever he wanted. We made it to the start about 20 seconds before the time started, when one of the stable crews talked to me. He explained that the reason Grayboy wasn’t in the draw originally is because he refused to ever go over two jumps on this course in practice, which wasn’t too good. One of the rules is that the horses have to have been over all the jumps – not necessarily in order, but at some point, and he refused these two jumps period. They were both at the top of a cliff and he didn’t like looking out into space I guess.
One the first jump you had to go and check it before the horse went over it, and on the second one you had to also check it, as you had to slide down on it on the rear end, and slowly because at the bottom of it was an eight foot deep river. You didn’t want to go into the river, and Grayboy didn’t like that one, so I figured that I would go so fast at these jumps he couldn’t stop, but slow enough that he wouldn’t fly off into space.
So we came to the first one and it was made out of logs about like that and they are nailed down. These cross-country ones don’t knock off like in the show jumping ones; he saw it and he tried to stop but we were going too fast, as I planned. So he tore the jump down just with his chest. He just tore the entire jump down. It was legal because we went between the red and the white flag (which is the rule – to go between the flags) – it was considered a good jump, whether you jump it or not is irrelevant. We just went through it. The good news was that going through the jump stopped him from going down the hill, but bad news was that stopping so abruptly made me leave the saddle. I was sitting on his head grabbing his ears between my legs down here some place, and his head was hanging over this cliff. Well, I got back in the saddle and off we went with no faults, but we had time lost – about two or three points a second.
When we got to the last one it was made out of logs about this big. He was not knocking it down, and Grayboy could see it coming from about the length of this room. We couldn’t make it a short approach, he saw it and he was getting tired anyway- it was the last jump. Well, he stopped right in front of the jump. [It’s not a fault if he doesn’t take a step back; so if he stops and jumps it is still okay]. So he stopped – and just as he stopped I whacked him with the crop. This scared him and he reared up on his hind feet like the lone ranger does, took a step forward for some reason, and when he came down he came down on top of the jump. He was on the jump on his stomach with his front feet on one side and his back feet on the other. None of them were touching the ground, and he was just rocking on this jump like this. Finally for whatever reason he decided he might as well go over it rather than back, so he climbed one leg over, then the other leg over and we went down and finished.
Well, I thought, there is no chance of making this Olympic team – everybody can beat that time. I was in third still, and the guy who was 5th drew a gray horse and moved all the way to first. The guy who was first dropped a second, and I was still 3rd. The contender who was 4th had a fault and didn’t pass me, and the 5th and 6th guys didn’t go fast enough. The 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th – they were out of it anyway, in terms of the numbers that had ridden. I was still 3rd, but the guy who was 2nd before the ride hadn’t even ridden yet, so all he had to do was beat me, then he would be on the team and I am would be off the team. As it turned out he drew a great horse named Breeze that won many competitions. This rider was so confident he didn’t wear any spurs – he just carried his crop and breezed in. When they said GO he whacked Breeze with the crop, and Breeze just stood there and shook and stood there and shook. He did this for a minute and nine seconds at 2 ½ points a second. He didn’t move. They broke branches that big around across his hindquarters – he wasn’t going anywhere. He just stood and looked at them and shook, and by the time they finally got him to move and go down the route he had the fastest ride of the day, but with a minute and nine-second penalties, he ended up fifth. I got on the team, went to the Olympics and won a bronze medal. If anybody ever tells you there is not a luck factor in athletics –I’d have to disagree; maybe riding is a bit different from swimming.
Let me go on to the last thing I wanted to mention. When you talk about coaching or research I believe there are some things that are useful. It is very important to focus on practical things – things that you can apply. I like practical research. In other words, there is a real place for pure research – there really is – looking at cellular changes, when you start talking about nutrition, fuel and things like that – that is very important stuff, but I like to think about how can this research apply to the athletes – what can it do for them right now? Perhaps what you need to do is the second point – if you see a performance change as a result of some kind of training then research it and find out what happened. Find out why you got this improvement with this type of training. Maybe it is a conditioning thing. Maybe it is a technique thing. Maybe it is a cost thing – who knows?
We need to listen to the athletes. I am a sort of athlete type coach. I tend to believe the athletes are a whole lot smarter than we give them credit for, and they understand sports pretty darn well. We should listen to them whenever we can. If they have suggestions about any subtle things that they might want to do differently, it may be different than you have ever done, but maybe it is worth trying. You have got to take chances so you got to be willing to take chances. Sometimes it means pushing harder than you would like to. Sometimes it means backing off a little bit. Learn from your mistakes. You probably learn a lot more when you lose a race than when you win one. When you win one you just say ah, that was great, but when you lose one you say well what did I do wrong? So you start thinking about it. What should I do different? Should I go out faster? Should I go out slower? What do I need to do different? Change my stroke? When you make a mistake, try to imagine what you would have done to change it in order to fix it.
Focus on the task at hand. To me this is the single most important thing in competitive athletics. I will give you an outstanding example of that, maybe one was my riding – I was focusing on my ride – not worrying about what the other guys were doing. This other example is in a running event. This was a 5,000-meter race around a track when I was coaching in Peru. I had a young Indian kid that was running in the nationals. He lived up at about 13,000 feet and he was down at sea level running in the national championships. With five laps left to go in the race he was about 80 meters behind a group of four other runners who were leading the race and they were up in the middle of the turn. He was back in the straightaway some place and he came by me. I had only been down there maybe a month or so, so I didn’t have very good Spanish then. He said something in Spanish to me and I didn’t know what he said, so I asked the guy next to me. This fellow told me that he had asked if he could drop out of the race. Well, I don’t know why I said this (but it was exactly the right thing to say to this guy at that time) but I told my translator to tell him the next time he comes that he could drop out if he will first catch the leader. Well that is an easier thing to do in running than it is in swimming. If you are a few body lengths behind and somebody tells you go catch those guys – that is not the easiest thing in the world to do. It costs a whole lot of energy, but in running – usually in a longer race- you could pick it up and go hard for a ways and make up quite a bit of ground. He took me at my word. He really did. He just didn’t realize it was going to take him three laps to catch them. By the time he caught them there was only a half a lap left in the race, and he figured he might as well win this thing and he did. That is focusing on the task at hand. His task was to catch those guys. His task wasn’t to win the race or even finish the race. He started thinking – and he will tell you what he was thinking before – I am tired – I am way behind four other guys. There is no way I am going to do any good in this race. I am hurting and I want to get out of it. That’s what he was thinking – everything negative. Then when I told him go out and catch them, then you can quit that was all he was thinking – boy – I get to get out of this if I can catch these guys and that was his talk. It is the greatest example I have ever seen. That is the absolute truth. He made up 80 meters in three laps. That is a long way. It was probably 15 seconds at least and – but it worked.
I have seen this same thing happen a few other times. Trust success and question defeat. Anytime you get beat it’s like when you make a mistake, or if you lose a race. Question it. Think about what it is that needs to be changed. Maybe it is something we would like to investigate, or have some people look into and do some research project. Why is this happening? Lets figure it out.
On the other hand if you are successful, believe in it. Every once in awhile I will get a runner who will run a great time – better than they have ever done before, and they say ‘Boy, that was a fluke’. There is no fluke. If you did it, it is not a fluke. You have to trust the times you are successful. Accept your very best as your norm, and go on from there.
If anybody has questions I think we will have a chance a little later to discuss this. I love doing research and I love coaching, and I have had a good time with it over all these years. I look forward to a few more years and I appreciate your attention. Thank you very much.