At a recent seminar in San Francisco, Peter Daland, president of the World Swimming Coaches’ Association, introduced Cecil Colwin as “A scholarly and knowledgeable gentleman, a true friend of the United States, and a great contributor to the sport of swimming.” Cecil Colwin has had a distinguished international coaching career, and is also known as: an outstanding clinician, lecturer, researcher, author, cartoonist, and illustrator. Cecil has given over 200 lectures and clinics internationally on the sport of swimming. He has written three best‑selling swimming books; his latest, “Swimming Into the 21st Century” (1992), with over 300 of Cecil’s own illustrations, is already in its fourth printing. Over the years, Cecil has addressed ASCA clinics on a variety of original and thought‑provoking topics. This year’s presentation: “The Changing Face of Swimming” promises to be no exception.
I wish to thank ASCA for inviting me to address the 1995 World Clinic, and Coach Tim Welsh for introducing me in such eloquent terms. I also thank Coach Scott Lemley of Ultimate Fist Glove Enterprises for his kind interest in so graciously sponsoring this opportunity to talk to you. I appreciate the honor of being invited to address so many leading coaches, from so many countries, whose “clean” swimmers have contributed to the progress of our sport. I greet you, friends, and I thank you too for your interest.
It would be highly remiss of me not to acknowledge the mighty contribution of nine very special people, without whom, in the first instance, this great conference, with over 1000 attendees, would not have been possible. I refer to Executive Director, John Leonard, Guy Edson, Lori Hafen, Richard Klatt, Michelle Mendlowitz, Andy Thompson, Stephanie Putzi, Julie Nutti, and Karen Leonard. Their hard work, and dedication shows a love for the sport that goes far beyond the normal call of duty.
A very special tribute goes out to a truly great new leader in our sport, namely John Leonard. Together with Forbes Carlile, Peter Daland, and many other coaches and swimmers, world-wide, he has taken the leadership in the fight against the spreading curse of doping in our sport. I want to dedicate this presentation to Shirley Babashoff, the great American Olympic Swimmer of 1976, her team mates of that year, and all the other swimmers who were cheated out of their just rewards.
My topic today is: “The Changing Face of Swimming”, but a more apt title, sad to say, may well have been: “Our Sport is in Crisis”. The traditions of our sport, and the legacy of our sport, that have been handed down to us to cherish and preserve, are at a crisis point in history. In the light of recent developments, our sport is in crisis, whether we want to admit to it or not.
Every crisis has its “up-side” as well as its “down-side”. In our case, in this period of upheaval caused by the drug problem, the “up-side” is that, for the first time in history, there exists a tremendous opportunity for coaches, to assert themselves and make their presence felt; to ensure that they take their rightful place in a sport to which so many of those present, and to which so many of the sport’s coaching pioneers, have contributed in such large measure. Now is the time! And now is the hour!
The pioneers of competitive swimming gave the sport their talent, their indomitable spirit, their creativity. The thrill of watching their dramatic races, in various eras of our swimming history, motivated ever-increasing numbers to join the ranks of our sport. The stories that we hand down, from one generation to the next, comprise the fabric, and the legends of our sport. The classic, hard-fought battles between Dick Cavill and Freddy Lane, both of Australia, in 1903; between Charlie Daniels, America’s first great champion, and Cecil Healy of Australia, in 1906; between Ethelda Bleibtrey of America, and Fannie Durack of Australia in 1919; the 1920’s contests between Johnny Weissmuller, of America, Istvan Barany, of Hungary, and Tetsuo Takaishi, of Japan; between Andrew “Boy” Charlton, of Australia, and Arne Borg, “The Swedish Hurricane”, all in that same era; then followed one legendary figure after the other, right up to the present time; these are the athletes who helped to create the great traditions of our sport.
The pioneer swimmers…they won by fair means only, without the use of chemical substances, without claiming victories that, in essence, were non-existent; and so do all the really great swimmers of today. The tradition they built is our tradition, our legacy that we nurture, guard, and defend, if necessary, against illegitimate technologies that unnaturally change, and manipulate the body, and threaten to subvert the entire integrity of our sport.
For example, the late Bob Kiphuth of Yale University, one of the world’s great pioneer coaches, said in his book, Swimming, on page 106, published more than 50 years ago: “conditioning cannot be bought in pill form over the counter, and athletic achievement and success, like all good things in life, can only be bought through hard work, sacrifice and discipline.” But little could the great Bob Kiphuth have known how the concepts of fair play would be trampled upon.
The DDR Regime
How times have changed! Unfortunately, today, in many quarters, the struggles, and the pains that the pioneers took to develop our sport, are being turned into a mockery, and a travesty of the ideals the pioneers propounded. The totalitarian countries, with their cold, impersonal, state systems of sports preparation, certainly have no such traditions in swimming. For example, in 1974, when I spoke to Dr Roeder, the then vice-president of sport in East Germany, to enquire the reasons for their swimming success, he seemed far more intent on explaining how their successes were due to the efficiency of their social system. One can see now that perhaps he was right.
For the best part of a century, America and Australia shared their expertise with the rest of the world. But what did the DDR give us in the way of swimming knowledge? Nothing! We all know now what they gave us. We know what their “legacy” was, and that so-called “legacy” has insiduously crept into the sporting fabric of other countries, as now we all know so well.
What has China given us in the way of swimming knowledge? Nothing! Where are their methods documented for all to see? China is a mystery, and so was the DDR, the German “Democratic” Republic, until the truth finally came out in all-revealing documents , found in the vaults of the “Democratic Republic’s” STASI, the State Secret Police. Incidentally, what was FINA doing, during the 20 years of DDR’s duplicity, and continuous cheating? For 20 years their testing was ineffective because they did not catch any East German swimmers…
No, the DDR gave us nothing, no new knowledge, nothing, not even friendship. We remember how they held themselves aloof at international swim meets. This was no fault of their individual swimmers, mark you. They were instructed to keep away from us, to have nothing to do with us, for fear of their becoming “tainted”…let’s say it, ‘tainted” by Freedom, and tempted to defect, and, perhaps, even to spill the beans!
For two decades, the East German officials lied and lied and lied. They insisted that they were winning fairly by dint of a ‘superior’ system, great coaching and superb athletes. In retrospect this was simply preposterous. To add insult to injury, when asked why their girls had such deep voices, they laughed in our faces and said that they were training swimmers not singers.
They weren’t even offended by the implied accusation. They didn’t even bother to defend themselves, as people unjustly accused could be expected to do. They just laughed instead…
The world of swimming, all this time, remained highly suspicious, but, to the detriment of dozens of athletes who didn’t cheat, not one East German athlete was caught. For 20 years FINA dithered. They failed miserably in not making every effort to catch the East Germans who, like the Soviets, were experts at pre-testing their athletes to ensure they were ‘clear’ before allowing them to compete. This was at a time when steroids were fat soluble and stayed in the body longer, making them more easily detectable.
Despite these revelations, the IOC and FINA has not seen fit to erase the offenders’ names from the official lists of records and results, and to retroactively award the medals, and other honours, to those who were dispossessed of what is rightfully theirs. This is why we are so resentful today. We all still feel extremely resentful that these injustices have been allowed to prevail for so long.
This has nothing to do with the Chinese alllegations of “racism”, or “looking for an excuse to topple FINA.” It is just that we want justice done, not merely seen to be done. And, most importantly, we have the continuing responsibility to protect our youth from the scourge of androgenic steroids. We want the sport and its heritage, what it stands for, or should stand for, to be protected.
Legends and Traditions
Part of my presentation today will deal with the traditions and the great legacy handed down to us by the pioneers of our sport. I do not intend to give a detailed historical survey, or describe in detail the many technological improvements the sport has undergone.
Instead I want to talk to you about people and events, about the human dynamic, about some of the people who became legends, part of our tradition, and I want to single out some of their contributions; the invention of the crawl-stroke, an invention that I believe provided the central theme, the central structure, even the philosophy, around which most of our development has grown. Last but not least, I want to talk about what I think was a philosophy of the sport that developed though honest effort, and tough, but nevertheless, good, clean competition.
Our sport of competitive swimming is not very old. Organized competitive swimming goes back only about 150 years. Although we haven’t been at it very long, we have made remarkable progress, especially when you consider that we are “land-confirmed beings”, not natural amphibians, and that our land-type bodies are not ideally suited for swimming propulsion.
Taking this fact into consideration, the improvement in human swimming skills over 150 years, is nothing short of spectacular! Take the crawl stroke, for example; when you compare it with its predecessors, namely the original orthodox breaststroke, the various versions of sidestroke swimming, and the trudgen stroke, the modern crawl is a marvel of human ingenuity, and one of the greatest discoveries in human propulsion through water.
In over half a century in the sport of swimming, I have seen a great deal of change. During this time, I have been fortunate to have met and been influenced, by people who have played a significant role in the development of our sport. Many of these people, in their turn, were influenced by others before them, who had participated in momentous events at the turn of this century. For example, my own coach and mentor, the late James D. Allett-Green, back in the 1920’s- that’s over 70 years ago-, studied under both L. de B. Handley of the New York Women’s Swimming Association, as well as William Bachrach, of the Illinois Athletic Association.
The first competitive swimmers raced wherever there was a stretch of open water, they even swam in muddy ponds, lakes, canals, rivers, lagoons, the open sea, in the old bath houses, that contained an odd assortment of different-sized pools, not to mention sometimes a variety of polluted and unsanitary conditions. For a long time, there were no standard racing distances, no stop watches. Then there was the plight of women swimmers, who to all intents and purposes, were segregated by the narrow-mindedness of the time. Women wanted to swim competitively, but were made to swim in private, in seclusion.
Can you imagine what a turn-of-the-century swimming meet was like? For example, in Australia, the birth place of the crawl, many of the early swimming meets were held in seawater pools in Sydney Harbour. The “carnivals”, as they were known, took place in pools enclosed within a large rectangular floating dock, on which hundreds of spectators stood, tightly packed, while, on high embankments behind the pool, an even larger crowd would grow as trains steadily unloaded passengers from a dozen city suburbs.
The crowd hoped to see at least a few swimmers who had managed to learn the new speed stroke, that was commonly known in Sydney as “The Crawl”. These Saturday afternoon gatherings were always alive with excitement. World records were constantly broken. As soon as a new mark was set, it usually was broken again the next week, next Saturday. This was the most exciting era in swimming history; one that continued for twenty-five years, during which time the 100 yards mark was reduced by no less than 10 seconds, and the 440 yards by nearly a minute. The period marked a sort of “Swimming Renaissance”, a time of transition from the ‘stop-start’ styles of sidestroke and trudgen-stroke to the continuous action of the modern crawl.
Here we have the scene: six big men, clad in black, full-length cotton “swimming costumes”, with shoulder straps, and trunks worn over the lower half “for decency”, are folding their towels, and placing them on the rough, often splintered, starting boards, to protect their feet when they start the race.
A whistle is blown and the swimmers are brought to the line for the 100 yards race. “Swimmers ready. Take your marks” shouts the starter. He fires the pistol. The swimmers hit the water.
Two swimmers, doing the sidestroke, are quickly left behind by those using the strange ‘pull-kick-leap’ action of the double-overarm trudgen stroke. The trudgen swimmers enter the final lap of the 100 yard race. Twenty yards from the finish, they are still in a line. Suddenly, one of the swimmers seems to change his action. He is hidden in a welter of splashing. He looks like a large game fish being landed in shallow water at high speed, Dick “Splash” Cavill (for that is his name) makes his bid. The sound of his two-beat kick, “ka-doomp, ka-doomp,-ka-doomp, ka-doomp” is deafening. It can be heard all over. With amazing speed Cavill soon has open water between him and the rest of the field as he speeds to a new world record of 59.7 seconds.
Cavill climbs from the water to accept the applause of the crowd. He is an athlete of magnificent physique. The crawl’s first exponents had to be powerful as well as talented. Before it was refined, the crawl was a tough stroke to swim. “Ka-doomp, ka-doomp, ka-doomp, ka-doomp”…
“Ka-doomping” along in this fashion with the new crawl-stroke was surprisingly speedy but very tiring, not only because it wasn’t fully refined, but also because, with the exception of Alick Wickham, most of the first generation of crawl swimmers hadn’t been introduced to the crawl as youngsters. Although much faster than the accepted racing strokes of the time., the original crawl was too tiring to use for any race over 50 yards. As we have seen, it was used mainly to produce a spectacular burst of speed that would gain the lead at the end of a trudgen or sidestroke race.
The constant splashing made it difficult to analyze the mechanics of the new crawl stroke, resulting in varying accounts of the methods used by leading exponents. One can easily understand the initial slow acceptance of the new racing stroke as it spread from Australia to Europe, and North America.
Despite its unusual and awkward appearance, the new style of swimming was capable of producing a dramatic increase in speed, even in swimmers of mediocre ability.
When first swum, nearly one hundred years ago, the crawl was a crude version of what it is today and, to watch the smooth, flowing power of a Matt Biondi, a Gary Hall, Jnr, a Kieran Perkins, and other great crawl swimmers of the modern era, it is hard to believe that the crawl was once regarded as the “freak stroke” of swimming.
There was a time when the pioneers of the crawl stroke, great swimmers all; the Australians, Dick Cavill, Alick Wickham, Freddy Lane, Cecil Healy, initially battled to beat 60 seconds for the 100, not 100 meters, but 100 yards! Then came the great Americans, Charlie Daniels, Duke Kahanamoku, Johnny Weissmuller, and then the Japanese, Takaishi, Miazaki, Makino, and many, many more.
One wonders what the pioneers of the crawl stroke would think, were they present today to see Kieran Perkins consistently breaking 60 seconds for each 100 meters of the 1500 meters race… Their reactions would rival the complete surprise, the absolute wonderment, the Wright Brothers would experience, were they to taxi their flimsy “Flyer” into a modern airport, to suddenly find their aircraft dwarfed amid a collection of giant, metal airliners. I think this is a valid comparison; the pioneers of swimming would react in similar fashion if they could see in action the swimmers of today
Imagine what would happen if some the great swimmers of yesteryear were able to return to earth, and find themselves at a modern swim meet. Let us imagine that they were given a guided tour. The pioneers of competitive swimming simply would not understand what they were looking at. The size of the pool probably would over-awe them; the immaculate dressing rooms, and ablution facilities; the exercise rooms, meeting rooms, assembly rooms, admin offices, press rooms, storage rooms-the cleanliness of it all. The wave-reducing lane markers, underwater windows, underwater video cameras for TV usage, biomechanical research work, and other uses. Electronic timing, and electronic scoreboards, instant announcing of results. Controlled water temperatures, air conditioning, and relative humidity. What would they think of thousands and thousands of comfortable seats for spectators, banked high into the air, separate pools for diving and warm-ups; in fact, an environment totally dedicated to inducing inspired swimming.
Yes, for a pioneer of the sport, the sight of a modern swimming complex in itself would be astounding enough to behold. But what about the first sight of amazing new swimming strokes? What would they make of the butterfly stroke? There was no butterfly stroke when they were swimming. There was simply not the slightest inkling, no notion whatsoever, no concept of swimming with both arms pulling and recovering simultaneously, or the dramatic adaptation of the dolphin kick from nature, and the clever, and precise timing of it with the arms.
What would they think if they were to see the modern backstroke, or back crawl, as they would probably call it? It bears no resemblance at all to their early attempts at swimming on the back, which was nothing more than breaststroke, swum upside-down, with double overarm recovery, and upside-down frog kick? Furthermore, would they recognize the old, traditional breaststroke technique, when viewed in comparison with the sleek, streamlined, modern stroke with its slight hint of slithering, undulation, set within a highly synchronised stroke? What would they make of it all? What about the fast starts, turning techniques, and the push-offs, and, oh yes! the underwater dolphin kicking in both butterfly and backstroke of Berkoff, Dolan and Stewart….what WOULD they think?
What would the pioneers think of “mixed” swimming? No, not mixed swimming strokes, but men and women swimming together in the same meet, and in the same pool… Many of the very early pioneers would be flabbergasted, not only at seeing mixed swimming meets, but also at seeing the women’s racing suits of today. All these features of present-day swimming certainly would have “got their attention”, as the saying goes..
“The University Costume”
One hundred years ago, there was great controversy concerning women who actually wanted to swim, and, what’s more, swim competitively! Not many lady swimmers swam competitively, because privacy was difficult to obtain. There was also the problem of what to wear when swimming.
Some thought the best material for making a lady’s “bathing dress” was turkey twill, whatever that might have been. (I made enquiries and found out that turkey twill was a thick linen, almost like sail cloth…) The costume could be made with knickerbockers and a short skirt. For speed swimming, however, a skirt was not advisable. The costume could be trimmed with one’s club colours, made neatly, but not elaborately. For a woman to cut her hair was considered very bold, and un-ladylike,and so large “waterproof caps” were invented to keep long hair dry.
With time, privacy for women’s swimming was no longer so urgent. The more daring women started to wear the “university costume”, that previously had been confined to male swimmers.-What was this much talked about “University Costume”, this item of swimwear that, for so many years, was a source of contention and controversy, an item around which, the actual future of women’s swimming was once centered?
Well, it was a full-length “bathing suit” with shoulder straps and a short skirt, that came to be worn by both men and women, the upper legs were covered by what could best be called “leglets”, or short cuffs that extended a few inches down the thighs. (In the 1920’s, the skirt was often dispensed with in the manufacture of men’s racing suits.)
The University costume was usually made of black or blue coloured wool; the dye of which often ran, causing significant discoloration of swimming pool water. For this reason, the Women’s Swimming Association of New York, for example, permitted only grey coloured bathing suits to be worn.
In addition to carrying and absorbing a significant weight of water, University costumes had the additional disadvantages of crinkling and riding up, and also of chafing the chest and shoulder areas. For racing purposes University costumes were later made of cotton, or, as time progressed, from a type of silk.
(At this point, the speaker produced a University costume from behind the lectern.)
“Voila!” here is a University costume. It is fast becoming a rare artifract. In fact, this is the University suit that I wore for racing in the mid-1940’s. It brings back nostalgic memories of my youth. (I keep it with my old boy scout uniform!) This was the regulation competitive swim suit of the time. We were not permitted to wear trunks or briefs. Note that one shoulder strap has a button, and a button hole.
The trick was to be able to squirm into this garment without tearing it, and then to ask someone to fasten the shoulder strap button for you, because if you tried to do it yourself, you stood a chance of pulling a muscle just before you were about to swim! And, in case you were wondering, it was customary to wear a certain elasticized garment under the suit. At the turn of the century, however, before these elasticized undergarments were invented, swimmers wore what looked like a pair of briefs over their university swim suits, and these were known as “V’s”.
For recreational swimming some pools allowed you to wear trunks, but others did not. So what we bought for recreational swimming was -now don’t laugh!- the famous Jantzen-Two-Piece swim suit…it was very “with it” at the time. Wonder of wonders; this suit had a zipper that was stitched laterally across the stomach area of the suit, and if you came to a pool where they allowed you to wear trunks, all you did was to self-consciously unzip the top part of the suit, take your arms through the shoulder holes, and there you were, in all your pristine glory, able to sunbathe without spoiling your tan with white shoulder strap patterns.
“Watch That Kid Crawl”
Alas, the history of swimming, in fact all human progress, is full of tales of opportunities lost. On August 11th, 1873, at the Lambeth Baths in London, when John Trudgen brought the double overarm stroke to England from the warm sea waters of the West Indies, and demonstrated superior speed, it must have been obvious that his breaststroke-type kick retarded continuous forward motion. Unfortunately, no one at the time understood that breaststroke kicking didn’t fit naturally with Trudgen’s adopted faster arm action, and that a more pliable kick was needed to allow a continuous stroke.
The crawl, or an early overarm version of it, had been swum for generations, by natives of the South Seas. Body surfing provides a possible clue to the origin of the crawl. The body surfer uses rapid alternate overarm strokes to catch the impetus of a fast-cresting wave. Then, with head down, the surfer pulls both through to the hips, often adding a flutter kick to ensure that the wave’s full momentrum has been secured. As I’ve said, the idea of the flutter kick and the alternate overarm came from the South sea Islands. The Australian pioneers were quick to spot the clues, and they put them together in an entirely new form of swimming. The crawl was a marvel of ingenuity, and much faster than any earlier technique.
Alick Wickham is generally recognised as the first swimmer of the modern era to do the crawl. Alick Wickham was the son of a Polynesian mother and an English father. His father was a trader in the Solomon Islands until 1894 when he retired to live in Sydney, Australia, so that his sons could attend school in that city.
In 1897, Alick swam in a boys’ under-10 race at Bronte seawater pool in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. His pipe-stem arms spun round and round in a circular pattern, while his feet beat up and down with a powerful but strange type of fluttering action. His head flicked from side to side, as he breathed whenever he could. He quickly passed his rivals who struggled with strange stop-start styles.
“Say mate”, said a local coach, George Farmer, “just look how that kid crawls over the water.” This is one version of how the term “crawl stroke” came into being. Another version is that Dick Cavill, the first great crawl swimmer, swam crookedly, and “crawled” over his rivals. (Carlile, 1963)
It says much for the Australian “give-it-a-go” spirit that the oldsters bothered to watch a 9-year-old boy’s stroke technique. It says even more for their inventiveness that the famous Cavill family of great swimmers allowed Alick the use of their baths at the Sydney Domain.
They studied his style carefully. Soon they improved on it, and Dick Cavill became the first swimmer in the world to beat one minute for 100 yards. And as Wickham matured, he became the world’s fastest at 50 yards covering the distance in an unbelievable 24 seconds.
A group of innovative swimmers, whom I like to call “The School of Sydney”, men such as the Cavill brothers (Syd, Arthur “Tums”, and Dick), Alick Wickham, Freddy Lane, Cecil Healy, and Barney Kieran, all played a role in developing a more continuous racing stroke, rather than the halting mode of propulsion inherent in breaststroke, sidestroke, and trudgen swimming.
There can be little doubt that the crawl was indigenous to the Polynesian Islands, particularly the technique of the flutter kick which fitted ideally with the continuous overarm action. But to the Australians must go the credit for first adopting and adapting the crawl to the needs of formal competitive swimming. The technique they developed took the world by storm. Although the crawl, at that stage, was at a comparatively elementary stage of its evolution, it completely changed the nature of speed swimming.
The early crawl- stroke was crude and ungainly, consumed energy rapidly and was used mainly for a fast finishing burst. Several swimmers could cover 50 yards using crawl throughout, but not many could maintain the tiring action for a full 100 yards. Dick Cavill, the first man to swim crawl in championships, would start a 100 yards race using the crawl, then switch to the trudgen stroke for most of the distance, before reverting to crawl to produce a speedy finish.
On July 24th, 1902, swimming in Manchester, Freddy Lane, beat Dick Cavill, and Britain’s finest swimmer, J. H. Derbyshire, by the narrowest of margins, to become the first swimmer to cover 100 yards in one minute. Two weeks later, Cavill showed his true form when he cut Lane’s record to 58.8 seconds, a time that had to remain unofficial as it was recorded in a handicap race. Later that year, in Leicester, Lane officially became the first to break one minute for the 100 yards with a time of 59.6 seconds.
- M. Daniels: America’s First Great Swimmer
Charles M Daniels, of the New York Athletic Club, born in Buffalo on 24th March, 1887, was the first of the great American swimmers. His performances had a big influence on speed swimming in this century. Daniels was a highly successful athlete, a “superstar” to use today’s parlance, and an intelligent, observant, and creative man who revolutionised the art of swimming fast.
A man of outstanding physique, and patrician bearing, Charles Daniels had an air about him that commanded respect. Daniels stood 6 feet 3 inches , and weighed about 200 lbs. Photos show that he wasn’t bulky but had the lean, rangy, whip-cord, symmetrical physique that was to typify many of the great crawl swimmers who came after him
Daniels adopted the Australian crawl, and refined its basic elements to create a new stroke with an independent leg-action. This stroke, faster and less tiring than the Australian crawl, came to be known as the American or Independent crawl, and it set crawl swimming on course for the rest of the 20th century.
On Saturday, January 13th, 1906, Daniels became the first American swimmer to set a world record, “at a standard distance”, when, in the same evening, he twice broke the world 100 yard record of 58 sec. held by the Australian, Dick Cavill. “The New York Athletic Club Journal” recorded the historic event as follows: “Swimming in the New York Athletic Club’s 25 yard pool, C. M. Daniels covered the 100 yards distance twice in the one evening in hitherto unequalled figures. In his first swim, Daniels touched in 57.6 seconds, eclipsing the mark of 58 seconds made by Richard Cavill. The American mark, 61.4 seconds was made by Harry Le Moyne.”
Although Syd Cavill, one of the pioneers of the Australian crawl, had been coaching at the San Francisco Olympic club for some time, and “persons from Australia traveling to other lands” (Beaurepaire, 1942) had also passed on what they knew of the crawl, the meeting between the two national champions, Barney Kieran of Australia, and Charles Daniels, of America, was the first actual ‘swimmer-to-swimmer’ link between the Australian crawl and the person who was to modify it, and create the American crawl, a new stroke that became so successful at all distances that eventually the Australian crawl became obsolete.
When he returned to America, Daniels incorporated the principles of the crawl stroke to suit his own movement pattern, as well as the less-buoyant fresh-water conditions in which most Americans competed. The almost instant result was that Daniels improved at an even greater rate than he had done before, and on January 13, 1906, he became the first American to break the world 100 yards record with a time of 57.6 seconds. Over the next four years, Charles Daniels steadily improved on this time until his world record stood at 54.8 seconds on April 7, 1910, a few months before he retired at the end of a legendary career.
Swimming is a way of life in Hawaii, and the overarm stroke was swum there for centuries, but the greatest of the Hawaiian swimmers learned the finer points on the mainland in a crash-course, only weeks before the 1912 Olympics. It happened like this: One day in 1911, a year after Charles Daniels, America’s first great swimmer had retired, Daniels’ former coach, Otto Wahle, now President of the American A.A.U., received a very unusual letter.
In it the Hawaiian Swimming Association applied for recognition of a world 100 yards record of 55 2/5 seconds set in Honolulu harbour by a young swimmer with the sonorous name of Duke Pao Kahanamoku. The application was accompanied by affidavits saying that Kahanomoku had received no benefit from the harbour’s tidal waters. But the A.A.U.’s officials were not convinced. Instead of accepting the record, they invited the Hawaiians to enter Duke in the A.A.U. indoor championships in Pittsburgh early in 1912, assuring them that, if Duke repeated his form, he would be selected for the Stockholm Olympics.
The Hawaiians, were excited at receiving the invitation. The colourful Hawaiian party caused quite a stir when they arrived in Pittsburgh, and everyone was impressed by the fine physique and gentlemanly bearing of the tall, bronzed youth from the Hai Nalu Boat Club of Honolulu. When Kananamoku hit the water in the 220 yards championship, the experts gasped at his great natural speed.
But his stroke was rough, and he had no experience of swimming in a ‘tanked’ pool. He set off like a frightened horse. He had no idea of pace. He had two speeds: flat out and stop. At sixty yards he had gained a lead of three body’s lengths. But at the 120 yards mark, he was so exhausted that he had to be yanked out of the pool.
Surprisingly, Duke wasn’t discouraged. In fact, when he recovered his breath, he shook his head and laughed at his own misfortune. The mainlanders were soon to learn that Kahanamoku was a man of remarkable character. Throughout his career, no matter the circumstances, ‘The Duke’, as he came to be called, remained an immensely likeable, relaxed, happy, and gentle fun-loving person.
The Duke was quick to learn. He realized that his stroke was far from efficient, his start and turns were a severe handicap, and, to cap it all, he knew it was urgent that he learned to spread his energy evenly over the distance. A few days later, he competed in Chicago and, despite fumbling his turns, he redeemed himself to some extent by winning the 100 yards title. But in the fifty yards event, both his start and turns were poor, and he failed to gain a place.
However, the A.A.U. officials had seen enough of the Honolulu youth’s raw speed and power to convince them that he had, in fact, equalled Daniels’ 100 yards record in a straight-away swim, and he was awarded the open-water record. As a result, he was also included in the American Olympic team.
Otto Wahle, the great mentor, who had coached the famous Daniels throughout his fabulous career, thought it urgent to teach Kananamoku as much as he could safely absorb within the limited time before the Olympics. He arranged for Duke to receive a crash-course of instruction at the University of Pennsylvania where he was coached in starting and turning, and entering his arms cleanly, instead of hitting the water forcefully.
A canvas pool was erected on the deck of the “S.S. Finland” in which the U. S. team sailed to Stockholm. The Duke soon became popular with the other swimmers, and they took turns at helping him master various points of technique. But no one did more than team manager Otto Wahle in smoothing out Kahanamoku’s style, and The Duke benefited from the knowledge and experience acquired by Wahle during his years of coaching Charles Daniels.
One would have thought that, being coached by so many people within so short a time, and only a few weeks away from the world’s major swim meet, would have resulted in The Duke showing the classic symptoms of ‘paralysis by analysis’. To the contrary, he learned new skills almost immediately, a sign of true natural talent, so much so that he is said to have shown more technical improvement in Stockholm than during any other stage of his career. When The Duke returned home, he was swimming what had become known as the ‘classic American crawl.’
In Stockholm, he adopted new tactics. Instead of taking the lead immediately, he allowed his nervous energy to carry him down the pool, letting his rivals set the pace to the half-way mark, and then he would strike, increasing his lead with each successive stroke.
In the first heat of the 100 metres, The Duke brought the spectators to their feet when he set a world record of 1:02.6. In the semi-final, the new Olympic star further reduced the mark to 1:02.4. In the final he defeated the great Australian swimmer, Cecil Healy to win the Olympic title in 1:02.6.
With the possible exception of Johnny Weissmuller, Kahanamoku did more than anyone else to popularize swimming around the world. In 1915, The Duke travelled to Australia where he spent three months swimming and surfing, and soon captured the hearts of that country’s sports-loving people.
He won the New South Wales 100 yards title, thrilling the crowd with a spectacular new world record of 53.8 seconds. Later, it was said of this swim that “The Duke’s stroke is so slow that the Australians thought that he was ‘stalling’ and not trying when he created his world’s record. They were astounded to learn that the Hawaiian had established a new record, for they had been fooled by the easy precision of his form, which was much cleaner than that of even their star performers. The slow, easy movements of Kahanamoku from the hips to the tips of the fingers are markedly in contrast with those of all the men who have competed against him in his important races.”
Perhaps the greatest compliment ever paid to Duke Pao Kahanamoku came from Otto Wahle, coach of the great Charles M. Daniels, and a great man in his own right: “There is one thing I will always admire about Kahanamoku. He is a great swimmer, but he is even higher in my esteem as a gentleman. On the trip to Stockholm in 1912 he rendered every assistance to the Olympic Committee, proved a modest, retiring sort of fellow, and attracted everybody to him through his good nature.”
“His smile became famous among us, for it was golden if ever a smile was. Duke is a striking personality, and even now I can see him lined up at the start ready to dart into the water. His long shining black hair and his copper-coloured skin blend in harmony, and altogether he would make a model worthy of any sculptor’s chisel.”
- deB. Handley: America’s First Great Coach
Louis de Breda Handley, was amateur coach to the highly successful Women’s Swimming Association of New York for nearly forty years. He was the first great American coach, and an important figure in the history of swimming. Even by today’s standards, Handley had an enviable coaching record. His swimmers held 51 world records, won over 200 AAU Women’s National Senior Championships, and 30 National Relay Team National Championships. And Handley never received a penny for coaching them!
Not only did he teach the W.S.A. women to swim fast and well, but he continuously and persistently instilled in them respect for the amateur code, and the sport they represented. Today, Handley probably would be unkindly regarded as a naive, laughable, and even pathetic, anachronism. Nowadays, the word, “amateur”, is generally interpreted to mean: “a person without professional expertise”. But, at the turn of the century, an “amateur” was one who pursued sport for the thrill of it, not to mention the challenge of good clean competition. Yes, believe it or not, the athletes of yesteryear competed merely for the enjoyment, and love of the sport…and without being paid, or subsidized. In those days, this behaviour had something to do with an ideal that was known as “the Olympic Spirit”.
By the early twenties, the Women’s Swimming Association of New York had become “the most prominent club of its kind in existence, and the undisputed leader in national and international water sports for women.” Despite the fame achieved by the club’s swimmers, their mentor, L. deB. Handley, always warned that “the girls should not lose their sense of proportion when success began to crown their efforts in competition. Good sportsmanship is greater than victory”, he said, and this became the club motto, emphasised over and over again. It was displayed on the pool deck; it appeared repeatedly in the “W.S.A. ‘News’, and, in fact, was even prominently displayed on the club’s stationery.
When Hugh Fullerton, a well-known sporting editor, featured an article on Good Sportsmanship in the American Magazine , under the title ,Ten Unwritten Commandments of Sport’, it caused a minor sensation. Handley promptly reprinted the article in the W.S.A. “News”saying that “these laws should model everyone’s conduct; they are handed down by tradition and should be obeyed by all sportsmen if they wish to live up to their good names.”
Fullerton’s Ten Unwritten Commandments of Sport
- Thou shalt not quit.
- Thou shalt not alibi.
- Thou shalt not gloat over winning.
- Thou shalt not be a rotten loser.
- Thou shalt not take unfair advantage.
- Thou shalt not ask odds thou art unwilling
- Thou shalt always be ready to give thine
opponent the shade.
- Thou shalt not underestimate an opponent,
nor overestimate thyself.
- Remember that the game is the thing, and
that he who thinketh otherwise is a mucker
and not a true sportsman.
- Honor the game thou playest, for he who
playeth the game straight and hard wins
when he loses
Handley’s Six-Beat American Crawl
- deB. Handley was the first in a line of great American coaches. He refined the Australian crawl stroke and came up with the six-beat American crawl, the knowledge of which he spread around the whole world of swimming. He was also swimming’s first synthesist, in the strictest sense of the word. Handley was the first to precisely describe the changing postures of the arm-stroke; how the arm should enter; when the arm should be straight; when the arm should bend; how the pull should finish; how the arm should be recovered; how the stroke should be timed; how a swimmer should breathe; how many kicks to use; most importantly, how to keep the stroke long; not to fight the water; how to set up an easy rhythm to avoid early fatigue. Handley was the authority. In fact, for a time, the whole world hung on his every word!
The early experimenters lived in an an age when mechanisation was becoming commonplace. Everything was being placed into a neat synthesis; you did it precisely this way, and no other. For instance, there was a precise way to drive one of the “new-fangled automobiles”. There was also a precise way to swim the “new-fangled crawl.” There was no room for “individualization”, as Handley called it. Yes, according to L. deB. Handley, there was only one precise way in which to swim the crawl, the correct way: in fact, his way!
Handley set out exactly how the crawl stroke should be swum. For after all, in a sense, the crawl, at least the new American version of it, ‘belonged’ to Handley. It was his: in large measure, he invented it, nurtured it, and experimented continuously with ways to improve it. At the New York Athletic Club, around 1904, Handley and Otto Wahle successfully influenced Charles Daniels to change from the trudgen stroke, with which he had started his career in competitive swimming, and to take up the crawl, the speedy, new ‘novelty’ stroke of swimming’. Daniels changed his leg action to a type of four beat kick which featured a pronounced major kick. This was the start of Daniels’ great career, and he became America’s first great international swimmer.
Enthused by Daniels’ improvement, Handley experimented with teaching more swimmers to kick faster. The sequence of events leading up to what happened next is not clear, but not too difficult to guess. In 1917, two important events occurred in Handley’s career: One: he started coaching female swimmers at the New York Women’s Swimming Association, where he noted that female swimmers tended to kick faster than men. Two: he saw Duke Kahanamoku train at the New York Athletic Club, and was impressed by the power and efficiency of the great Hawaiian’s leg drive.
As a result, Handley decided to teach the W.S.A. female swimmers to use a 6-beat kick (three beats for each arm stroke.) Before long, his swimmers acquired such kicking dexterity that they were doing an 8- beat, then evenfaster, a 10-beat, but then….his experiments reached a point of no return.
- deB. Handley produced “the most marvellous results” with a still more rapid thrash with the legs, as seen in the spectacular swimming of the World’s Champion swimmers, the Misses Ethelda Bleibtrey, Charlotte Boyle, Claire Galligan and others.
Handley believed that the faster a swimmer could kick, the greater would be the increase in speed. He followed this thinking, until finally he realized that he was heading too far in the wrong direction. With all due respect to the man’s greatness, this was a common experience encountered by the pioneers of the sport.
Handley believed that strict compliance with accepted standards of form, or style, was essential to gain the maximum of speed and endurance. In other words. Handley believed that swimming mechanics should not be adjusted to individual requirements. He believed that the best results were not obtained by following personal inclination, but by correctly performing.standard movements.. Today, with the wisdom of hindsight, we know that there are subtle differences between individuals that we must take into account.
The disadvantages under which the pioneer coaches worked need to be understood. They had to start from scratch to find the best way to apply each phase of the stroke. They had to find answers to the many puzzling questions that confronted them at that early stage of crawl development, at a time when there were not many talented or accomplished crawl swimmers around to use as models of “good form”, as effective swimming was then known.
Thus, it is not difficult to understand how later, when more swimmers took up the crawl, and more varieties of the stroke were swum internationally with great and undeniable success, how the somewhat hide-bound thinking of the pioneers on stroke technique was thrown into disarray. This was especially true of the advent of such great swimmers as Georg Mitro (Hungary,1948), Hironoshin Furuhashi (Japan, 1950), George Breen (USA, 1956), and Murray Rose (Australia, 1956) who swam the crawl with either broken-tempo, or reduced two-beat leg actions. The sport had moved into yet another new era of transition.
The Growth Of Women’s Swimming
Annette Kellerman, of Australia, one of the first great women’s swimming champions. said (in 1916) that women swam more gracefully than men, and that, “what is more, they can swim with almost as much strength, and at least in distance swims very nearly equal men’s records.” She added, whimsically:” I am not trying to shut men out of swimming. There is enough water in the world for all of us. But as men can indulge in so many other sports where women make a poor showing or cannot compete at all, swimming may well be called the women’s sport.”
Annette Kellerman’s comment was followed, in December, 1917, by news of Charlotte Epstein’s founding of The Women’s Swimming Association of New York. Charlotte Epstein was the administrative genius behind the success of the W.S.A., and the debonair L. deB. Handley was its coaching genius. Together they changed the face of world swimming. Handley developed America’s first female Olympic swimming champions, swimmers such as Gertrude Ederle, Ethelda Bleibtrey, Charlotte Boyle, and many others.
Charlotte Epstein was a court reporter by profession, and a remarkable organizer. “Eppie”, as she was known to club members, was a dynamic and driving force. She started this famous club in a little pool, at the Hotel Terrain in Brooklyn, and lucky for those days, the pool also happened to be chlorinated. “Eppie” spent much of her spare time attending to the logistics of running the W.S.A. As the membership grew, it became necessary to spread the club’s activities to several venues. She was kept constantly busy finding more pools to hire, as well as the finances to pay the rentals involved. In 1932, Charlotte Epstein was appointed the assistant manager of the United States Women’s Olympic Swimming Team, the first time a woman had been appointed to this position. (“Phone interview with Aileen Riggin Soule”. Dr. Linda J. Borish, June, 1995. Department of History, Western Michigan University; Funding for this research project was supported by the Western Michigan University Research and Development Program.)
Recently I spoke to the oldest living Olympian, Mrs Aileen Riggin Soule (89), still a master swimmer, and now living in Honolulu. As 14-year-old Aileen Riggin she started training with Handley in 1917. She is the only female to gain Olympic medals in both diving and swimming; a silver on the 3m springboard, and a bronze in the 100 meter backstroke. She gave me permission to quote from an unpublished article she had written on L. deB. Handley:
“Mr. Handley was a rather tweedy type, more of an English country gentleman, I would say, than an American swim coach. He always used to wear tweeds. Sometimes in the winter he would wear spats. For you young people out there, spats are pieces of felt worn over a man’s shoes, supposedly for warmth and also for a dressy appearance. When I ask my friends now what they remember of Mr Handley, no one forgets those spats. He was always very well dressed and put up a very good appearance.”
“He was one of the best educated persons that I have known. He spoke four or five languages. He was raised in Europe and could converse in at least all of the romance languages. He could represent U.S. in meetings with foreign coaches and the committees who made the rules for the Olympics and other sports events. To have someone who could speak up for us was a very valuable contribution to the sport.”
“Mr Handley was a great believer in amateur sports and we were a 100% amateur team. we also had to be good sports. I know it sounds like Horatio Alger, For God, For Country, and for Yale; but it was not this way. We had a motto for our club which was “Good sportsmanship is greater than victory!” We had to live up to a certain standard. Mr Handley did this by his example. He always spoke in low cultured tones; never any ranting or screaming. He congratulated us when we did something well. He was sorry when we lost out on some event. He always encouraged us in every way. The rest of the team were all very good sports.”
“I never realized how strong Mr. Handley’s infuence had been until I started swimming in the master program in 1988. When I went for my first swim at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, I found two women from New York who were younger than I, but had been coached by Mr. Handley. They were still competing and they still had the WSA six-beat-double-trudgen crawl stroke. I thought what a marvellous tribute to the man who spread the cult of American crawl swimming throughout the United States and eventually the world-the stroke with some slight modifications now as it was then. I wonder how many more of his pupils still swim and compete, 70 years later.”(From unpublished article by Mrs Aileen Riggin Soule, Fall 1992. Reprinted by kind permission of the author.)
Bill Bachrach, Matt Mann, and Bob Kiphuth
William Bachrach of the Illinois Athletic Club, Chicago, coached such great swimmers as Johnny Weissmuller, Ethel Lackie, Sybil Bauer, and Arne Borg, of Sweden. Swimming at Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Weissmuller leaped to instant fame on August 13th, 1921 when he took one whole second off the 100 yards world record held by the great Hawaiian swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku. On February 7th, 1950, twenty years after he had retired from competitive swimming, an Associated Press poll named Weissmuller the greatest swimmer of the first 50 years of this century. Weissmuller received 132 votes, 30 more than the combined votes of all the other candidates, and 112 more votes than his nearest rival, Hironoshin Furuhashi of Japan. Third place went to Adolph Kiefer with 11, and the great Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii got fourth place with 10.
Bob Kiphuth was a big name in world swimming. He was the ‘Doc’ Counsilman, the George Haines, the Peter Daland, the Don Gambril, the Richard Quick, of his day, any present-day big name you care to mention. Kiphuth remains an important figure in the history of our sport. He was U.S. Olympic coach, a tough disciplinarian, in fact one of the toughest the sport has seen.
Kiphuth produced many Olympic champions, great Yale swimming teams, including Alan Ford who finally broke Johnny Weissmuller’s long-standing 100 yards freestyle world record. He was an internationalist. He was a big influence in helping Japan become a great world swimming nation. Through the late John Marshall, his Australian world-record breaking pupil, he was a great influence in Australia’s’ introduction of interval training. He invented supplementary land training for swimming. In short, he was one of America’s, and the World’s, all-time great coaches.
Kiphuth, together with Matt Mann, both showed how much hard work swimmers were really capable of absorbing, far more than had hitherto been thought to be the case. When I first met him, his assistant coach was Peter Daland. As you all know, Peter went on to build a great career of his own at the University of Southern California. He needs no introduction, except to say that he is now the President of the World Swimming Coachs’ Association, and I am honored to have been co-opted to the Anti-Doping of the WSCA to join in the fight against substance abuse in our sport of swimming.
What The Pioneers Would Have Said
Oh yes! Do you remember, earlier in this talk, when I told you about an imaginary conducted tour for pioneer swimmers, and how they would have reacted at a modern swim meet? I nearly forgot to tell you what happened when they came to a small room under the spectators’ stands where there was a notice on the door saying: “Restricted Use Only.”
“What’s the big deal?” asked Charlie Daniels, “Why can’t we go in there?”
“Forget it mate”, said Andrew “Boy” Charlton…”Can’t you tell that’s where the officials keep their booze for the big grog party afterwards…let’s move on…”
“Oh! Come on!”, said Cecil Healey, who always had an enquiring mind, “If the officials were hiding booze, they would be more subtle about it. There’s something far more important than booze in there.” Healey turned to the guide: ” Come on, mate, why don’t you tell us about it? ”
“Well”, said the guide, “this is the testing area where swimmers are tested for evidence of performance-enhancing drugs, as soon as they finish their races. They are accompanied by two people, one who performs the test, and ‑another who, shall we say, acts as an observer to see nothing untoward goes on.”
“My word” muses Dick Cavill. “Are you fair dinkum about this? Are you sure you’re not coming the raw prawn on me?”
At this point, “Boy ” Charlton offers to translate Cavill’s question from ‘Strian’ into English : “He means are you joking; are you pulling my leg?”
The guide sighs. “I only wish that I was. No. Not in the least. It’s a long story”, he says. “I’ve got a bit of time to spare, and I guess you guys have all the time in the world. So let me give you a rough outline.”
“After you guys had developed the crawl, even more people came along who wanted to learn to swim fast. The difficulty was that it was hard to see what was happening under water, until underwater windows were invented.”
“Even then, the swimmers’ movements were so fast that it was difficult to see exactly what they were doing. Then people like Steve Forsythe, Doc Counsilman, Bela Rajki, and others came along and took movie films under water.
“Even then, it wasn’t too clear what was happening until Doc attached tracer lights to the swimmers’ hands and feet, and filmed them underwater, in the dark. This gave a good idea of the swimmers’ movement patterns. From here, first Doc Counsilman, and then Bob Schleihauf, worked out what forces were developed in the various strokes. It all became very scientific and precise. Apart from the fact that swimmers use a combination of drag and lift forces, a great deal of attention was also paid to the length of their swimming stroke, and how many strokes the swimmers take per lap.”
“Oh yes!, I remember we did some of that in Japan back in the 1930s” said Tetsuo Takaishi.
Charlie Daniels chipped in: “Yes, our Mr. Handley always insisted that we try to take long strokes”.
“And so did my coach, Bill Bacharach”, said Johnny Weismuller.
“Well, there were big advances in this, as well as other areas of swimming,” said the guide. “We developed a method called interval training where hard efforts, with rests in between, were introduced. Interval training caused a big, big improvement in the sport, and so did a lot of other developments in actual training. People came up with all sorts of new ideas, and truth be told, they didn’t always immediately pass them on to others. In this way, they were able to keep an edge over their rivals. You know, to keep one step ahead, as it were…”
Cecil Healy looked at Charles Daniels, and said: ” We weren’t like that, were we Charlie? Don’t you remember when you and I first met in Athens in 1906? Although we were keen rivals, you showed me how you did your fast flutter kick, and I showed you my method of regular breathing that helped you to keep your crawl stroke going longer into the racing distance without getting tired?”
“Of course”, said Charlie Daniels. “We were all very much intrigued by the idea of improving our strokes, and so excited by it all that we exchanged each new idea we had. That was the whole idea of sportsmanship. I remember that Otto Wahle and L de B. Handley were real strong on it”, added Daniels.
“Well, it is not quite like that any more,” said their guide. “Knowledge about training and stroke techniques, the mental approach, and so on, travelled around the world. The whole idea has been to try and get an edge on your rivals in order to keep ahead, and I’m sorry to say that many people are now doing this by unfair means. They are cheating, and that’s why we have to test swimmers as soon as they finish their races. Sometimes they are caught; sometimes they are not. The whole technology has become so advanced, and those who cheat are very smart about hiding it; so it’s often very difficult to catch them.”
“What do you mean by unfair means?”, asked Healey
“Well, it all started by the development of the anabolic-androgenic steroid which are synthetic versions of the male sex hormone testosterone.”
“What’s that in English” asked Johnny Weissmuller.
“The term anabolic means that the drugs stimulate muscle growth. Androgenic means that they promote male secondary sex characteristics, such as deepened voice and facial hair. That’s as simple as I can make it. Anabolic steroids are being illegally administered to female athletes. Let’s just say that they are a form of male biology, which are used to improve their performances. These improvements are not only cheating but they come at great risk, and with medical hazards, sometimes even death.”
“How are the swimmers tested?” asked Healey.
“The method used to detect the use of these steroids is to take two samples of urine, an A test and a B test that are later sent to a laboratory.”
“Strewth!”, said “Boy” Charlton, “There’s no way, mate, you would catch me peeing into a bottle. They would have two chances: no chance and ‘Buckley’s chance’. I could never imagine that sport would ever come to this. I would rather do without it. Are you sure you’re not kidding me?”, Charlton asked, as he shrugged his shoulders, and started to walk away.
Whither Drug Control?
There you have it. That is how I think the pioneers would have reacted if they were to find themselves present in the sport today. They would find it extremely difficult to understand the biochemical manipulation of athletes, and all the associated debate, rhetoric, and legalese, that is bantered back and forth.
They wouldn’t begin to understand the challenges that arise between the interested parties. For example: “Are you sure that this is a real sample?”
Sometimes testers ‘get a handle’ on the current ‘drug of choice’ and actually catch some of the perpetrators. An interesting case in point was the Pan American Games of 1983, when some athletes got wind of the fact that the testers had made a breakthrough, and so they simply refused to compete.
A great deal of attention focuses on what they test, who they test, and how they test; and even sham testing that denigrates the whole system.When you consider the gigantic sums of money offered for sole TV rights, one can easily understand why the organizers cannot afford for competitors to test positive, and thus lose their sponsors.
Consider some of today’s swimmer s who, when questioned about their occupations, openly state that they are “full time swimmers”. Here again, it is not difficult to understand a need for the “one-upmanship” that easily could turn to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
The recent PanPac Games in Atlanta, appears to have been a “clean” meet. While it’s always possible that some individual cheaters may have slipped through the net, there is no proof of it. Certainly the national bodies of the swimmers present were not involved in cheating. It is also safe to say that the really great athletes at this particular meet were trying to get there by means of good techniques, hard earned natural fitness, and tenacious will to win. These factors constitute the ideals of good clean sport.
There is a tremendous controversy raging about drugs and cheating in sport, and it will not go away for a long time. It will involve the occasional miscreant athlete who cheats, and it will almost certainly involve ‘the pursuit of national prestige through sport versus the control of doping’.
There may be the occasional full-time swimmer who will view official attempts to prevent chemical manipulation as an actual restraint of trade, and thus may be tempted to chance his/her luck in order to hit the jackpot.
We can’t do anything about other sports, but we can keep our sport clean. The success of WSCA’s recently proposed challenge testing scheme of Olympic prospects from all countries requires that testing agencies be totally independent of outside influences.
At this point, I want to quote John Hoberman who wrote in his excellent book, “Mortal Engines : “Drug testing is difficult for both bureaucratic and scientific reasons. The collection, custody, and accurate scientific analysis of an athlete’s urine sample require the personal integrity and competence of all parties concerned, if the system is to work and inspire the confidence that is vital to upholding the moral reputation of elite sport. In addition, scientific knowledge is easily abused: It is common practice to discontinue steroid use long enough in advance of testing to escape detection. Indeed, the East German scientists developed this method to near perfection.”
Regular unannouced testing by independent agencies could go a long way towards catching athletes who cheat but, as I have said before, it will be a long siege. It will be a continuing cat and mouse game, but in the long run, offenders will be caught, and then the punishment should be very severe to discourage others who think they can get away with it. This may be the only way to end this scourge.
We must not give up. We must keep on the alert and, by sheer persistence, we must nail this problem down. Finally, it will become clear to all that our fundamental value system cannot change; will not be allowed to change. It is a truth that cannot change. It has got to be the fundamental pillar around which we build the future of our sport.
However, we must remember that there is absolutely no reason for us to believe that truth is going to win in an argument, just because it is the truth. We will always have to fight for it, and this we will do.
In their latest media release, FINA has said that they are going to give us a clean sport. This is a rather patronizing statement, because, in our swimming tradition, there was a time when we did have a clean sport, and then there came a time when it was no longer a clean sport, and, for a long time, not very much was done about it, even when the signs of cheating were there for all to see.
As Abraham Lincoln once said: “We had better know there is a fire when we see so much smoke rising than we could know it by one or two witnesses swearing to it. The witnesses may commit perjury, but the smoke cannot.”
Finally, Lincoln also said, and this is the message that we coaches must send to FINA: “Stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Our eyes will be fixed on Rio de Janeiro to see whether FINA will do as it promises to do.
Make no mistake; we are earnest in our intention to protect the traditions of our sport, and to ensure that they are carried safely into the future.