Monday, August 10, 2009

Swimming against the tide of opinion

Do you like bad grammar? How about rhetorical questions? Then the new, subediting-free Opinion page is for you. Honestly, today's "Let world-class swimmers move with the high-tech times" is bad enough that, like a swimmer in a cutting-edge bodysuit, it may just break the record set by Auckland-residing smacker Phil Jackson just last week. The record, that is, for worst opinion article published in the New Zealand Herald. I know that these aren't written by Herald staff, but they are published by the Herald - not the College Herald - and as a paying customer I like to think that I can expect a reasonable standard of written English for my $1.80. Good on personal trainer Tom Blackhall for writing and sending in his opinion - I think it's usually a valuable contribution, even if I think he's wrong in this case. What follows, however, is a valuable lesson in why you don't fire all your subeditors.

FINA claims the new all-polyurethane suits has put swimming's credibility at risk due to the rapid rate that world records are falling. And therefore it is necessary to revert to costumes made purely from textiles.
Yeah, you could just make that one sentence.
On top of this we have now had champion swimmer Michael Phelps' coach threatening a boycott. But is this not just a case of sour grapes - surely the shape of Phelps' current costume puts him at an advantage over someone wearing the good old fashioned "budgie smugglers".
Except no one wears "budgie smugglers" anymore. As far as I know, Phelps is contractually obliged to wear an inferior suit to other competitors: the 'greatest Olympian of all time' is now getting beaten by no-name scrubs in cheat-suits, so you can't really blame him for being slightly piqued.
To get complete fairness in competition it would have to be compulsory that everyone wears the exactly the same style of costume made of exactly the same type of textile.
What a crazy pipe dream. (Or is it a pipe nightmare, with nanny-state telling you what to wear?) Anyway, eight pairs of speedoes per race should solve this little problem.
Would it not be better to embrace this new technology and let the swimmers have what they want to wear? All it does is make great swimmers greater - what is wrong with that?
All steroids do is make great athletes greater. I can see it now - Phelps turns up at the next Olympics, confident that the giant latex flippers attached to his suit will give him the advantage he needs. So it's naturally a shock when he notices all the other swimmers have outboard motors attached to their arse.

Let's look at some other very popular sports. Athletics: Cathy Freeman ran in a full body running suit in the 400m s final at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and won the gold medal.

She had won the silver medal at the previous games in Atlanta wearing a standard leotard type running suit when she finished behind Marie-Jose Perec from France. Freeman's winning time in 2000 was 0.5 of a second slower than in 1996 so the suit most likely gave her no physical advantage.

But did it possibly give her a physiological advantage over her components? Who knows and who really cares. Wasn't it fantastic to see her crossing the line first wearing her green and gold suit and her aboriginal flag coloured shoes?

First of all, swimming is not a popular sport - at least, not in the sense that rugby or football are. As this Slate article pointed out, this is part of the problem - people only care about swimming when the Olympics are on or when Michael Phelps gets stoned. Go on, name a current male swimmer other than Phelps. Thought not.

Secondly, "the 400m s final" is not English.

Thirdly, if Cathy Freeman's suit gave her no physical advantage, then it's not relevant here because the swimming suits clearly do.

Fourthly, how is a "physical" advantage different to a "physiological" advantage in this sense? I don't understand. Do you mean "psychological"?

Fifthly, I'll tell you who cares: the other runners/swimmers.

Sixthly, it was indeed heartwarming to see Cathy Freeman in pretty colours. Again, I'm not certain of the relevance of this to the swimming argument. Am I missing something?

Seventhly(?), the phrase 'aboriginal flag coloured shoes' could use some judicious use of the hyphen. The shoes were not, I believe, of traditional aboriginal design.

Michael Johnson, possibly the best 400m runner of all time, dashed to a 400m world record (43.18 seconds) at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain wearing specially engineered Nike shoes. Tailored to fit not just the runner but also his running style, these shoes featured a new glass-filled sole plate that, at 30g, weighed half as much as previous designs while maintaining a delicate balance between stiffness and flexibility.

The shoes were specially designed just to last slightly longer than the race and could only be worn once. Were these shoes banned? No, they helped a great runner become even greater, and it was a sight to behold.

Putting aside the fact that this looks like it was copied straight from a Nike press release, I would like to point out that the shoes did not make him a greater runner, anymore than I would be a greater runner if I wore rocket boots on my feet.

How would tennis players fare if they still had to use the old wooden racquets instead of letting technology run its course. Over the years tennis players have played with racquets made of steel, aluminum, graphite, fibreglass, titanium and the high-tech, ultra light carbon composite racquets of today?

Have you noticed that this article has a lot of rhetorical questions. There's so many that they seem to have forgotten where to put the question marks?

The Tour de France cycle race has just finished but you can bet your life that the riders would still be cycling now if they still had to ride the same type of bicycles as in the first tour in 1903.

[...] Can you imagine Tiger Woods being as good as he is today if he had to play with the wooden shafted golf clubs of old?That's wooden-shafted golf clubs, by the way.
There are probably interesting issues, for people who care about that sort of thing, about the use of technology in golf clubs, racing bikes and tennis racquets. But at least in those sports using the club, bike or racquet is the point of the sport. The only purpose one's 'swimsuit' serves is keeping in one's bits - a task that the humble speedo admirably fulfils. As such, a better analogy would be Tiger Woods wearing a laser-guided hat.
Granted, all bicycles must meet the standards of the International Cycling Union. They may be specially engineered for speed for the time trials, but those used for the road stages of the race must be "standard design", but technology has not been halted and that is surely a good thing.
Subediting please.

Golf clubs have evolved into high-tech instruments that have great durability, weight distribution and graduation utility and many more features that an ordinary layman like me cannot understand. There are no industry-wide standards for any golf club specification in the golf equipment industry.

Each club making company is free to make clubs to whatever "standard specifications" they deem appropriate.

However, most of the club companies today do pretty much subscribe to length specifications for their clubs which are relatively close to each other, but these have also changed over the years.

On top of this the evolution of clubs went hand in hand with the evolution of golf balls that were able to withstand harder whacks and fly greater distances, but that is too complex for me to understand.

I'm sorry, you've lost me - possibly it's "too complex for me to understand". The article just rambles about the various specifications of golfing paraphernalia for a bit before suddenly realising that it has hit the word limit.
We can all think of other sports that have embraced technology and made them more exciting to watch and partake in. FINA will be doing its sport a disadvantage if it does not allow it to go with the times.
If you think that the use of high-tech swimsuits has made swimming more exciting to watch, beyond the crack-like and surely unsustainable thrill of seeing a world record fall in every race, then I humbly beg to differ. If you think it makes swimming more fun to partake in, then Michael Phelps, among others, begs to differ.

(Oh, and I'm pretty sure you can't 'do' someone or something 'a disadvantage'.)

I'm sorry if, like a commenter the other day, you feel that this is 'sneering' and petty. Of course the guy isn't a professional writer - but that is why there should be proper editing done before this sort of thing is published. I don't mind seeing opinions I disagree with in the paper, so long as they are coherent both in terms of argument and style. This one is neither, in my opinion, and I feel that demanding better is the customer's prerogative.


  1. I really hope I haven't made any grammatical errors in this post.

  2. I may be especially anal, but I hate this sort of thing

    "...Michael Phelps' coach..."

    because I would never say "felps kōch" but "felpses kōch."

  3. You have, James. But it's okay. You have a better track record than the Herald!

  4. His comment about cycling is completely wrong, recumbent bikes were banned several decades ago, and fairings are too. These wouldn't make a small difference as with those swimsuits, the one hour record on a UCI-legal bike is 49.7km, while for any kind of bike it is 90.6km. Having to climb hills and maneuver around other cyclists would shrink the advantage a lot of course, but the cyclists would definitely go much faster if there weren't rules banning some technology.

  5. what are we talking about kocks for?

  6. I love a Grammar Warrior.

  7. Mark - Phelps' is pronounced "Phelpses". Not sure what you are on about.

  8. Ha I was hoping for something on this article. Apart from the many small errors you pointed out, my major beef was the whole: "here's an argument; now, here's the exact same argument 5 more times with different examples" approach.

  9. Granny's ONLY customer is Tony Reilly. Everything and everyone else is just flushed down the nearest shit hole.

  10. This whole togs thing could be sorted out if the swimmers had to put them on AFTER the race began.

  11. I vote for the days of yore, when Greek sportsmen performed in the nuddy and proceeded to orgy it up while the women-folk were back cooking up some eggs for the mens' post-coital recovery feast. Would certainly spicen up swimming events. Wouldn't want to go in the water afterwards though. Or would I....?

  12. "Aboriginal flag coloured shoes".


  13. "This whole togs thing could be sorted out if the swimmers had to put them on AFTER the race began."

    I love it! Imagine the commentary for the first 10 seconds of the race! Glory, what a sport swimming would be with this minor change.

  14. "Aboriginal flag coloured shoes" must have drawn its inspiration from the Dylan classic Lepoard Skin Pill Box Hat. The allusion was that subtle.

    Please, please don't stop doing this.

  15. Anonymous said: "Phelps' is pronounced "Phelpses".

    No it isn't, although you might. The forms "Phelps' coach" and "Phelps's coach" are chosen to reflect your pronunciation choice. How would you write Phelps's name in possessive form so that "felps" is the spoken sound?

  16. "spicen" -, the last word in grammatical arguments.

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  18. Michael Phelps is an American hero; he personifies hard work and a desire to succeed. Michael earned what he has unlike the wall street barons and crooked politicians of the world. The man is an American hero and most of us are proud and awed by his accomplishments in the pool. the fact that Phelps likes a glass smoking pipe, a hand rolled cigarette or big fat bong should in no way diminish the way we feel of the man’s accomplishments. Michael Phelps is doing his job and doing it to the degree of historical human greatness. Our admiration of this man does not give us the right to control his individual destiny or to judge his private choices through a lens of misguided morality. If one can achieve our world’s highest honors then they should be "free" in this country to their own pursuit of happiness.