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Brett Hawke Down On Anti-Suit Villain

May 19, 2009  - Craig Lord

So, Brett Hawke feels offended. Glad he shows passion about his sport, though I feel his is misdirected and misguided.

My answer, Brett: don't be daft mate. Your standpoint is out of line with the head coaches of the USA and Australia, Russian, Germany, Holland, Austria, Britain (I could, as you know, go on and on), out of line, indeed, with anyone who knows that the suits are behind performances that are off-the-chart. Suits that skew the result, that make comparison with the past impossible, that sever the thread of time, that negate the effect of water. To deny it, as you appear to do, is lunacy. It is why many leading coaches were in Lausanne with FINA yesterday: they want the suits to go because they not only damage swimming and the swimmer but render the coaching profession a joke that it ought not to be. 

I quote one former world champion and now a coach: "I saw a ... girl in the medley today who you would never imagine could be a world-class swimmer. But the suit is pressing her into shape. Swimmers are now saying ‘I can cut out the whole core training phase because I can just put the suit on and it will hold me in the right place’."

That's from the deep end, from the place in the rankings where a 400m medley best time gets sliced by 25sec in a season by a 27-year-old. This is not just about Fred and world records. But had many of the world records that have unfolded of late emerged without the presence of "those" suits, we would all have been crying "doping". 

Yes, I am 100% confident that the suit is the reason Fred went 20.94. Absolutely. When you say: "I knew before we left for France that Fred was capable of breaking 21 seconds" you do not say "because I saw him do it in a pair of briefs - I know he can do it in a pair of briefs...so confident am I as his coach that that is the case that I have insisted that Fred wears briefs in Rome because I know he will go sub-21sec". I look forward to the moment, Brett.

When you say "Attacking the athletes is shooting yourself in the foot", three things to note:

  • it is not the job of a journalist to be a pom-pom waving fan, cheering on all things that are fast, whatever the cause of the speed may be. 
  • go back and read the articles that you say "attack" swimmers ... they have one thing in common, and one thing in common with your words too: the athlete in question - Fred on this occasion - takes a hypocritical stance. To suggest that the suit played no part in 20.94 and 46.94 and 25sec drops on a 400m medley by women aged between 26 and 30, is stupid, particularly when you have access to the data I have seen from the US, Russia and  other places. I suspect as a coach to world-class athletes you will have interested yourself in what suits help in which ways. Perhaps not. But you would be in a minority, judging by the mails I receive from world-class coaches around the world, many who write 'yes, the suit is significant, truly significant, no point in denying it'. Why don't you say that Brett? And if you can't say that do you think that the head coaches of 22 leading swim nations, including your own, are wrong to push FINA to scrap the Jaked? Do you think FINA is wrong to have suit tests and place limitations on suits? And if they are not wrong - well why do you think they feel and do as they now do?
  • I have written many times that it is FINA's responsibility to ensure fair play and preserve the purity of the sport of swimming. It is the responsibility of athletes and coaches to perform and if FINA says you can wear an engine on your backside, you have a duty to be competitive. But don't expect me to be with you. For it would not be right. I am sure that Fred, in common with the majority of world-class swimmers around the world work extremely hard. That's not the point. 

You talk of things being unacceptable: it is also unacceptable of you as a coach not to admit the truth. You see, Brett, there is a huge gulf between the respect I have for the likes of Jacco Verhaeren and many others - who say "I will make sure my swimmer is competitive and while FINA allows this, my swimmer will wear X and Y...but we all know that X and Y are enhancing performance and that is something we hate" and you and others who say "This is an exciting time for swimming ..." and refuse to admit that something terrible has happened in our sport. I would love nothing other than to say "wow, Fred, that was fantastic" but the truth is I don't believe it. Many don't believe it. They believe that Fred is a fantastic sprinter. So do I. But not that fantastic, at least not without a suit of post Feb 2008 making. 

As for the breaking of 19sec in yards, fabulous. But look at Fred's best in metres that season. There are a fair few yards swims on the books that are phenomenal, that promise great things. Many came to nought in long-course metres. That's the measure. We all know that Fred has been a fast man for years. He has been a fast man in a bracket 1sec and more slower on one length 50 metres than he became in the past eight weeks in racing terms. If that is not off-the-chart, I don't know what is. And what I have written on that has been written not just by me but by many journalists around the world, including the team from L'Equipe, who watched every stroke of the farcical French nationals (the worst 48hrs of my coaching life, said the French head coach, in response to the tragic wave of fast suits that lined up for action) and concluded that it stretched credulity to breaking point. I read French, I read every word. The coverage was every bit as critical as I have been. And much of it came from the mouths of French coaches, who spent the week being very honest about what they saw. Not everyone feels able to be honest at this time, for example, it seems to me that many who say they don't visit SwimNews anymore because of the "suit thing" seem to know an awful lot about what's written there.

You ask: did you watch the 50 freestyle in Charlotte? Yes, I did. yes, I saw Mr Jones and others wondering what the hell they ought to wear this summer. Are you suggesting Brett that Jones and Phelps and the others who Fred slaughtered are not working hard enough? Or perhaps they're doing the wrong type of work, or perhaps they are just at the wrong point in their cycle? You tell me. All I know is that the best several performances over 50m and 100m free by Fred this season are way, way beyond any other season of performances he has seen in his career. 

"Fred beat the field by over half a second in the fifty. That was not the suit Craig. Its was Fred", is what you say Brett. Not true. It was Fred in great shape - and the suit. That's the truth. Admit it.

Other sports: irrelevant rubbish. I have no interest in the decisions and developments of others sports in swimming context. Swimming cannot be compared to those sports. Swimming needs to keep its own house in order. It needs to know its nature and worry less about what others sports are doing and how they might be manipulated. There are patents in the world Brett that say that it will not be long now before a suit can talk to the central nervous system. The military already put such things to good use. But in sport, Brett? Happy with that: happy to recommend such a suit, such an "evolution" to those under your guardianship? Happy for me to fight against that day arriving? 

With respect to Fred, this is not just about him, it is about an entire sport and the loss of integrity. In the past 48 hours I have read 14 columns by US commentators. Every single one is critical of suits and the mockery they have made of swimming. That is the perception of your sport. It is growing. Not because of me, or SwimNews, or L'Equipe or The Australian, or The Times or the New York Times, or the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune or any other coverage - but because it is the truth. 

You say - not me - you: "Why don't you just admit that the only reason Michael Phelps won eight gold medals and broke all those world records was because of the suit he wore doing so". I would never write that because I don't believe it. I believe that the 1:42.9 200 free was suit-assisted...and Michael P and Bob B will know it, they being clever chaps, which is partly why Michael donned the full body for the 200 free...but not fly and not medley. I would not write it as you state it because I know that Michael P won in 2001, in 2003, 2004 (6 golds), 2005, 2007 (7 golds, and the best all-round performance ever seen 'til that point), and all the while, all those years I mention, Fred was in a range, a fast range, a range nowhere near where he is now. 

Phelps is not off limits. Nor is he in limits. As he puts it: there are no limits (the right side of the law). Not in my line of work either (the right side of the law). Phelps proved himself time and time and time and time again, season after season after season after season. Not just in fast-suit season Brett, but all seasons previous to that, time and time again. And if FINA say "tomorrow nylon briefs", Phelps will line up and he will win again. It is how Bob Bowman prepared him from a young age, even stepping on his goggles just before a race to see how he'd cope with the loss of a prop. That kind of stuff. Will your swimmers be ready to fire without their props, Brett? Have you prepared them that way? We will see soon enough, if not this summer, then in the years ahead.  

As for "Haven't attacked Phelps?: Well, maybe not swimmers, nor me either. But the notion is fanciful when it comes to the wider world. Why do you think Mr Bolt was made athlete of the year when it came to the IOC and Olympic media vote? FINA wondered. So it called the AIPS, the international association for professional sports journalists, and the answer was: well, anyone could have won in that suit.

Of course, we all know that that's hogwash (so please don't put words in my mouth or misinterpret what I have written on many occasions and what I have never written and have no intention of doing so). We also know that the suits have helped significantly and have skewed results and have transformed swimming into another sport. To let that pass by with mild comment, to report swimming racing as if nothing had happened, as if what were happening was entirely down to the work of swimmers and coaches,and on and on, is pure stupidity. To do that as a journalist is to be negligent.

You write: "That guy is off limits. But my French athlete, coached by an Australian at Auburn, he pretty much deserves to be attacked. Nobody likes French people at Auburn, do they Craig? So you took the green light to destroy everything he has accomplished."

What a heap of self-pitying woe, Brett. Why the hell would no-one like French people at Auburn? What a daft thing to say, unless you're here to educate me in the racist ways of Americans or someone else you have in mind. As for me, I have lived in four countries in Europe, get by well in six languages and speak three of them fairly fluently. I love the diversity of Europe, have travelled to more than 100 countries (literally), haven't a racist bone in my body and have never felt myself close to any membership of small-mindedness or parochial views. Given all of that, I can't honestly say that I've ever considered hatred of the French at Auburn, or the French, or even Auburn, or even you, to be a part of my being. The notion is ludicrously silly.

You write: "But you are done comparing my athletes to cheaters from thirty years ago. Write what you like, you have the right. But when you choose to drag my athletes through the mud because of the suits on their bodies or the caps on their heads, I will personally address it." Good that you have, but you might want to go back and re-read.

Brett, it was Aaron Peirsol who raised that issue, in common with many, many others, and none of them did so (me included) in direct reference to Fred. The piece compares the two very different thoughts of an Olympic champion and a man aspiring to champion status... those two views are "I think the suits should go" - and from Fred "I think the suits should stay". Why Fred? Why Brett? Why does timing of suit decisions matter if you can do 20.94 in briefs? Why not wear something other than a "fast" suit? Just show up in Rome and don't wear the suit and do a 20.94, and win, and then say: "Craig, shut up." I might not, but you'd feel justly justified. Why would you not do that if you are telling the truth when you say: "That was not the suit, Craig. It was Fred." So, prove it. Ditch the suit and show us your muscle and might. I am truly convinced that Fred and many others would put up fine performances this summer in "old" suits. But few believe that 20.94 and 46.94 are not suit-assisted swims. Alain B doesn't believe it and he said so to the French media, and so did his coach, and so did the French head coach.

As for the cheats of 30 years ago, that cheating last 20 years and was brought to a halt by the fall of a wall, the fall of a political system that saved the next generation of teenagers from being force-fed a diet of steroids. In the days of the GDR, the likes of Rica Reinisch, were victims. She was 13 when they started feeding her Oral Turinabol. A few journalists speculated, a few coaches made accusations, some like "surly" Shirley Babashoff, who wasn't surly at all but correct, spoke out. Most said nothing, most shrugged and said "well, they train so hard" and "surely it is the work that counts", "look at their system of talent ID" and on and on, much of which was correct. They did work hard. Petra Schneider recalls 100km a week a regular part of her life from a young age. She also recalls the steroids and has known for many years the pain of living with the consequences of what her abusers did to her. 

I do not compare doping to a suit (at least not for models we have seen so far) in a direct sense, but the two things have parallels that we should not ignore. Like telling it like it is. Like telling the truth. So, you can expect me to keep bleating on about it until it is gone, until men and women who will stick their hand in the air in Rome and vote have got it. The more coaches like you excuse the suits and tell us that the likes of Fred is a sub-21sec swimmer in briefs or whatever he wears, the more likely it is that those who should stand up for what is right will sit on their hands and fail to do the right thing at Congress in Rome. My constant reminders are aimed at those people and people like you who tell us "it was Fred, not the suit" at 20.94. 

On the tail-end of your words, I don't drink diet coke, Brett. Hate it. It's kind of a false version of the real thing. I've checked my screws, just in case. They seem pretty tight. Nothing I have written in the past woeful year or so regarding suits has been false or wrong. If it was hurtful, it was never intended to be so unless hypocrisy or dishonesty were at play. I suggest you re-read and reassess. Tell it like it is Brett. Your swimmers are being assisted by their suits. No question. 

As for me hurting swimming, I know many disagree with you but I will leave such things for others to decide in the long-term, particularly from 2010 onwards when the props will start to fade and the truth will become all the more obvious. By then I will be happy to have moved on and more than happy to write the tales of great swimmers and coaches and their achievements and their right to a place in swimming lore. I truly wish that were the case in Rome this summer. I fear it will not be. We will soon see what's in and what's out, as far as 2009 is concerned.

You call it my "hatred of sewn together fabric". How appropriate: you can't even say it like it is when it comes to the way the suits your swimmers are wearing are made. They are not sewn Brett (that was your day) and the term fabric is one that ought to be used very loosely indeed. Your swimmers are wearing suits that enhance their performances beyond natural capacity, beyond great work, beyond commitment, beyond all of the rest of the things I have spent 20 years and more writing about but am no longer able to write about because, hand on heart, it is impossible to tell what is suit and what is swimmer. 

Impossible for you too. It doesn't take a brave man to admit that Brett, just an honest one. Tell me you have to wear the suits to be competitive until FINA does something and I'll be there with you. Tell me the suit doesn't help and all is down to you and your swimmers and the work, and I'll tell you to stop fibbing. 

Respect starts at the point of honesty and the truth is, the suit helped Fred, just how much, we don't know. Easy to find out though: ditch the suit and swim in briefs or a 2007 body in Rome and see what happens. Presumably, you already know what would happen. Which is why Fred - and others - are and will be wearing the suit(s).

P.S. Which is why your NCAA boys wore it too, and stole a march on rivals. You ought not to have drawn Mr Quick into your comments, Mr Hawke, but he is a coach who can lay claim to many victories fair and square down the years. College forums, it seems to me, are thick with the cry of "foul", and while you will undoubtedly have a great group of college swimmers there, most of whom work very hard, etc., etc., there is a widely held view that you won because you wore something the others did not. Whether those rival teams are right or not, is that the basis on which you wish to be seen as a successful coach? I would hope not.