Statistician’s motivational tool

When I grew up I couldn’t wait until the ‘SWIM’magazine came in the post.  There was always interesting articles to read about swimming, but as a nine-year-old I wasn’t too bothered about that content;  I went straight to the swim rankings (called TAG rankings for Top Age Group rankings).

It’s important to imagine what information was instantly available in 1975.  In 1975 there was nothing.  No online results, no TV programmes that showed swimming (except the Olympics every 4 years) and no way to know what other swimmers in the world were doing…except via the SWIM magazine.  Certainly it was not possible to know what other swimmers your age were doing in Fredericton or Saskatoon. The magazine was the only link to the outside world.  Today we already take for granted that if someone asks you a question you don’t know, you would automatically whip out your mobile phone and within seconds have the answer.  Not so in 1975.  The Publisher and Editor of the SWIM Canada magazine was Nick J. Thierry.  A prominent swimming coach in eastern Canada.  He was a bit of a statistics nerd.  In fact he was a big stats nerd.  If you had the pleasure of every meeting him you would know he was kind, knowledgable and unflappable, but unquestionably a swimming geek, happiest compiling swimming times.  Nick was solid as the Canadian shield and so were his statistics.  I can’t say that about todays online stats.  Nick would roll over in his grave if he saw how inaccurate the rankings pre-2000 are, all that work gone to waste.  I digress, my point is that the SWIM magazine was everyone’s only link to the outside world of swimming in Canada.

Byron MacDonald SWIM Magazine August 1975 issue #18

Future CBC colour commentator Byron MacDonald looking very confident and very ‘seventies’ in the August 1975 issue #18.

Swim rankings were compiled for all races done in Canada and each race was ranked fastest to slowest, stopping at top 25.  The rankings divided swimmers by gender and age.  I was in the 10 & under category in 1975.  Each month (except September) a copy would come in the mail.  It was the masterpiece of Thierry.  The huge geographical distance shrunk into 25 places.

I knew I had to get my name in this magazine after the first one miraculously appeared in the mail. My swim fees included a subscription to the SWIM Canada magazine via a fee to the national governing body CASA (Canadian Amateur Swimming Association).

Each month the magazine arrived but sadly I didn’t see my name.  The solution was straight forwards, I had to be faster.

I absorbed the rankings, worried over them, studied them and was haunted by them. I looked at how old the swimmers were, where they came from and what other events they made the rankings in.  I probably knew more about Alex Baumann statistically than anyone except Jeno Tihanyi.  I knew his times in his distance events showed he basically even split all of his events by doubling up his shorter distance times.  I knew he was swimming faster than swimmers a year older than him.  I knew that he was ranked in all strokes and that he was very highly ranked in all the distance events, in every stroke.  Later in my life, in 1984, I watched the culmination of a lifetime’s swimming when Alex Baumann won the 200im and 400im at the 1984 LA Olympics.  I wasn’t surprised, statistically he was the best swimmer in the world.

How did Thierry manage to compile all the times of all the races in Canada into one magazine.  The task was massive and the solution genius.

If you raced in Canada in the 1970’s, or later, you held a time card in your hand before every race.   It became ubiquitous in the swimming world, the creation of swim coach and statistician; Thierry.  I didn’t know it when I was young but the time card was the link to the swim magazine rankings.  Every card of every competition went to Theirry and he compiled the rankings.  By hand and typewriter.

The hobby of a swim coach became a full time job later in his life and helped to form many young swimmers’ motivation in their life: getting their name in the Swim magazine.

Graham Smith SWIM cover

A young 17yr old Graham Smith just months prior to an outstanding three finalist places and a Silver medal on the medley relay at the Montreal Olympics

At the end of the swimming season a longer ranking would be published.  This was the top fifty swimmers.  So if you didn’t get into the monthly editions, the top 25, but you were close, like I was, then maybe (“just maybe! hopefully, desperately”) in the summer edition you’d get to see your name in the national magazine.  Sure enough, although the August 1975 ‘Byron MacDonald’ edition didn’t have my name,  nor the February 1976 ‘Graham Smith’ edition, maybe in the June 1976 edition.  On the cover was Deryk Snelling my future coach:

The June 1976 edition had a photo of the Head Coach of the Montreal Olympic team; Deryk Snelling (my future coach)

The top 50 rankings would be in this magazine.  I raced to see if I finally made it.  I hunted for the 10 & Under Boys rankings, then scoured each event.  And then, there I was, in the SWIM magazine, ranked in the 100m Butterfly!  I was one of the best, one of the top in the country.  For a ten year old, it was magical and so satisfying to see my name in print.  (Obviously necessary to be underlined!)  An amazingly powerful motivational tool.

National age group rankings 1976 10 & under 100m fly short course

First rankings in the national magazine for me!

Rest in peace Nick.  We all miss you.


About Coach Gary

I competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul representing Canada and coached in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Great Britain. I have a degree in History and a minor degree in Psychology from University of Calgary. I have travelled extensively and have been very lucky to see so much of the world while representing Canada and Great Britain at swimming competitions. I am very proud of the fact that I coached a swimmer to become number one in the world in the fastest swimming race in 2002. I pride myself in my ability to find new and interesting ways to teach swimming. I am an accomplished artist specialising in sculpture, I have another blog called 'swimmingart' where I publish some of my swimming drawings. I have three young children; all boys. I have recently taken up painting and yoga....but not at the same time. You can see my new paintings at:
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9 Responses to Statistician’s motivational tool

  1. O.p. Leroy says:

    What a fantastic motivational tool those magazines were. I wonder if today’s age groupers feel the same excitement and inspiration when viewing the insta-rankings we have nowadays.

    My parents unearthed a box of Swim magazines (and as it was known later as SwimNews) last year dating from about 1990 to 2002 or so. It’s been fun and incredibly nostalgic to look back through them.

    Whenever coach came out on deck and we’d see the fresh and pristine issue in his bag (coach always seemed to get the magazine first…) we’d drop whatever it was we were doing (or not doing, in some cases) and climb over him like a pack of hyenas to check the TAG rankings, inevitably getting water on it and wrinkling the pages, much to his unending ire.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barry Lewis says:

    I recognize a few names on the 10 & Under list: Deke Botsford, Rob Chernoff, and Gary Vander Meulen. I was in the 13-14 age group that year, so I had no problem beating those little kids then; but it was a different story as the years progressed!

    I’m sure I have a few copies of SWIM magazine somewhere. When I get home tonight, I’m going to look!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. siubhan says:

    I never made the pages but loved pouring over the rankings regardless!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rick Madge says:

    I spent many years in London, Ontario under Dr. Paul Hauch. A coaching legend. Then moved to EMAC in Toronto for Gr. 13. I was looking for a good engineering school, and had a choice of a number of American universities, but decided to go with the outstanding engineering school at Toronto. Plus they had a good swim team. Seemed like a natural fit, and I’ve never regretted it. How about you?


    • garyalison50 says:

      Rick, I grew up in Vernon and was trying to decide if I should go to a University with the top swim programme or go to a University and pursue Architecture. I went for the swimming in Calgary and studied History and Psychology. So still following swimming…I may still go back to Uni some day and do an Architecture degree. I hear you can go to university for free if you’re over 65!


  5. Rick Madge says:

    Wonderful trip down memory lane. I remember those TAG rankings just the same as you. Every issue would get carefully analyzed over and over. And I love that picture of Byron. I was swimming at UofToronto when he first came there to be head coach in the late 70s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • garyalison50 says:

      Rick, thanks for commenting, I love this picture of Byron too, it is my oldest SWIM magazine that survives intact, there are a few gaps in the series that sadly didn’t survive the daily grind of a young boys obsession. My favourite from the Black/White editions is the cover where Graham Smith is celebrating his 200im world record at the Comm Games in Edmonton 1978. That edition is somewhere but can’t find it.


    • garyalison50 says:

      What made you decide to go to UofT and where did you swim before?


  6. garyalison50 says:

    If you have any of the early SWIM Canada magazines that are 1976 or earlier, I would be interested in purchasing them to complete my collection. Thanks, Gary


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