Cap & Goggles

Only a Swimmer Knows the Feeling

Category: Issues

The Boy in the Bubble

Michael Andrew, child swim star… A “pro” at age 14… 

I always followed the kid by the numbers, the times. Those cartoon crazy swims he posted when he was 10, 11, 12, 13, and now 14 – they’ve always been eye-popping. I didn’t know anything else about him, but the numbers were enough. He was a swimmer on the rise. Perhaps the Next One. Maybe in our desperate, impatient search for the next Phelps, the kid was already upon us. Maybe Michael Andrew will go on to win nine gold medals at some far off Games and make Michael the official sacred name of swimming royalty. Maybe he will… but let’s hold up for a second: He hasn’t done anything yet.

By anything, I mean a World Record, I mean an Olympic berth, I mean a top world ranking. I mean the things that lead a young phenom to turn pro because he is so good, so young that he feels it’s impossible to resist the opportunities on the table. Phelps was a World Record holder and already a seasoned Olympian when he turned pro at 16. Missy Franklin collected five Olympic gold medals in high school, and she decided not to turn pro. Michael Andrew has set eleven National Age Group records in his short career, and yesterday his parents decided that this was promising enough for their son to turn pro.

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Pride or Prejudice?

Why aren’t there more out swimmers? 

Blame it on the big city. The buried journalist inside of me knew that Jason Collins’s coming out party was big news. The first out gay athlete in a major professional sport… a guy still immersed in a proud 12-year NBA career. That’s pretty major. Big enough for Sports Illustrated to stop the presses and splash Collins on its cover. So then why did it feel like it shouldn’t have been any news at all?

Maybe because living in a place like New York, and having plenty of gay friends and colleagues, makes this “announcement” sound like a quaint little Victorian era scandal. If you have a problem with an athlete’s sexuality, or anyone’s sexuality for that matter, I feel sorry for you. No, really.

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The Church and the State

How do you judge a nation’s swimming success? By Olympic medals or by broader measures like membership and revenue? With Swimming Canada at a crossroads, a case study for every nation… 

When the CEO came to power spirits were low. So were revenues. At meets across the country, there was a heavy mood of doom and gloom. Leadership was being questioned and medal counts were anemic. There was the palpable sense of losing ground, of being passed by competing countries that seemed to be getting more out of their talent and resources.

In 2005, Pierre Lafontaine arrived to a hell of a task. Swimming Canada needed not only a turnaround artist, it needed an attitude adjustment. They got it in Lafontaine. With an infectious energy of relentless positivity, he began to lift Canada’s sagging swim spirits. He also started generating a lot more dollars, and brought a lot more Canadians into the sport. He did what a CEO is supposed to do: He improved the business.

After eight years at the helm of Canadian swimming, Pierre Lafontaine resigned this week. He’s moving on to become the CEO of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), starting next month. He leaves Swimming Canada in far better shape than he found it. Yet, he also leaves it at a crossroads – one shared by other swimming nations across the world, as they look to regroup and chart new courses in the next Olympiad ahead.

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Tearing Down a Temple

Greedheads, land grabs, and the sad demise of the Phoenix Swim Club… 

May, 1996. This place was the center of the swimming universe. It felt like every country’s Olympic team was there. Every team that mattered, in any case. It was an unshaved showcase for the Atlanta Games on the horizon. It was the Phoenix Grand Prix, hosted by folks who cared about the sport more than anything else. It was swimming at its very best, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had at a swim meet. The stands were packed, the deck buzzing, gold watches for the winners, hell, the finalists in the 50 free didn’t march out, they rode out in eight Go-carts.

That’s the first thing I thought of when I heard the news. Oh boy. That temple of swimming, the home of the Phoenix Swim Club, is about to be no more. This fall, right after the high school championship season, the entire complex will be demolished.

In a desert city lacking in soul, this place had swimmer soul deep in its chlorinated bones. And what will soon stand in its place? The very definition of American soullessness: another cookie-cutter housing development.  Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing Other People

USA Swimming breaks up with Speedo, hooks up with Arena… And what that means for the sport

They see themselves in iconic company with Xerox and Kleenex and Coke. Companies whose names became synonymous with the products they sold. It’s not a photo copy or a tissue or a soda, it’s the brand itself. For swimmers, for decades, you wore a Speedo, as in a tight-fitting racing suit. For a very long time, they were one of the ultimate examples of this name-branded success. No longer.

It’s time to remove Speedo from that list of brand behemoths that own their categories with ubiquitous dominance. They’ve lost a stroke and the biggest evidence of all just presented itself. After 27 years, they are no longer the exclusive sponsor of the greatest swim team on earth – USA Swimming. Days ago, the folks at USA Swimming announced that it was now pursuing an open marriage, opening themselves to non-exclusive deals with other swimwear sponsors. Its new suitor and the new title sponsor of the U.S. National Team? Speedo’s biggest rival, Arena.

Now this is a bit like being married to Michael Phelps for many years, and then one day the wife says to Michael – You know, honey, I think it’s time we saw other people… And then she jumps into bed with Ryan Lochte. But, you know, she still stays with Michael, sort of, when it’s convenient.

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Dark Places, New Life

The courageous return of Dagny Knutson… 

She was said to be the next great one. She was Missy Franklin, before anyone had heard of Missy Franklin. One of the greatest high school swimmers in history, Dagny Knutson was as sought after as a college recruit could possibly be. At 17, she was swimming times worthy of gold medal goals.

She had her pick of anywhere she wanted to go, and she chose Auburn. Then, after a coaching change, she didn’t. She turned pro instead, moved out to Southern California, joined FAST, and entered an alien world of post-grad girls and a training environment a galaxy away from her native North Dakota. She moved to the other side of the country and joined Coach Gregg Troy and his Gators crew in Gainesville. This steadied her reeling psyche, for a short time, but it wasn’t enough.

Then the wheels came off. An eating disorder spiraled dangerously out of control. By last January, when her competitors were preparing for peak performances at the fast approaching Olympic Trials, Knutson found herself in a dark place. Most would have covered it up, swam lap after lap through the motions, and arrived in Omaha with false hopes of her faltering Olympic dream.

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