Cap & Goggles

Only a Swimmer Knows the Feeling

Category: Olympics

Trials of a Supergroup

Bob Bowman’s NBAC crew might be the most talented group of swimmers ever assembled… But is there such a thing as too much talent in one pool? Recent results raise questions… 

It’s all about the long term, the next Games. Let’s not forget that. Bob Bowman’s thoughts and plans remain focused two years down the road. He’s been thinking Rio since the flame went out in London. This summer is the halfway point, nothing to get worked up about, he’ll be the first to say. No argument there. Yet, when we’re talking about highly delicate egos and bodies as finely tuned and fragile as a Triple Crown contender, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the present tense.

This can’t be an easy time to be running NBAC’s supergroup. Because this summer has not exactly gone according to plan. Just ask Yannick Agnel and Allison Schmitt and Tom Luchsinger

Two years ago, Agnel was the most impressive swimmer in London. He won double gold, while his stature was perhaps most enhanced by the memory of Michael Phelps imploring his teammates to “get me a lead” before he anchored the 4 x 200 freestyle relay against the towering Frenchman. Phelps fears no swimmer, yet in London he knew he was no match for Agnel. Soon after those Games, with Phelps in retirement, Yannick rang up Bowman and crossed the pond for Baltimore. Even after Michael’s comeback, he has reportedly embraced Bowman’s program. Though he might be doubting that right about now.

Agnel is in the midst of an underwhelming campaign at the European Championships in Berlin. In the 400 freestyle he failed to final. The French coaches left him off the gold-medal-winning 4×100 free relay, and today he raced to bronze in the 200 free, a whopping three and a half seconds off of his lifetime best. This from the reigning Olympic champion in that event.

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The Sharks Circle

Missy Franklin is turning pro in ten months… Top agencies hungry for their piece of the biggest fish in the pool… 

She’s the most marketable Olympian alive. Across every sport, Summer or Winter, Phelps and Lochte included, you won’t find a more appealing athlete for endorsements in the lead up to Rio. Two years out and Missy Franklin is already the confirmed face of the 2016 Olympics.

Much was made about her decision to forgo the pro path after London and attend college at Cal, including by yours truly (Why She Went to College), but let’s be honest – that was always a halfway commitment. Missy, and her parents Dick and D.A., who are highly active behind the scenes, never had any intention of swimming through the full four years of her collegiate eligibility. She longed for the college experience, and she’s getting it, but the time has come to start talking dollars and sense.

This four-time Olympic champion is a sponsor’s dream. She may not have the 8-gold epic-ness of Phelps in her future, and she may not have the twinkling-eyed model smirk of Lochte, but Franklin has something neither of those two man-childs possess. Actually, quite a few somethings. She is that rare transcendent athlete who is also relatable, down-to-earth, and somehow, retains an accomplishment-defying humility. She might be a mutant of physical excellence, like all highest-tier Olympians, but she possesses an unaffected star power that seems rooted in appreciation.

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Something in the Water

As many winter sports flounder, NGBs look to American swimming for answers… 

Don’t let the medal count fool you. At the Winter Games in Sochi, Team USA finished second in the medal standings, five back from beleaguered host Russia. They won 28 total medals, nine of them gold. It took 255 opportunities to win those 28 medals – a rather unimpressive batting average of .109.

Of those 28 medals, a dozen came in either freestyle skiing or snowboarding, and five of their nine gold came in brand new Olympic events introduced in 2014. Translation: NBC must be immensely grateful for the X-Games… Anyway you cut it, Team USA is guilty of medal-padding, by adding American-made pseudo-events like the “slopestyles” on skis and snowboards. It’s hard not to be cynical when you look at some of these less-than-universal sports, and then have to listen to the manufactured drama over national medal counts.

In the traditional Winter Olympics sports, the Americans were, to put it mildly, underwhelming. Speedskating was a well-publicized disaster, as US skaters failed to win a single medal on ice in 32 opportunities, and no, it wasn’t Under Armour’s fault. Ice Dancing gold aside, they weren’t particularly impressive in figure skating either, winning just two medals in 13 opportunities.

But before the bashing continues, this column isn’t about the failures of American Winter Olympians. It’s about the outsized success of American athletes in melted ice. In the pool. See, this is about the time when leaders of National Governing Bodies in many winter sports start scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong. Then, they look to a group that continues to do it right. They ring up the folks at USA Swimming and they all ask a simple riddle: How the hell do you guys manage to be so good, Games after Games?

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The Afterlife of Perfection

Misty Hyman and the business of inspiration… 

Because I’m an eternal swim geek, with a self-absorbed soft spot for 200 flyers, Misty Hyman’s magical race back at the 2000 Sydney Games has always been a swim of deep fascination for me. Forced to name my favorite all-time Olympic moment, that’s my pick. It was more a miracle than Lezak’s anchor in Beijing; it was harder to fathom than Phelps’s impossible touch in the 100 fly at those same Games. Argue that all you like, that’s the beauty of comparing such moments. There are no right answers, only frozen-in-time memories.

Maybe it’s because I was there, seated at the elbow of a squealing Rowdy Gaines in the broadcast booth. I was a PA for NBC Olympics, assigned to scribble notes and splits for the most colorful voice of our sport, just two years removed from competition myself, and deeply conflicted over the pale, out-of-shape network staffer that I’d become.

Or maybe it’s because she was swimming my event. (Or, more accurately, I had swum her event…) I had the same dream, visualized it daily for years on end, and had come up short. Three long distant seconds short in Atlanta, to be exact. The vicarious envy surely runs deep.

But who needs navel-gazing personal connections to remember a moment like that? It comes down to one thing: I was inspired. And if you have a pulse, and any interest in the Olympics at all, so were you.

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Third No More

David Plummer, Liz Pelton, and post Olympic redemption… 

They’re a part of a fraternity that no one wants to join. They’ve endured a circle of swimming hell that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemies. They’re the third place finishers at the U.S. Olympic Trials. You’d rather place dead last. Hell, you’d rather false start and never get wet than have to feel that particular oh-so-close pain.

Or maybe not. Maybe there’s virtue in that kind of cruel heartbreak. What doesn’t kill you and all… Always hated that cliché.

David Plummer and Elizabeth Pelton know how this feels all too well. Last summer in Omaha, this pair of backstroke badasses placed 3rd – three times. With Plummer feeling the pain in the 100 back and Pelton getting a double dose of third, in the 200 back and the 200 IM.

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The Best Swimmers Are In The NBA

It’s true… Too bad the spoils will never lure them to the pool… 

Describe the physical gifts of your perfect swimmer. He’s gotta be tall. Huge hands and feet. Must possess both explosiveness and a light touch, or feel for the sport. Oh, and he must be hyper competitive. Sound like anyone you know? Maybe the stars of last night’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals?

Much has been made of Michael Phelps having the ideal swimmer’s physique. As Bob Costas intoned in this NBC feature from 2008, ‘if you were to build the perfect swimmer, the finished product would look just like this.’ Ok, fair enough. No arguing with the results. But what if his opponent was nine inches taller; had even bigger ‘dinner plate’ sized hands; size 16 feet; and a childhood of equal aquatic immersion.

Like, say Tim Duncan? You probably already know the story about how Spurs’ legend Tim Duncan was a swimmer first, growing up in St. Croix. If not, here’s a quick refresher. He was a very good one. A 200 and 400 freestyler who had serious Olympic potential. His sister, Tricia, was an Olympian in 1988. But then Hurricane Hugo destroyed his swim team’s pool, and the 14-year-old Duncan turned to hoops. Safe to say he made the right choice. Over the course of his 16-year NBA career, Duncan has amassed a net worth of around $200 million. Phelps is a rich man, but he will never get anywhere close to that figure. In fact, by NBA standards, he’s paid somewhere in the range of a bench-riding role player.

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