Cap & Goggles

Only a Swimmer Knows the Feeling

Category: Olympics

Michael Phelps is Coming Back

Is it a rumor? Yes. Is it probably true? Also, yes. 

Well, that didn’t take long. It’s been less than a year since London. A year of luxurious victory lapping on golf courses and at poker tables across the world… One could get used to that life of competitive leisure. Or maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t take all that long to get bored of such diversions. Because here’s the word:

Michael Phelps is about to launch a comeback. He’ll soon be returning to training; in fact, he’s rumored to be arriving in Colorado Springs, at the Olympic Training Center, in the next few days. Maybe he won’t show. Perhaps he’ll read these publicized rumors and get spooked and insist that he’s still happily retired on the links. The man has nothing to prove to anyone. He’s the greatest Olympian of all time, regardless of whether or not he ever touches chlorinated water again.

However, these rumors didn’t just come out of thin air. The upper reaches of the swimming world are swirling with the chatter. It’s like the CIA intercepting red flag chatter across Islamic websites. It might be nothing, it might be just talk, but when there’s enough of it, you have to take it seriously. That’s what’s going right now in swimming’s version of the CIA. The folks in-the-know, the top coaches and swimmers, the ones just a degree or two removed from Phelps himself, they’re all talking about it.

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Tall Poppies, Toxic Waters

Independent review rips Australian Olympic Team… Alleges London failures of leadership and culture… 

It’s been seven months since the Games ended in London and it appears some aren’t done licking their wounds. Before moving on and focusing on Rio, apparently a few countries still have some explaining to do. For the Aussies, their Olympic performance in London was deemed unacceptable. They are determined to find out why.

It wasn’t the talent. The Australian squad entered London fully loaded. They were favored to win multiple events, multiple relays. They had the fastest freestyler on earth. They had women capable of winning more than one race. They won one: the women’s 4×100 free relay. They left London with ten total medals, adding six more silver and three bronze.

That haul is an indication of just how high the standard is down under. In any other nation of 20 million, 10 Olympic medals in one of the Games’ flagship sports would be cause for celebration. Not so for the Aussies. Small population be damned, they expect to compete with the Yanks and the Chinese in the pool – and at most Olympics, they do.

So, what happened in London? Let’s see… There was pill popping and shit talking and boozing and bitterness and loneliness. That’s just the documented stuff. Details in a second.

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How To Stop Time

The Moment and the Career of Jason Lezak…

At 37-years-old, four and a half years removed from delivering the most dramatic moment in swimming history, Jason Lezak announced his retirement this week. It concludes one of the longest ever careers in American swimming – 13 straight years on Team USA’s national team, from 1999 to 2012, one year longer than Michael Phelps’s tenure. Yet he will be remembered for just 46 perfect seconds.

Lezak, of course, will live forever in Olympic lore for that out-of-body performance in Beijing, on the anchor leg of the men’s 4 x 100 free relay. It was The Swim Heard Round the World, every bit on par with any do-you-believe-in-miracles finish in any sport, ever. Click on that link and watch it again. I defy anyone not to get chills all over again. We all know the context – Phelps’s epic 8-gold quest on the line; the French unbeatable on paper; diving in a body length behind the world record holder… And then. And then the angels descended (American angels, in any case) and lifted Lezak to the impossible.

You know the rest. But that all-time Moment isn’t what this story is about.  It’s about what happened before – and after.

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The Altered States of Swimming

As we enter the post-Phelps era, the sport finds itself reeling between robust health and on-going sickness…

A new Olympiad has begun. Michael Phelps is gone. Ryan Lochte is becoming Derek Zoolander. Missy Franklin continues to resist millions so she can swim in college. That’s the narrative of the big three, anyway. The three short hand stories of the sport that have spread into the mainstream. That’s what your friends in the dry land world know about swimming. They might have also heard about some dark sex scandals, involving coaches and teenage swimmers, but we’ll get to that in a bit…

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. It was started last September with a piece entitled The Phelps Effect. It detailed the ways that Michael Phelps’s dominance may have killed off the depth and ambition in American swimming. There was evidence of that back at the World Championships in 2011. At the Games in London, the symptoms of this ‘Phelps Effect’ appear to have been killed off. Just ask Tyler Clary, Matt Grevers, and Nathan Adrian – three American guys not named Phelps or Lochte who raced to individual Olympic gold this summer.

Seventy-five stories later, this site has managed to piss off, provoke, and hopefully entertain and enlighten many in the swimming community. Just what I’d hoped for… And so it seems like a fine time to take a step back and examine the sport in its many altered states.

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The $18 Million Dollar Man

Sun Yang scores monster payday in China… How does that compare to his fellow loaded Olympic icons? 

He only gets to keep $6 million, ok? After becoming the greatest distance swimmer in history in London, reports are that Sun Yang just earned $18 million in endorsement riches. But not really. Swimming China earned $18 mil, thanks to Sun’s accomplishments. For their efforts on his behalf, they get to keep 66% of that rather considerable figure.

Word is that $6 mil must go to the federation itself – payback for funding Sun’s Olympic journey since childhood. The other $6 mil, that’s bound for the pockets of his fellow national teamers. According to Swim News’s Craig Lord, if those funds are distributed evenly that means that each member of China’s London Olympic swim team will receive $150,000 thanks to Sun’s historic efforts. How’s that for incentive to cheer your teammates!

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Will He Be Back?

Considering the comeback chances of Michael Phelps… 

I think he’ll be back. So does Rowdy Gaines. So do many others… Is this a selfish instinct? A refusal to admit that swimming’s meal ticket has really left the table? Probably. It’s hard to imagine an Olympics without Phelps in the pool. It hasn’t happened this century.

No one in swimming wants to consider this. There’s an undercurrent of panic swirling around Phelps’s departure. The guy achieved his ultimate goal: he changed the sport. In remarkable ways that couldn’t be conceived a generation ago, swimming is appreciated by a much wider world. And it is practiced in ways that were inconceivable back when Phelps burst on the scene in 2000.

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