10 Ways You Know You Swam in the 90s

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here. Originally Published 5/17

“When I was your age we had to walk to practice. Ten miles, in the snow, uphill both ways. And we also had to do 12,000 meters a session, not like how these young punks are doing today, with their race pace and their space science! Grumble, grumble, grumble.”

With each new generation of up-and-coming swimmers is another fading from view, rhapsodizing about years gone by, about how much more difficult things were, but simultaneously how much better it was (“it was just a simpler time, man!”).

While keeping an eye on the “back in my day” count – I’ll keep it to single digits – here are ten signs that you swam in the 1990’s–

1. Live results? Online? What kind of voodoo magic is that?

If you wanted to find out what a competitor did across the state in relatively real time, you had to have a friend in attendance who would call you on a Zach Morris-edition (see: Saved by the Bell if you don’t understand the reference) Motorola brick phone. Now results are usually posted online for the swim community to see before the swimmer has a chance to look up at the clock herself.

2. No swimming news.

Back then I got my swimming news and results via two swimming magazines. Because of the time to print and shipping they’d typically show up months after the competitions they covered were raced. End of season issues were particularly grating in hindsight; often the championship issue arrived well into the beginning of the new season.

3. You didn’t make a pump up playlist, you made a pump up mixtape.

A lot of thought goes into a proper sequence of songs when creating a pump up list. What you are going to listen to in the car on the way to the pool. Your stretching tunes. That one track you are gonna melt your face with in the ready room.

Back in my day (sorry!) there was an additional layer of care when deciding a mix tape, because you couldn’t reorder them when you were done without having to go back and re-record over everything. Thankfully towards the end of the decade mix tapes gave way to mix CD’s.

(On a side note, even if you only once spent half the day with your finger on the record button on your boombox, waiting for your favorite song to come on the radio, and then missed it because you were in the bathroom – than you know the struggle.)

4. The music during warm-up at meets was epic. (Mostly.)

Instead of Ke$ha, The 1975, and whatever other bang-a-boom you crazy kids are listening to nowadays we had Metallica, New Kids On the Block, and Guns n’ effin’ Roses blasting during warm-up at competitions! To this day every time I hear “Welcome to the Jungle” my heart rate picks up a little bit and my instinct is to hunt for a lane that isn’t overcrowded.

5. Once you’d graduated to compact discs, you’d lug around a leather-bound case containing your favorite 87 CD’s.

It’s hard to imagine now, but in the 90’s, if you wanted to listen to two songs from different artists, you’d have to stop playback, switch discs, and pray that it wasn’t too scratched to play without skipping and hope to the Holy of Holies that the 1 bar left on the battery indicator for your Sony Discman would be enough to listen to your favorite song twice. Oh and forget about putting that thing in your pocket, and like, walking around. Anti-skip was just a big of a myth as anti-fog goggles.

6. You watched your races on your parents old beta-max.

The video was shaky, the screams of nearby parents drowned out just about everything else (though I guess now we just have them screaming hysterically in HD instead), and you had to adjust the tracking! Oh, the tracking.

7. You wore tearaways to practice and swim meets.

Even though you knew they would get ripped off at least a dozen times by friends and teammates over the course of the weekend, and the time it took to put them back together far outweighed the time you saved by ripping them yourself, they still looked rad….right?

8. You hung out with the Tanners and Winslows on Friday nights.

On Friday night, after a long week of training and school, you’d come home after your PM practice, pour yourself a popcorn-bowl sized portion of pasta and watch Full House, Perfect Strangers,  Step by Step or my personal favorite, Family Matters.

Not to be outdone, post-Saturday mornings were ripe for more television watching as well. Who could possibly forget Hammerman, MC Hammer’s short-lived foray into cartoon television? I know I sure did!

9. You didn’t have a blog or Facebook page, you had a Geocities site!

When the internet was an infantile set of connecting tubes there was no social media sites to post pictures of our food, and no blog platforms for us to leave racy and anonymous comments on.

Instead, if we were mildly computer savvy we had our own Geocities site. Strewn with ads, our Geocities site usually had a couple pictures of our favorite swimmers (Tom Dolan, Summer Sanders, Kieren Perkins, Krisztina Egerszegi and Curtis Myden were popular choices) and links to the couple of swimming websites online.

10. Briefs!

Swimming fashion has changed a little since the 1990’s as well. We went from wearing almost nothing (the prototypical Speedo brief), to Australia’s Ian Thorpe in the late 1990’s wearing a wetsuit to the pool. Things would bounce back after the rubber suit escapades of 2008-2009 and settle on the modest length of a jammer, but long dead are the days of seeing the top swimmers in the world all rocking out Speedos.

I know there are some other ways that you know you swam in the 1990’s. Let’s hear them in the comments below!

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Paper suits were the new high-tech suits of choice that only lasted one season before they disintegrated! Then onto the LZRs with the runner ribbing.


If you needed a paper suit you were FAST. Those were such a big deal and relatively expensive and tight as heck. Some things never change.

ole 99

We were cleaning out the basement storage room last week and I came across my college swim bag. Inside it was an old paper suit circa 1995. The pain of trying to squeeze into that thing lingers even after all those years.


I’ve still got all mine from champs too. Not sure why I still have them 20 years later, but I do.


Shaving in the showers at the pool after warm ups. Speedo sprint goggles with foam padding. Exceed sports drink. The yellow sony sports Walkman. Standup starts for backstroke and touching the wall with your hand at every wall in backstroke.


I haven’t been to an end of season championship meet in about 10 years, but I remember this very well. (Never did it myself but always thought it was kinda gross!)


Exceed was the only thing that mattered!

TMI but I still don’t believe in body hair, thanks swimming!

Bo swims

Touching the wall in backstroke on turns ended mid 1991.

The Screaming Viking!

Exceed! I used to love the banana-potato flavor!


Track start? What’s a track start? I’m just gonna curl all ten toes over the edge this starting block!


All about the two footed start! It would be interesting to see how the likes of Jager / Biondi etc. would compare to Santos / Cielo / Schoeman etc. to 15m (I’m sure somebody will have written about something similar somewhere).


those guys were amazingly fast even with those 2feet starts ….


Just a few advances from the last two decades that I can think of that would have made those two swimmers faster:
Track start
Slightly longer underwater breakouts (not the full 15m, but some more power under water in the first few meters)
Slightly more hard-down position
Suits to the knees


Let’s stay in the same Era with this fabulous anchor relay from Biondi : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kbe8c8kc_Ac


Wait… have 2-foot starts gone extinct? Where was I when that happened?

No, they’ve just graduated to Masters’ swimming. And Canada, apparently – Kierra Smith is the only swimmer of consequence who I can think of. Dorothea Brandt I believe from Germany was actually doing the “trophy start” (two feet up, two hands back) for a little while, but haven’t seen her race recently. That was even more old-school.


Pretty sure it was Daniela Schreiber that used the hands back start and not Dorothea Brandt.

Ahh yes, I believe you’re right.


Did you forget about relay exchanges? 2-footed.
2-footed starts generate more power than track starts but produce a slower reaction time, which isn’t a factor in an exchange.

Kierra Smith

Just wait.. they’ll make a comeback.

Matt Smith

Now that FINA has added the backstop for the back foot, I don’t see the two foot forward start coming back. My argument for the 2 foot forward was that I got more power (slower off the blocks but faster/farther in the air). I retired about 1 year before the backstop was created, but had switched to the track start.


Eh? We were doing track starts in the early 80s.


There were people doing them in the ’70s for goodness sakes – I learned it around 1978 from a swimmer just back from a national camp. Then they seemed to disappear for a while, and came back later in the ’80s. There also were people doing underwater butterfly kicks off starts and turns on freestyle and backstroke by 1978 – lots of camps teaching those.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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