2010 Year in Review: A Year of Turmoil and Tragedy in Review

The year 2010. This will be one of those years in swimming that will be remembered for a long time. In many regards, 2010 was a major turning point for the sport. Some of this is for the better, and some is for the worse. Let’s look back at some of the biggest stories of the last year, and what they mean for swimming going forward.

January 2010

  • January 1, 2010 is a day that will live in infamy for all swimming time. This was the day that the official FINA technical suit ban went into play amongst much disagreement within the swimming community. Ultimately, the reversion to textile suits led to no long course World Records being broken. This is the first time in the history of FINA that an entire calendar year has gone without a World Record being broken in the current major-course of competition. In fact, it was not until late December at the Dubai Short Course World Championships, where American Ryan Lochte broke 2 World Records, that any World Record was broken period.
  • On January 23, 2010, the defending 100 fly NCAA Champion Austin Staab took a leave of absence from the Stanford Cardinal without much warning. He missed the rest of the NCAA season, including the March NCAA Championships, which allowed a freshman named Tom Shields from arch-rival Cal bounce in and steal the attention, and imagination, of college swimming fans. We still aren’t sure where Staab went, but he’s swum very sparingly since then. He’s back on the Stanford official roster, and was expected to return this season, but he still has not stepped on the block for the Cardinal since January.
  • On January 25, 2010, Duquesne University announced that they would be cutting four sports, all men’s, including men’s swimming. This was a huge blow for fans everywhere who think that Title IX has outlived it’s useful life, and was the first in a series of blows that claimed other small programs, like Cal-State Northridge and NJIT that later announced a 6-year plan to save its program, as well as a very big player down the line.
  • At the end of January, the Australian National Team saw a big shakeup with the resignation of their head coach Alan Thompson. Originally, there was speculation that there may have been an issue with allegations of “inappropriate conduct” at a 2007 coaching conference, though he was later cleared of wrongdoing. Ultimately, it appeared that there was a difference of opinion between Thompson and the Swim Australia board of directors as to what exactly the role of head coach should involve, and the two sides parted ways. Former Australian Junior National program coach Leigh Nugent took over the post.

February 2010

  • On February 6, we released a story about three swim coaches who had been indicted on various charges, and wondered if there was a trend developing. Little did we know that this was just scratching the surface of an explosion that would become the top story of the year, and one of the top 3 or 4 most significant stories in the history of swimming. The sexual abuse case spiraled out of control, with accusations, counter-accusations, coverups, sweeping rules changes, and finally the beginning of litigation that will likely take years to finalize. The result: a big win for swimmers’ safety, and a big loss for those within the organization who, individually, have done everything they were supposed to for the protection of the athletes.
  • On February 13, Missy Franklin broke the 13-14 100 yard backstroke National Age Group record at the Colorado High School State Championships; thus setting off Missy-Mania in 2010. She was the 2010 Golden Goggles Breakout Swimmer of the Year winner; USA Long Course Nationals High Point Award Winner; she dominated the Minnesota Grand Prix; and she won her first World Championship medal in Dubai: a silver in the 200 back.
  • The Missouri Grand Prix, which was dubbed as a battle between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, and ended up being a big dud. Lochte, it was revealed, had torn his ACL in a freak break-dancing injury, and stuck to a few preliminary events to test the progress of his rehab. Phelps, and the entire NBAC team, were snowbound in Baltimore and couldn’t make it out. This was the first of multiple leg injuries for Lochte that he claims led him to be refocused and learn a more efficient breaststroke kick. As a result of this reinvigoration, Lochte can’t be kept out of training, and had a blistering end to the year.
  • At the Pac-10 Championships, Stanford’s Julia Smit broke the NCAA, and American, records in the 200 IM. She couldn’t match her time at NCAA’s, but still swept the IM events. Ultimately, she was the unanimous choice for TSC’s Female Swimmer of the Year after leading Stanford to an undefeated dual-meet season and a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championships. More significantly, this gave the first sign of hope that times set in the rubber suits might again be surpassed.

March 2010

  • On March 12, American Jessica Hardy faced arbitration over whether her suspension for use of Clenbuterol that caused her to miss the 2008 Beijing Olympics was unjustly reduced from 2 years to 1 year. She claimed that the banned substance was in a tainted batch of the otherwise legal supplement Arginine Extreme. The manufacturers of that supplement, on the other hand, claimed that there tests showed that they found no evidence of Clenbuterol. In May, Hardy was cleared for return to competition, which allowed her to have a great fall season including earning her way back on to the USA National Team for both Dubai and Shanghai. The only question that remains up in the air is whether her voluntarily skipping Beijing satisfies a new IOC rule on suspensions of 6-months or longer mandating a missed Olympics.
  • On March 18, Yolane Kukla became the youngest member of the Australian National Team since one Ian Thorpe, who qualified at only a few days younger than Kukla. At the Australian long course National Championships, Kukla knocked off an impressive field that included defending World Champion Marieke Guehrer to win the 50 fly, and also had a great showing in other sprint freestyle and butterfly events.
  • On March 19, David Nolan broke the 200 IM National High School Record for the third time in two years. Even more impressive was that he was only a junior: marking the second straight season the record had been broken by a junior.
  • The Women’s NCAA Championships, culminating on March 20, were an absolute barn-burner that made college diving relevant again. The Stanford Cardinal, led by Julia Smit, were clearly better between the lanes than the Florida. On the boards, however, Florida was dominant. Headed into the women’s platform, the penultimate event of the meet, the Gators looked to be out of the hunt for the team title. Thanks to 27 points from Kara Salamone and Monica Dotson, and a big goose-egg from every other team in the top four, the Gators zoomed into the lead and did just enough in the final relay to hang on to a 2.5 point victory.
  • On Wednesday March 24, information started leaking out that the Arizona, Stanford and Texas men’s NCAA teams had been struck by a devastating illness shortly after arriving in Columbus, Ohio for the NCAA Championships. The three teams likely spread the disease on the flight they shared to the meet. The Ohio Department of Health was concerned enough about how rapidly the disease, later confirmed as the Norovirus was spreading that the meet was postponed a day. Ultimately, everyone’s tapers survived, and the Texas Longhorn Men took their 10th NCAA title.

April, 2010

  • In early April, Australia’s Daniel Kowalski became one of the most accomplished athletes to ever come out as gay, and given that he’s from a swimming-mad country, one of the more high-profile ones too. Kowalski, who in 1996 became the first swimmer to medal in the 200, 400, and 1500 freestyles (or their equivalents) since 1904. An announcement of this magnitude was a very gutsy one to make, and was very well received by the public. Hopefully, it will encourage others in the future to not have to hide their true selves.
  • April was zero-hour for the sexual abuse saga in USA Swimming. Both ABC’s 20/20 and ESPN’s Outside the Lines produced hard-hitting pieces about the sexual abuse cases and Chuck Wielgus’ failure to make serious progress towards eliminating them. All of a sudden, the issue moved from one whispered about in swimming’s inner-circle to one that grabbed the attention of people who didn’t know much about swimming beyond “Michael Phelps” and “Guys in Speedos”. The profession of swim-coach was forever changed.

May, 2010

June, 2010

  • June brought a ton of speculation about where the future of the NCAA would be headed in terms of conference shakeups. The potential for a monstrously powerful Pac-10  or SEC mega-conference hinged largely on the decisions of the three dual-gendered Big 12 swim programs: Texas, Texas A&M, and Missouri. If any of them had jumped ship, the split would be on and it will be a battle for territory between the Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-10. In the end, the only major moves was the Big 12’s women’s membership shrinking to 4 (and the Big Ten’s growing to 13), the Pac-10 picking up Utah in all sports and specifically the mid-major power Cal Poly and UCSB swim teams after the Big West dropped the sport.
  • On June 27, at the Paris Open, Cesar Cielo reconfirmed that he is the fastest man on a planet covered in water when he broke Alexander Popov’s 10-year old 50 free textile record of 21.64. Cielo already held the overall mark, thanks to a 20.91 set in polyurethane, but with his 21.55 in Paris, Cielo is now the fastest 50 freestyler in either polyurethane or textile.

July 2010

  • On July 2, in an accident at a friend’s home in Virginia, Tom Dolan suffered a severe concussion that left him in intensive care. Dolan, who held the 400 IM World Record longer than any swimmer in history has ever held any world mark, made a full recovery and was able to attend November’s Golden Goggles Awards.
  • On July 25, Dutch swimmer Ranomi Kromowidjojo was hospitalized with viral meningitis. Though not as severe as its bacterial cousin, this put a huge disruption into the training of the sprinter who was ranked tops in the world in the 100 free at the time. She ended up missing the European Long Course Championships, but made up for it in a big way with three World Short Course Championships gold medals.

August 2010

  • The beginning of August had a much-needed lighthearted moment in the swimming community, as superblogger Chris DeSantis challenged David Rieder’s status as “THE Swim Geek.” This erupted into an epic blogwar, with Rieder challenging DeSantis, and other swim bloggers, to a USA Swimming Nationals prediction contest. In the end, David finished a very respectable third and Desantis finished in last place: earning him the nickname “Chris DFLsantis” instead. This gave rise to the Fantasy Swimming industry, including the prize-heavy PodiumPursuit.com site that brought newfound attention into the depths of swim picking.
  • 2010 Nationals had a number of other storylines. This included the long-anticipated revealing of Ryan Lochte’s “martian shoes” (and the news that you can’t have any) and the journey of a little-known backstroker named David Plummer from Minnesota to a National Championship in SoCal. We also saw a lot of exciting comebacks from older swimmers, like Amanda Beard, as well as younger swimmers who were in serious slumps, like Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler. This meet was thick with storylines, even despite Michael Phelps failing to show up in top shape.
  • Two weeks later, Irvine welcomed the best of the Pacific Rim to the 2010 Pan Pac Championships. The big story here was Ryan Lochte, with 6 gold medals surpassing Michael Phelps as the best swimmer in the world. Jessica Hardy also made her return to the National Team (as a freestyler rather than breaststroker) and took 4 victories of her own. Nathan Adrian also caused a ton of buzz when he knocked off Cesar Cielo in both sprint freestyles to move squarely into the world’s spotlight headed towards London.
  • Meanwhile, around the world in Singapore, the 2010 Youth Olympics began in earnest. Several of the top swimming nations were hesitant to send their best youth swimmers to the event. This includes the USA, who only after much negotiation agreed to send a second-tier of youth swimmers, and the UK, who declined to send a squad at all. Many cited the lack of serious competition as a huge drawback for the competition, but that argument fell flat after two YOG’s alumni, South Africa’s Chad le Clos and China’s Yi Tang (also here), ended the year with World Championship gold in their trophy cases. By all accounts, the Youth Olympics were both a competitive and developmental success, and with swimming declared as the focalpoint of the entire event, they should draw an even more impressive lineup for 2014.
  • In August, Spain’s European Champion butterflier Rafael Munoz avoided a ban for missing 3 random drug tests. Munoz provided FINA with a doctor’s note stating that he missed at least one test because he was “psychologically vulnerable” at the time, and FINA gave him a pass. This caused an uproar about an uneven application of the rules, and has been a rallying cry in the increasingly vocal critics of how rampant performance enhancers have been in our sport.
  • Immediately after an impressive Pan-Pac performance that included 3 silver medals (behind only the Lochte buzzsaw), Michigan’s Tyler Clary announced that he would be forgoing his final year of NCAA eligibility to focus his training towards the London 2012 Olympics. Along with Knutson’s announcement earlier in the year, this accelerated fears that college would no longer be a destination for America’s elite swimmers. It also upset the hopes that Clary would pass the torch, so to speak, to incoming Michigan freshman Kyle Whitaker who was a former 200 IM National High School record holder.
  • One of the coaches intreviewed in the previously mentioned 20/20 segment on sexual abuse, Ken Stopkotte, transformed from a coach receiving sympathy for unfair treatment to one of swimming’s most evil figures in August. Stopkotte had previously claimed that he was excluded from coaching an all-star team because USA-Swimming was holding a grudge against him as one of their most outspoken critics. On August 28, however, the real reason was revealed as Stopkotte resigned his position as an Indiana coach after being investigated for falsifying times. From there, his spiraled out of control when he was banned for making up times and ignoring swimmers’ disqualifications in official results submitted to USA-Swimming. Stopkotte was banned from coaching in Indiana for 5-years, and USA-Swimming for 2, and fined an undisclosed amount of money. Three months later, Stopkotte was arrested for stealing in the neighborhood of $17,000 from Fishers High School in the form of pilfered pool rental fees.

September 2010

October 2010

November 2010

  • After billing the Minnesota Grand Prix as another Phelps-Lochte showdown, Phans everywhere where disappointed when the Great One pulled out of another meet. Even more disappointing was that his absence wasn’t to focus on training, rather it was to fly to prowl around Los Angeles with reality TV star Brittny Gastineau. Between dating, golf, poker, and his multitude of marketing obligations,many are questioning his dedication to the sport that he reinvented.
  • Sometime during the third week of November, Kathleen Hersey was officially removed from the Texas Longhorns’ roster. After a disappointing NCAA season, Hersey spent the summer training with Texas men’s coach Eddie Reese, which paid off big in August. Due to this success, she decided to leave Texas’ women’s NCAA team and train with Texas’ men’s team instead, with a focus towards London.
  • On November 20, Rachel Bootsma again lowered the freshly minted 100 backstroke high school record with a time of 51.53 at the Minnesota High School Championships. Missy Franklin will likely break that mark in 2011, and then Bootsma will shoot to break it again during her senior year. All of a sudden, after holding the record for more than a decade, Natalie Coughlin is no better than 4th best all-time.
  • Ryan Lochte and Rebecca Soni dominated the 2010 Golden Goggles Awards. Both won Swimmer and Race of the year, and Lochte’s coach Gregg Troy also won Coach of the Year.
  • FINA announced the 2012 London Olympic qualifying standards, and they are really fast. Despite moving away from the polyurethane suits, almost all of the times got faster. Still, the number of swimmers with qualifying times two years out is very similar to what it was prior to the Beijing Olympics.

December 2010

  • At the 2010 US Short Course Nationals, the USC Women had an outstanding meet on both the collegiate and club side. This really bolstered the NCAA program’s designs on a surprise National Championship run this year. After a disappointing long course season, Matt Grevers had an amazing bounceback meet and swam some of the fastest yards times ever. Unfortunately, Grevers didn’t get the opportunity to carry this success to Worlds, as those teams were decided months earlier in long course.
  • The UAE were hit with strike three at the 2010 Dubai World Short Course Championships. Things got off to a rocky start after the Israeli contingent was briefly denied access to the country (Israel and the UAE have a  very strained diplomatic relationship, to say the least). Then their brilliantly huge facility appeared to be rarely even half full, if that. The UAE does not appear to be ready to burst into the forefront of swimming yet.
  • Competitively, the 2010 Short Course World Championships could not have been better. Ryan Lochte broke two World Records, the only individual ones busted in any course in 2010, and the meet was probably the most competitive and heavily-participated ever, even with another absence by Mr. Phelps. The Americans, aside from a few notable exceptions of Rebecca Soni and Lochte, didn’t have a great meet, but that hardly detracted from the excitement.
  • The last major story of 2010 was when Peter Vanderkaay announced on December 20th that he would be leaving his long-time home at Club Wolverine to train with Ryan Lochte and Gregg Troy at the Gator Swim Club in Florida. The move was long-expected, though the location was not.

As you can see, 2010 was chock-full of controversy, arguments, and drama. It allowed for some great discussions about the most basic foundations of our sport, and a lot of people were forced to look at swimming from an entirely different perspective. Though there was a lot of sadness, anger, and disappointment about what happened in 2010, I think that the changes made will improve the sport for the better.

If there’s one thing we can take away from this year, it’s what I posted at the end of the 2010 World Championships recap. Beyond all of the gossip, beyond all of the controversy, beyond all of the bickering and organizational failings, it all comes back to what happens in the pool. Ryan Lochte’s performance in Dubai, which was among the all-time greats in a short course pool, helped erase a lot of bad memories from this season, and left us all with a positive outlook on the future of our sport.

So go ahead, Swim for Fran, and leave it all in the pool. We wish a happy New Year and a prosperous 2011 to all of our readers.


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12 years ago

Great recap! I know these things take a lot of time to write, but it’s definitely worth it for that big picture perspective. Looking back, it seems like every year in swimming drama has been the biggest to date, but I’m sure there will be no shortage of drama in 2011.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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