5 Things Every Tall Swimmer Hears

by SwimSwam 37

February 02nd, 2015 International, Lifestyle, Masters

Courtesy of Bryce Perica, a swimmer who swam and was a giant. 


Matt Grevers – 6-time Olympic medalist – 6 feet 9 inches
Matt Biondi – 11-time Olympic medalist – 6 feet 7 inches 
Nathan Adrian – 3-time Olympic gold medalist – 6 feet 6 inches
Michael Phelps – 22-time Olympic medalist – 6 feet 4 & 3/4 inches 
Tom Jager – 5-time Olympic gold medalist – 6 feet 3 & 7/8 inches

I am 6 foot 9 inches tall, so I get this a lot, “Dude, you’re tall. Do you play basketball?” In response, I typically say, “No, I’m a swimmer.” Then come the stale replies I have heard thousands of times. Alas, explaining your choice to swim instead of playing basketball is a task every tall swimmer has to deal with for the duration of their career and beyond. No matter if you are talking to a stranger, a friend, or a family member, their response to the breaking news that you do not play basketball is usually one of the five below.

Fans of all ages dig Nathan, 6'6 tall  (Photo: Mike Lewis - Courtesy of U.S. Masters Swimming)

Fans of all ages dig Nathan, 6’6 tall (Photo: Mike Lewis – Courtesy of U.S. Masters Swimming)


“You just fall in and you’re across the pool.”

For me, this is by far the most common response and the most confounding because people often look serious when they say it, with no hint of knowing how unoriginal and unfunny their comment is. They will look at you with this expectation that you are going to burst out laughing any moment. If you are in a great mood, you might give them the satisfaction, but this is the exception. More often than not, you will have heard this dozens of times before and you try to change the subject as fast as possible.


Matt Biondi (6'7 tall) and Tom Jager (6'5 tall), the founders of the made-for-tv sprint format (Photo Credit: Mike Lewis)

Matt Biondi (6’7 tall) and Tom Jager (6’5 tall), founders of the Made-for-TV sprint events. There swimming icons could also shoot hoops. (Photo Credit: Mike Lewis)

“Did you ever play basketball?”

Stumped by the idea of a very tall person participating in a sport other than basketball, this person will just try to change the conversation topic right back to basketball as fast as possible. They do not know anything about swimming or why someone tall might be good at it. What they have assumed is that tall people always play basketball. They know basketball so they try to shift the discussion to that sport. However, you are going to shift it elsewhere with your rejoinder, “No, do you play mini golf?”


“That makes sense.”

This is a more polite response, but often the person saying it could not really give you any specifics as to why your height helps your swimming. Their response alludes to some underlying knowledge of swimming. Test that knowledge. Make a conversation of it. If they know something about the sport, great, you have found a fellow fan of swimming. If they don’t, well, enjoy watching them make up theories to support their, “that makes sense,” claim. One such theory brings us to the next response on our list.


“You can flip at the flags.”

The person laughing at his or her joke usually follows this response. Clearly, this person knows enough about swimming to know of the backstroke flags. And, it is true that tall swimmers can flip earlier than shorter swimmers, but the difference is not quite as noticeable as flipping at the flags. Unless you are looking for it, you might not even see the difference when watching a race. The swimming knowledge apparent in the commenter is a nice bonus, but you have heard this joke too many times to give it more than a forced smile.

Michael Phelps (Credit: Tim Binning, theswimpictues)

Michael Phelps (Credit: Tim Binning)


“You look like Michael Phelps.”

This one is reserved for a subset of tall swimmers: men with dark hair and swimmer shoulders. Apparently, this is all you need to pass as Michael Phelps, arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.

Bryce Perica, swimswam writer, father, and swammer living the Rocky Mountains.

Bryce Perica, SwimSwam writer, father, giant and swammer living in the Rocky Mountains.

The last time this happened to me I was vacationing in Mexico when a group of women who thought I looked like Phelps decided to call me that all week long. The last day at the resort they wanted a photograph with me. One of them requested that I slap the water like Phelps famously did following his infamous victory over Milorad Cavic in the 100m Butterfly at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. I was embarrassed, but I obliged, even mimicking Phelps’ roar. With luck, the picture will never surface.

And, for the record, I do not look like Michael Phelps.

Future swimming giants

Reece Whitley, only 14 years old, and already 6 feet 7 inches tall. 

Reece Whitley pre-race streamline

Micahel Andrew, only 15 years old, already 6 feet 6 inches tall.

Michael Phelps and Michael Andrew - 2014 Arena Grand Prix at Mesa  (courtesy of Mike Lewis, olavistaphotography.com)

Michael Phelps and Michael Andrew – 2014 Arena Grand Prix at Mesa (courtesy of Mike Lewis, olavistaphotography.com)


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6 years ago

My son gets one and four ALL THE TIME. Also 1. joking requests for birth certificates and 2.run-ins with meet marshals trying to block him lining up for his age group. He hit 6 feet at 12 and is almost 6’3″ at 14 (and still growing).

It’s funny at times to see him get up on the blocks and the kid next to him looks over, then up, then get this look like “The Hell?”

Reply to  catmatmc
6 years ago

Ha! My son gave that look the first time he had to race Winn Aung of the Redding Aquaducks. My boy comes up to Winn’s solar plexus. That was when they were 10 and unders and Winn had already swam the Santa Clara Grand Prix!

Reply to  SwimTaxi4Two
1 year ago

Why do so many people have children..I don’t see the appeal..honestly..

6 years ago

Her turns are slow due to the time it takes the signal to get from her head to her feet.

Reply to  Tome
6 years ago

Her turns are slow due to the time it takes the signal to get from her head to her feet.

6 years ago

I’m 6’4″ and I’ve gotten all those. But my brother is 6’7″ and he has gotten them far more times. But my brother is a stick figure and every other really tall person I know I real skinny so when I met grevers I was in awe of how big (muscular) the giant actually is, and super nice.

6 years ago

Although not usually said directly to the tall swimmer, the amount of times I’ve heard swimmers claim “I’d probably be that fast if I was that tall” is unreal.

Varsity Swimmer
Reply to  Sprintdude9000
6 years ago

Duh. Because its TRUE!

Reply to  Varsity Swimmer
6 years ago

Haha. I assume you’re one of them? 😉

Reply to  Varsity Swimmer
6 years ago

my 6’7″ brother was not very fast so its not true. fastest he got in highschool was a 59 in the 100 back. he had no muscles cause he grew so fast

Lanky one
6 years ago

“Ah, your feet must be like natural flippers then, huh?!”

Please stop. And the weather up here is fine. So glad we could have this conversation.

Reply to  Lanky one
6 years ago

For some reason, there are a pair of fins at our pool that are size 17.

Everytime I dig through the pile and see them, I think “F you, you already have fins”

6 years ago

Better question: Why does there seem to be a height LIMIT on top swimmers?
Do the taller folk go to other sports?
Or is there a level of diminishing returns: longer limbs are also harder-to-coordinate?

For example:
(please don’t give me the anecdotes… yes, 5’11” Vlad Morozov is really fast, but he’s usually the shortest in his heat. And he is “average” height in the general population).

A lot of (even a majority of?) top-tier men are 6’3″ to 6’8″ (Grevers is officially 6’8″)

A lot of (even a majority of?) top-tier women are 5’10” to 6’1″ (Runge is the tallest I know of at 6’3″)

Reply to  floppy
6 years ago

I’ve noticed that, too. Elite swimmer’s size seems to hit a plateau, Many of them are at 6’8 or near, but ALMOST none is taller.

The tallest elite swimmer in the world is a finnish sprinter, Ari-Pekka Liukkonen, and he is (only) 6’10 !!!
There is not a single swimmer above 7′

Reply to  floppy
6 years ago

Most likely because there are only a handful of people that are 7 feet tall and only a small number of people that join the sport of swimming. Add on that in the United States a 7 foot tall person is going to get heavily recruited for Basketball and with a possible future career worth millions, who would take a sport where they are bound to relative obscurity. Add them together and the chances of a 7 foot tall person joining swimming becomes very small.

Reply to  Robbert
6 years ago

I would agree with the theory that there just aren’t many people who are extremely tall, strong, and well-coordinated. I’m 6’4 and it’s always a little surprising to me when I have to look up at someone, say 3″ or more taller than I am. I also think that 6’4 is about the borderline that triggers “Do you play basketball?”

Reply to  Robbert
5 years ago

I agree. Also, any kid in any town in most countries can pick up a basketball and find a hoop somewhere. Swimming facilities/coaches are a little harder to find in some rural areas. It can also be an expensive sport at times eliminating may natural athletes from the competition. This decreases the population exposed to competitive swim. Add to that, like you mentioned, basketball coaches drull over the small percentage of super tall kids. Lastly, it’s a sad situation that the public sometimes has a tendency to not respect young male swimmers. They aren’t perceived by their peers as “cool” in comparison to their basketball and football counterparts. Ridiculous. Luckily, I believe the sporting is growing in popularity.

6 years ago

What about your only faster than me because your taller?

Reply to  Tim
6 years ago

I hate when people make excuses like that as to why some people swim fast. I mean, I’m only 5’2″ and had someone once comment that I was only fast because I had less muscle than tall people and thus produced less lactic acid… like seriously? It seems you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

Varsity Swimmer
Reply to  Tim
6 years ago

It’s true!

6 years ago

My 16 year old daughter is a para-swimmer, at 5’10” is the tallest woman on the US roster. She doesn’t get the basketball question, but every time she walks around in dryland clothes, she gets “do you play volleyball?”