The 2013 Duel in the Pool was the most exciting edition of the meet yet. In fact, since the modern incarnation of this series, a USA vs. Australia battle in 2003, there has never been more anticipation about a Duel, and neither the Americans nor their European opponents disappointed.
The meet came down to a tie-breaker, which the Americans won in a new World Record pace to give themselves the meet title for the 6th-straight edition by a single point.
This meet had a lot of good things happen. The American men maybe earned a bit of their swagger back – they’ve been maligned over the last year, in the post-Phelps era, for lacking any real depth save for their superstar Ryan Lochte who tends to balance out the medal load. At this meet, however, it was the men’s team who carried the women to a one-point victory.
We also learned a lot about what makes for a successful, exciting, electric swim meet, and that’s “teams”. Teams in swimming are the way of the future. It was easy to ignore at the NCAA level, because NCAA fans are rabid for no reason in particular, but we’ve now seen that this effect carries over to the international level as well.
The Tollcross International Swim Centre in Glasgow was packed all weekend long, and it was electric all weekend long, creating an atmosphere that is rarely seen in swimming. It may even sound a bit blasphemous, but taking into account the two-day packed schedule, this meet brought together even more excitement than the Olympics.
Not only do we need team battles, though, we need CLOSE team battles. Based on anecdotal social media evidence, this battle brought in huge audiences in Europe for the live televised version, though in the United States fans will have to wait until a tape-delay on Sunday (and if you’re reading this, you already know the outcome). So often when swimming tries to put together team-oriented meets, though, including at the NCAA level, they’re absolute blowouts. For the team strategy to work, we need more of this: 1-point victories, some way to improve parity, some way to force the meet to be decided in the last 4-5 events. It will take some creativity, but it can be done.
This series, which was on the verge of losing all momentum, was snapped back to life on Saturday. Hopefully by the time the 2015 meet rolls around (which should be back in the United States), it will gain energy again and we’ll see a full contingent from both squads.
Congratulations to the Americans on winning a hard-fought meet: a meet where both teams can make the argument that they left an easy win at home in the form of injured, tired, occupied, or disinterested swimmers (the truth of the matter is that if both sides bring their best 40 swimmers, the Europeans would win the meet). And a special, special congratulations to British Swimming for running a fantastic meet, despite some challenges along the way. They presented an exciting meet, they conquered the challenges as they came, and what was really special is that across their social media platforms, they gave a balanced accounting of the meet that helped drum-up excitement on both sides of the pond. They nailed this weekend, and the 2013 Duel in the Pool should become a case-study for federations around the world.