Earlier today, in their press release announcing the 2011 American Duel in the Pool lineup, it was hinted that swimmers from Great Britain, Netherlands, Poland, Belarus, Denmark, Austria and Lithuania have committed to the meet.
There are conflicting reports as to the accuracy of this list. For example, Swimming Ireland says that Grainne Murphy is swimming. Ireland also claims that swimmers from 14 countries have committed. It’s hard to imagine where the discrepancy comes from.
I’ve spoken to a few European swimmers in the last week whom one might imagine would participate in this meet, and overall the reception has been luke-warm. The Europeans got a pretty decent turnout in 2009, when the event was held in Manchester, England and the entries were limited to Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Now, with the event upon to all of Europe, there are fewer elite swimmers who think that they are willing to make the long cross-ocean journey to Atlanta for this year’s version of the meet.
There’s a few reasons for this reluctance as compared to 2009, depending on who you talk to. For starters, in 2009 the meet was the last major competition in the polyurethane suits, and thus the last opportunity for mass national-and-world records to go down (which bring big money bonuses).
Beyond that, however, there are other conflicts. The motivation for athletes to travel over is limited by the fact that the European Championships in Szczecin, Poland fall the week before the Duel in the Pool. Those European Championships are likely to be a bigger television draw in Europe on the strength of a much-shorter trip, especially now that the Duel won’t include the biggest draw: Michael Phelps.
There also seems to be somewhat of a lack of organization from the European squad. Not because they’re sloppy or messy, but mostly because there’s no one (or three) national organizations that are taking ownership of the event and pushing to make it happen. If LEN, the governing body for all European Aquatics, has stepped into that role, it’s certainly been behind-the-scenes. Without that organization, it’s not as easy for athletes to wrap the meet around a few-week-long training trip with an entire squad, or to put together any unified level of publicity for the event. The fact that no European organization has been able to put together any sort of a roster to match the releases of the Americans’, or that the Irish federation has a vastly different number of committed countries than does USA Swimming, shows the lack of a unified European effort.
So what does this mean for the Duel? Well the show will surely goo on, and it will likely be a marketing success in the United States, who should dominate the team scoring (unless big names start popping up for Europe in a hurry). The European squad will probably be made up by a good chunk of American-based athletes (I’ve been told that some of USC’s internationals have agreed to be on-board). While this does bring a certain level of interest, as the American fans are more familiar with the athletes who train in this country, it doesn’t bring that sort of “us versus them” edge that we saw for years when the Americans and Australians faced off.