As someone who has been in the swimming-website biz for over two years now, I can tell you one thing that I have learned unequivocally: Men’s swimming is more popular than women’s.
This is not my opinion. This is a fact borne out by website traffic and social media buzz of different stories that we post. There are a ton of fans of women’s swimming, but there is a large niche of the community that is unable to get as excited about it as they have about men’s.
But is this trend changing? Has women’s swimming reached a critical mass where it could possibly rival the popularity of the men at the next Olympics, at least within the hardcore fandom? I think it’s possible that it has.
It all starts with the youngest star of our sport – Missy Franklin. What everyone was waiting for in 2008 with Michael Phelps and the number of gold medals that he could win is the same buzz and excitement that everyone is waiting for with Franklin. Missy-Mania is growing, from the heated debate over which college she will choose all the way up to which events she will enter at the Olympic Trials and potentially win at the Olympics. She really caught the world off-guard when she broke a short course World Record in the 200 in Berlin without being rested.
She’s the beginning, but she’s a piece of the young women’s backstroke group that is bringing a new energy to women’s swimming. One of our readers pointed out that the 100 back at the 2014 NCAA Championships could be the best race ever, and while he might have been referring to “best college race ever,” it could actually be the best race ever, period.
Cindy Tran and Deborah Roth will be seniors at Cal. Pelton and Bootsma will be sophomores. Bartholomew will be a sophomore and Smoliga will be freshman, but only in age. Add to that the likes of Auburn’s Emily bos, A&M’s Paige Miller, and Arizona’s Sarah Denninghoff, who in any other era would have been huge breakout stars as freshmen last year with 52’s in their 100 back. Beisel won’t be a part of the race at NCAA’s, but if she were you could include her as well. Cal’s Melanie Klaren. Auburn commit Jillian Vitarius.
And allow at least one spot for a superstar backstroker that we just haven’t seen develop yet. The collection of talent is unbelievable, and that’s just a collegiate race.
Everywhere you look, women’s swimming is rising to new highs. Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt are both breaking American Records post-suit. Natalie Coughlin is hanging strong on her swan-song. The Chinese have a 15-year old who is the fastest IM’er we’ve ever seen, and she’s not the only one. The 2012 Olympic 200 IM field on the women’s side might be the best we’ve ever had with Kukors and Coutts and Ye and Rice and Garcia and Hosszu and Coventry. Finalists in 2008 will have to push hard to even make the semi-finals in 2012.
Vollmer versus Coutts versus Sjostrom in the 100 fly. The Dutch versus the Americans in the 400 free relay. The women’s 50 free is a total crapshoot in London – who knows which swimmers will emerge in that one. Auburn’s Anna Vanderpool-Wallace could become the first woman under 21 seconds in the 50 free (a woman swimming a 20-point in textile?!)
Pellegrini and her coaching hysterics, and she might only be the 3rd-best 200 freestyler in the world despite winning World Championship gold last year. Curl Burke’s Katie Ledeckey has broken National distance freestyle records that have stood since the 1970’s – so much for advancement in training techniques.
The excitement is literally raising my heart rate just at thought of all that’s going on in the women’s side of the sport.
Yes, the men still have Lochte and Phelps, and all of the discussion that comes with them, but after Phelps’ pinnacle of 2009, there’s not much left. David Nolan is simmering (though, he’ll probably flash back to conciousness at NCAA’s this year). Longhorns Dax Hill and Jimmy Feigen are stirring things up a bit down in Austin. Ian Thorpe’s comeback has fizzled in Australia. Sun Yang is probably the biggest story, but it’s hard for a distance freestyler to match a sprinter. There are a few other good battles, but there’s nowhere near the depth of storyline that the women have.
Women’s swimming went through some lean years, there’s no denying that. In the mid-2000’s, there wasn’t much excitement for the fairer gender. Even in 2008, with all of the World Records, the women’s action paled in comparison to the men’s.
But we are now entering an unprecedented era in women’s swimming, a “golden era” if you will. If you haven’t given it a chance yet, now is a great time to jump in with clear intentions, because it’s going to be an awesome 5 years