Is Women's Swimming Making a Comeback?

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

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9 years ago

I agree that the women’s side of swimming is dynamic and ever changing which makes it very exciting. The depth in many women’s events has exploded in the last four years. For the swim geek there are almost too many story lines to keep strait! Women also seem more prone to swim elite times in season in the post suit era.

However, I believe men’s swimming will always be more compelling to the casual fan, because they go faster and are flat out impressive to watch. One of the big draws to our sport is that most people marvel that human’s can move through the water at that speed. The wow factor of watching the men’s sprints will always be… Read more »

9 years ago

i believe there is more domination(by just one or two swimmers) in male events than women swimming.
Besides breaststroke events, i can t see a clear winner in most of girls events.franklin will change that?

Donald Duck to water
9 years ago

After looking at results from some of the ladies state meets around the country, the times put up by underclassmen are amazing. For example Michigan had 3 freshman who were dual individual champions, that has never happened before. So this uptick in times should continue for the foreseeable future.

bobo gigi
9 years ago

Thank you, I’m honored to be mentioned by the great Braden Keith. Yes, I repeat this would be the best NCAA final of all time. And I continue to put Elizabeth Beisel in my list. I’m not a specialist of NCAA so correct me if I’m wrong but in 2014 she will be senior. And generally yes I think medias boycott women’s sports but that’s another problem. But for swimming it’s simple. The 2000-2012 period is all about men because of Michael Phelps and it’s normal, he’s the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest olympian of all time. But after 2012 and especially in USA, when men’s relays will struggle during some years and at the opposite women’s… Read more »

s gomez
9 years ago

almost one year later, it is safe to say womens swimming has gained massive amounts of popularity. will last beyond olympic season? as a ymca assistant coach i hope so. our girls far exceed the boys in terms of raw talent and in desire to suceed. we hope they will find sucess at the highest levels once they leave our program

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of 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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