The story is too good for the movies. A 13 year old boy has a picture taken with his idol, the undeniable greatest of all time. That boy grows up, works and races and moves up the ranks. Then, in the final (individual) race of the GOAT’s career, the boy wins. The torch passes.
The perfection of the story and the image attached to it, combined with the Olympics, has launched it into the stratosphere. People who couldn’t be farther from “swimming” people are sharing it. But to me the more interesting question is, how do you make such a perfect story? How does Schooling change where whoever’s next will come from?
It takes a village- Michael Phelps has had one coach for his entire swimming career. Joseph Schooling has had two of the top ten swimming coaches in the world. My bet is that there were a lot of people involved in preparing Phelps and even more in preparing Schooling. The future of swimming will mean more and more great people coming together to create great results.
It’s not where you are- Geography will matter less and less. Michael Phelps came from the most dominant swimming country in the world. Joseph Schooling came from somewhere that had never won a swimming medal. Many parallels have been drawn to Anthony Nesty’s 100 butterfly victory for Suriname.
The technology did not exist for Suriname to carry that success forward. Yes, Sergio Lopez has left Singapore, but in the near future a coach like Sergio may not have to choose between the best place for his family to live and where he provides his services. Virtual reality is coming and virtual coaching will follow.
Specialization is coming- One day we will look back at a whole era of swimming where it was possible to win a lot of medals in one Olympics. One less discussed aspect of Schooling’s victory was that Phelps swam considerably slower than his personal best.
The reason is simple: Phelps won eight gold medals in 2008 in part because he could swim so easy in prelims and semi-finals. Now older and with more competition than ever, even the greatest was worn down trying to swim a “big” schedule at the Olympics.
This competitiveness will only grow. Swimmers will specialize (Schooling only swam one other race) and look for their best opportunity to get one medal. Going back to the first point, more coaches will specialize in specific events and even parts of events and contribute to that specialization.
There is an exciting future ahead of us in swimming, and more great stories like Schooling’s to be told. It has never been better to be in swimming, and it will get even better.