Loretta Race attended the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials looking for the ultimate swimnerd vacation. In the below editorial, she describes what she loved about trials, and what she didn’t love.
Swimming still has a long way to go from a fan-growing perspective. Yes, the 2016 Olympic Trials were an all-around thrilling experience for both athletes in the pool and supportive spectators in the stands, but there were still indications that the sport needs to cater to an even more diverse fan base to help it break out of its once-every-four-years cycle.
I attended the 2016 Trials strictly in a fan capacity, not a press capacity, fulfilling my quest for a true ‘swimnerd vacation.’ I was fortunate enough to sit four rows away from the pool on the turn end in Omaha, close to all the action, as well as the starts of all of the 50m freestyle heats. I was surrounded by a group of super swim fans who cheered for virtually anyone, famous and favored to win or up-and-comers just trying to nail a best time. The enthusiasm was infectious and enhanced the viewing of every race.
However, I was also bookended by some not-so-enthusiastic fans; those that refused to exude any type of energy or emotion when witnessing some of the fastest races on American soil in years. In fact, when my row couldn’t contain our excitement any longer during the photo-finish-type races of the men’s 50m freestyle or the Phelps vs. Lochte showdown in the men’s 200m IM, the people behind us sternly requested that we sit down.
“We didn’t come all this way to watch the Trials on TV”, meaning the jumbotron, commented one of the fans. In my mind I replied in kind, thinking I didn’t come all this way to sit on my bum and politely clap as if I were watching putters on an 18th hole in golf. I paid a goodly sum to have the freedom to get loud, give vocal support and just immerse myself in the once-every-four-year hoopla that is the Olympic Trials. If you’re not going to stand up and cheer during the Olympic Trials, the pinnacle of our sport, then when will you?
Another downer of a comment expressed to our group was when a member of the same reaction-less gang stated, “well I have swum all my life, so…..”, as if that gave her more credence in how one should behave during a thrilling race.
My response asks, Do you think every NFL fan played football all his life? Do you think every person attending a Major League Baseball game has dedicated his or her life to the sport? Of course not. The athletes’ greatness inspires the rest of us and we can’t help but want to see more of it and we dole out money quite willingly to see feats of power live.
Swimming cannot afford to have this exclusionary attitude within its fan base. If the attitude of fans in the stands is that there is some prerequisite to being a swim enthusiast, then we will never break the rhythm of people only getting engaged in our sport once every four years on their television.