Opinion: Jaded Swim Fans Dampen Enthusiasm Of Trials

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.

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Low Gap
5 years ago

I had very similar thoughts. The lack of most swims being well off the world record pace (and American Record pace for that matter), dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd. I also know it is a huge money maker to put the corporate and high money seats right next to the pool, but would be a lot more interesting to put those age group teams hiding in the upper decks at poolside. Same dilemma a lot of college basketball programs struggle with: money vs. excitement and atmosphere.

Chris
Reply to  Low Gap
5 years ago

Can’t take it too personally if the people behind you are boring and lazy – they probably have diabetes or bad blood pressure too from being so far removed from their competitive days.. lol it’s all good.

calswimfan
5 years ago

I think you want a diverse fanbase, but you also don’t like some of the fanbase. You are always going to have people that tell you to sit down (in the NFL and in the NBA). Those people can be rude and can also be debbie downers, but they are everywhere and not specific to the sport. Idk, it’s kind of weird to argue that the fan base needs to grow because of the people in the row behind you.

Kirk Nelson
Reply to  calswimfan
5 years ago

Agreed. I see these wet blanket types at all sporting events and music concerts, too.

JudgeNot
5 years ago

Ha, good for you. Many of us have had the same experience – go to a big meet, big game, big concert, etc. – and end up surrounded by the quiet, passive, non-engaged fans that complain when you get up to cheer, holler, dance, sing, whatever. Heck with that – this ain’t the opera or a poetry reading folks – make some noise, enjoy yourselves, and let the athletes or acts know they’re appreciated!

(this is why I always sit in the cheap seats – that’s where the fun people are!)

james
5 years ago

I have mixed feelings about this. If you’re blocking the view of the people behind you, perhaps the problem is that you’re block their view, not that they’re not committed enough fans because they didn’t leap to their feet.
Also, in the photo with this article the stands are packed…
Lastly, it seems “exclusionary” for you to rate fan’s commitment to the sport based on how exuberant their reaction is, at an event, they’re attending.
Perhaps b/c I watched trials streaming and/or read about it, I’m less of a fan?

Back2Back
Reply to  james
5 years ago

Then those fans who choose not to stand and cheer can just catch the race on the jumbo-tron right? – or they can follow it on their cell-phones or tablets while they quietly sit in their seats.

Give me a break – any fan has a right to stand or sit DURING a race depending on their interest and enthusiasm. Political correctness doesn’t include remaining seat-belted to your seat……….. Will they next ask you not to cheer? Not to clap?

CoachGB
Reply to  Back2Back
5 years ago

When did the act of standing denote enthusiasm. A swimmer can’t tell if you are, if they did they are in trouble in the race. You can make a lot of noise sitting.

Kirk Nelson
Reply to  CoachGB
5 years ago

These seems like a strange statement coming from a coach. I see lots of enthusiasm from coaches on deck and they aren’t normally sitting down while exhibiting it.

CoachGB
Reply to  Kirk Nelson
5 years ago

When your sitting in the stands with other 80 yr olds at reunion it is different then on the deck. Although when on the deck I have a high directors chair. I am referring to the audience and there was no coaches on the deck. The European way.

james
Reply to  Back2Back
5 years ago

Or maybe the fans who want to jump around like it’s a college basketball game want to just watch it at a Sports Bar. Unlike college basketball, the swimmers can’t hear you until they finish. Therefore you’re jumping up and cheering is about you, not them.

coacherik
Reply to  james
5 years ago

100% disagree. Watch any interview of someone on world record pace or as they swam to a world record. They here it all. Ledecky especially has been quoted knowingly people were up and cheering, loud as he would come to the finish. If you competed at all in finals of any P/F meet, say your LSC championships, you can tell for sure what’s going on is backstrokers (as I was one). Why should one relegate their enthusiasm to a sports bar? If we are trying to change the sport, those who are excited about the races (seated or not) shouldn’t be encouraged to go to a bar.

CoachGB
Reply to  coacherik
5 years ago

I could only see the people on the deck when swimming.

Back2Back
Reply to  james
5 years ago

Ever been to NCAA Championships?. Take a peek at the 4X100 FR at Beijing 2008 and watch as the camera scans the stands as the swimmers compete. I don’t think people expected anyone in front of them to be seating and clapping. It is the US Olympic Trials!!! Don’t tell me swimmers don’t hear the crowd before, during or after a race…

Quazo
Reply to  Back2Back
5 years ago

James nailed it.

It’s not about anyone’s “right” to stand or sit (that is just so American!) but just simple courtesy. Go crazy by all means, but be considerate to others around you if you are blocking their view.

Swimdad51
Reply to  james
5 years ago

I agree with James. I am a huge swim fan, and my son is one of the best competitive swimmers in Canada. But, I am a mellow/calm person so i’m just as excited as other super fan types but i dont block views of other people or scream and yell. But, i still really enjoy being there. My son and i were at the Canadian Trials and it was great! would not have been as fun for us if people had blocked races that i really wanted to see!

swimmer
5 years ago

This seems like it wasn’t well thought out… Not everyone wants to attend an event with a bunch of rowdy, drunk idiots screaming non-stop, but they still want to see the event first-hand. I never understood why people scream and jump up and down unless you have a very personal connection to what is happening (i.e. a family member or close friend doing well). Otherwise you just look like another idiot fan screaming for somebody who doesn’t know you nor care about you. Just because you aren’t there to act insane doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy watching those who swim close to perfect races.

Reply to  swimmer
5 years ago

Swimmer- Loretta never stated anywhere in this article that she was drunk or overly rowdy, so I fail to see that as a part of the problem in this specific situation. Also, a lot of us do know and love the swimmers who are making the team. We have every right to be excited for them and express that how we want to. I’d hope you wouldn’t ask a swimmer’s mom to sit down if her kid had just made the Olympic team.

swimmer
Reply to  Lauren Neidigh
5 years ago

Lauren- this is a sporting event and you could clearly see spectators holding beers in the background while watching the trials on tv so I’d say its safe to assume the expectation is to be drunk and loud like any other sporting event.

If you can honestly tell me you are personally friends with more than a few people at the meet then I would be shocked. You may know them or more likely know of them, but most likely you have the false belief that because you have heard a swimmer’s name or spoke to him or her once that they are your personal friend and when they succeed so do you! Pretty pathetic.

The only ones cheering… Read more »

Athletic Supporter
Reply to  swimmer
5 years ago

I thought Loretta wrote a thoughtful but inaccurate piece that generalized the fans at Olympic Trials. In 2012 my wife and attended to watch and support our son in his efforts to get a ticket to London. During the course of the multi-day event I sat in several areas of the arena – prime seats when he swam and traded for “nose bleed” when parents of others needed a closer seat. Without exception the good people of Omaha surrounded us with not only their presence but an aura of support starting with the comment, ” We’re just here to watch. Do you have a son or daughter swimming?” I thought it was a kind way to introduce themselves to break… Read more »

spectatorn
5 years ago

Interesting perspective.
I also made the trip as my vacation – so excited to get tickets and hotel last July; and air tickets as soon as I could buy tickets for June 2016 in Dec 2015. We (two of us) went to morning and evening sessions as soon as the door open so we could see the warm up as well. And I loved everything there and glad I was there instead of watching it at home.

We picked upper level seats (partly cost and) mainly because we wanted to be closer to the starting/finishing end of the hundred races, and also because there were only so much seats available for us to pick form when we bought… Read more »

Sven
5 years ago

I think it’s normal and acceptable to stand at a huge sporting event. People have every right to buy a ticket to Trials and stay seated the whole time. People also have every right to get fired up and jump around. If you want to sit, that’s fine, but understand that you may have to look at the jumbotron once in a while if things get exciting. Feel free to ask people in front of you to sit down, but, in my opinion, they are not obligated to comply. It’s what happens when you go to a major sporting event in a stadium.

The exception to this is if you are seated in front of a wheelchair spot, but I… Read more »

dmswim
5 years ago

While I can see how this would be frustrating, I think the author is extrapolating a larger problem from what seems to be a handful of bump-on-the-log fans. She doesn’t cite examples of other fans she encountered who were rude–just the few sitting behind her. I wasn’t at the Trials, and maybe the atmosphere was subdued because the crowd was full of these Debbie Downers, but the author doesn’t cite that.

Reply to  dmswim
5 years ago

It’s possible that they had all-session passes, meaning they’d be sitting next to the same people for the entire meet. So she probably ended up sitting around the same people for all the sessions and might not have gotten a chance to experience other fans.

JRGswims
Reply to  dmswim
5 years ago

I was at the trials… It was a blast! The crowd was enthusiastic and it was exciting to be surrounded by the athletes swimming as well as a stadium full of swim fans. This story written is kind of a non-story.

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Swim analyst, businesswoman.

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