As swimmers. coaches, swim parents, and fans, we all give a lot to the sport. We give our sunrises to the sport, often our weekends, our Friday Nights during big meets, and our sleep cycles. Most of us have given a cell phone or two to the sport. We’ve all given our once-beautiful hair to chlorine-laced pools.
But every once in a while, swimming gives something back to us. Something that makes us all energized again at every level of the sport, that reminds us what we’re all doing here and what we’re all aiming for. Let’s look at the 5 best presents that swimming has given us in 2011.
1. World Records – We thought the records were done for. We thought there would be no more best times by anybody after the rubber suits rocked the books, and that coaches would no longer be able to use “best times” as motivations. But at the World Championships in Shanghai, when American Ryan Lochte touched in 1:54.00 to shave a tenth off of his two-year old record in the event. Not to be overlooked was the fact that Michael Phelps, in 2nd and not in top shape, went a career-best time as well in that race.
Three days later, China’s Sun Yang broke the 1500 World Record in 14:34.14. Now, all of a sudden, the once-lofty World Records appear more in reach. Cielo could chase his 50 record, Magnussen could chase the 100 record, the American women should break the medley relay record. For giving us hope we thanks Ryan Lochte and Sun Yang.
2. Canadian Swimming – In 2011, Canadian Swimming roared onto the radars of international swimming fans. Swimmers like Brent Hayden and Julia Wilkinson have been good forever, but the Canadians really stepped up their depth in the last year. Jillian Tyler stormed through NCAA’s with some of the fastest times in college history, they snagged 4 World Championship and a huge 14 medals at the FINA Youth World Championships. Sinead Russell has been a revelation in the backstrokes, Martha McCabe has added crazy depth to the Canadian squad, and the Canucks loaded up the collegiate recruiting class with the likes of Kierra Smith and Chantal van Landeghem, among others.
From the perspective of an American, this can only be good. Perhaps a cross-border rivalry could spawn, more swimmers coming this way for college programs, and offering more elite training and racing options for Americans without having to fly overseas. From the perspective of the swimming community as a whole, for a large wealthy nation to excel at their sport improves the economic perspective for all swimmers. For giving us great neighbors, thank you Canada.
3. That one Fateful Weekend in December – The first weekend of December was in hyper. National Age Group records galore, some of the fastest NCAA freshmen swims ever from Kevin Cordes and Amber McDermott; U.S. Open Records from Natalie Coughlin, Sarah Sjostrom introducing her 100 free, and a Hall-of-Fame induction for the legendary Eddie Reese.
For getting swimming fandom into the Holiday spirit, thank you all.
4. Missy Franklin – We all knew Missy Franklin was good in 2010. But it wasn’t until 2011 that we really knew how good she was. Remember that before the World Championships, the 200 free was barely on her radar as an Olympic event (especially as an individual). In just a few months, though she’s catapulted herself to cult status. The only thing from keeping her from 7 medals next summer is the meet schedule, at this point. The excitement that she’s injecting into the swimming world is something that comes around maybe three times a generation. Think back to when Natalie Coughlin became the first woman to break a minute in the 100 back. That’s the sort of buzz that’s surrounding her. She’s only one good Olympic performance away from permanently ingraining herself in the memories of swim fans.
And what’s better is that she’s totally grounded and will one day become a great ambassador for the sport. She skipped the first day of Nationals to make sure her studying was squared away, she’s turned down tens-of-thousands of dollars to ensure that she gets to swim in college, and her interviews show the pure joy of swimming.
For giving us the future, we thank Missy Franklin.
5. Comebacks Create Fantasy Camp – With the expansion of the definition of the ages that fit “swimming careers,” swimmers on the verge or just past their 30th birthdays have leapt back into the pool. Ian Thorpe is an all-time great. Brendan Hansen is too, and he’s stormed to the top of the American breaststroking group (and boy, did we need it). If nothing else, these greats coming back show us how much the sport has evolved in 4 or 5 years. It allows us to see the babies of the world match-up against the heroes that they grew up idolizing.
Janet Evans did it when she was a teenager, and she’s trying to do it again two decades later. Libby Trickett and Michael Klim are hugely popular for their personalities. Michael Ervin retired before his time, and Ian Crocker reminds us that he’d be the best butterflier in history if he didn’t run head-on into the Phelps phenomenon.
It’s a very fun time with all of the comebacks, and adds a huge depth and complexity to the next 6 months. For reminding us about the past, the value of experience, and old-fashioned hard work, thanks to the comebackers.