The winds of change are blowing in American swimming. The past few weeks have been like the end of days for the swimming world, and announcements are flying at a rate that we can barely keep up with. Vanderkaay went to Florida, Hutchison left FAST, then didn’t leave FAST, Frank Busch was named the Director of the USA-Swimming National Team program, and Ian Thorpe came out of retirement.
Ok, that last one wasn’t American, but it was still a big deal.
But nothing might be shifting the swimming landscape more than what’s gone on down in Austin. First, Shanteau headed west to train with Dave Salo, Kosuke Kitajima, Rebecca Soni, Jessica Hardy, and the rest of the incredible breaststroking crew at Trojan Aquatics in Los Angeles. Next, Eddie Reese had heart surgery, reminding us that even the greatest coaches in the history of our sport begin to age at some point. Then Ricky Berens followed Shanteau to Los Angeles (well, really, he followed Rebecca Soni, with whom he is romantically involved, to Los Angeles). Michael Klueh moving to FAST to be with his girlfriend, Emily Brunemann (love is in the air in Austin?). And today, the final bombshell was Reese’s announcement that Aaron Peirsol was for all intents and purposes retired.
Is this exodus foreshadowing? I think it’s common assumption that no later than after London 2012, Reese plans to pull back on his multitude of duties within the swimming community and at the least regress into a Jon Urbanchek type of role. But maybe all of the departures are a sign that the move is coming even sooner.
But then, the curve ball! Reports out of Austin are that Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker have been spotted around the pool at the Jamail Swim Center with increasing frequency. Texas high school swimming is just beginning their championship season, and those two are often around this time of year to both encourage and inspire young swimmers, as well as remind them of which men’s program has been more dominant than any other over the past two decades. But this feels different than other years. At the beginning of 2010, Ian Crocker told Bob Schaller that he didn’t think he could ever muster up the focus and energy it takes to be an elite swimmer again. But then he was battling depression and the collapse of his once-successful swim school that seemed to have drained some of his enthusiasm for the sport. A year later, maybe he is renewed. And with the USA still facing a lot of question marks in their men’s breaststroke division, it begs the question: Did Brendan Hansen ever really retire?
At 28 and 29 years old, Crocker and Hansen might once have been considered too old to make a comeback. But not anymore. Not in the new world of swimming.
But I digress. The Texas program still has plenty of horses in their stable. Dave Walters and Garret Weber-Gale are still in town, as well as women’s star Kathleen Hersey. The NCAA program is still churning out champions, and likely the next generation of American superstars. Even though Longhorn Aquatics will prevail as one of the top destinations for Olympic training, it will soon be almost unrecognizable from what it was just a few short years ago. Whenever Reese does step down, they will have their choice of coaches, with ESPN dollars and a continued monopoly on one of the most fertile high school swimming state associations to offer, and will surely land a big fish.
Are all of these changes a good thing or a bad thing for USA-Swimming? Are they another sign of the impending apocalypse? I digress to Mr. Bob Dylan to share the soundtrack for the next year-and-a-half as we watch events unfold.
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.