Editorial content on SwimSwam is the opinion of its author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of SwimSwam.
The debut of the FINA Champions Series over the last month has been exciting for both swimmers and fans alike.
Four of the world’s best, competing head-to-head in a timed final format for a relatively large sum of money. It not only incentivizes the athletes to show up and compete but is also more digestible and visually appealing for the viewer.
And now with the three legs of 2019 in the books, I have to say I’ve enjoyed it. It’s not often we get to see some of the biggest names in the sport face off with something on the line, and the majority of the events have yielded some very fast times and intriguing races.
But, of course, there were some issues.
One that stood out upon first reading the rules was that all four swimmers would get paid, and quite well at that.
For example, at the 2017 World Championships, a swimmer would earn $5,000 USD for placing fourth in an individual event. At the FINA Champions Series, in a field of four, placing fourth earned you the same amount.
Now, this prize pool is all part of the incentive for athletes to disrupt their training cycle and compete, and I think paying all four swimmers can still work.
But there needs to be some sort of standard put in place.
Danas Rapsys‘ performance in the men’s 200 back is what really highlighted this. Clearly wanting to save up for the 400 free which would go about 40 minutes later, he blatantly threw the race and swam a time over 17 seconds slower than both his best time (1:56.11) and the winning time from Jacob Pebley (1:56.35) in 2:14.02.
Both the comment section in our live recap and Olympic champion Roland Schoeman on Twitter saw what happened and weren’t too pleased.
What an absolute joke. Literally 100 other swimmers who could’ve been in that race and actually tried. Easy pay day
— Roland Schoeman (@Rolandschoeman) June 1, 2019
And this isn’t a knock on Rapsys. He knew he would face no consequences for it, and he followed through. He has been one of the more captivating swimmers to watch over the three stops, and has set himself up for a big summer after producing some very impressive times in the 200 and 400 freestyle.
However, it’s not a good look for the event. And while I don’t think it would be fair to penalize someone, who, say, was swimming their third event of the session and just ran out of gas and ended up going a relatively slow time, throwing a race in such obvious fashion shouldn’t be rewarded.
There is a fine line there, and I think the answer is to implement some kind of standard an athlete must attain in order to earn their money. It doesn’t have to be crazy fast. We’re not talking British World Championship qualifying times here. Just something in place to prevent what Rapsys exploited in that 200 back.
Even if a swimmer was in the midst of heavy training and had just finished another race 10 minutes earlier, all a world-class 200 backstroker would have to do is put in an ounce of effort to be significantly faster than 2:14.
That swim scored 582 FINA points. If we were to go the route of using the points table to determine the required time to earn money, 750 looks to be about right. In the men’s 200 back that would be a time of 2:03.18, which would’ve given Rapsys seven seconds to add from his best to still get paid.
The only other swim to fall short of 750 FINA points was the 2:08.33 200 IM (701) from Zach Harting, who probably shouldn’t have been entered in that event with only one career swim (three years ago) sub-2:05 – sounds like a last minute ‘someone needs to swim this.’ Leah Smith‘s 2:14.04 200 fly hit the number right on the nose, and Andrii Govorov slipped by in the 100 fly with 764.
The swim from Rapsys was really the first time we’ve seen someone throw a race in such an obvious way, so it’s not like it’s an ongoing problem, but it’s one that will happen every now and then if a rule isn’t put into place.
Other shortcomings include the lack of spectators – there were only about 1,000 fans at the meet on Friday evening. While Saturday was a bigger crowd, the arena still was not nearly full (only one side of the seating was used, and that side was mostly full, but not to-the-brim, on Saturday), with estimates at about 1,500. This could be a bad sign for the pending ISL, which is counting on being able to fill bigger facilities like Indy (and including Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for the championship).