We’ve reached the end of the year 2017, and it’s time to look back at the top 10 overall storylines of the year that was. While we’ve spent the past month highlighting individuals swims and swimmers in our 2017 Swammy Awards, this post focuses more in the big picture storylines of the year as a whole.
FINA’s World Cup firestorm
While FINA’s World Cup tour isn’t as central to the sport as the Olympics or World Championships, changes to the format stirred up major controversy in 2017. FINA tweaked its rules midway through the year, limiting the number of entries for each athlete, adjusting each meet’s lineup to exclude certain events at certain stops and giving Olympic and World medalists direct access to finals without requiring prelims swims.
Some changes were more positive than others (it could be argued that the entry cap created a more exciting tour with more parity and offered more athletes a chance to make money, while the direct finals access was nearly roundly panned by fans and athletes), but the overall reaction to the changes was incredibly negative. There was some chaos in implementation early in the series, and when the Dubai meet dropped off the schedule, the new event order created some weird scheduling quirks. There’s no word yet on whether the format will change at all next season.
At the 2017 World Championships, Australia’s roster was perhaps more notable for who was absent than who was present. Olympic champ Kyle Chalmers and world record-holder Cate Campbell were the most notable names missing, and their involvement on the international stage in 2018 will be an ongoing story to watch for Australian fans.
The rise of Dressel
Though he was already highly accomplished at the NCAA level as of 2016, Caeleb Dressel entered 2017 with only two major international medals, both from relays in Rio. He left Budapest in 2017 as perhaps the premiere male swimmer on the planet, having won a record-tying 7 gold medals. Dressel’s rise in the butterfly events in particular make him the most dangerous swimmer on the planet from a relay perspective, with medal chances in everything from the 50 free to the 100 free to the 200 free to the 50 fly to the 100 fly, with perhaps even a great 200 IM in him when the schedule allows. Dressel’s international breakout was easily the story of the year on the men’s side.
Maglione vs Barelli
Though the campaign for FINA leadership didn’t inspire the kind of emotions that accompany some major political elections, the battle between Julio Maglione and Paolo Barelli was incredibly impassioned. Allegations of corruption swirled, with Barelli himself making and appealing several accusations in international court. Maglione eventualy won re-election, only possible after FINA changed its rules on both term limits and age limits, rules that previously would have disqualified Maglione from running. With Barelli still heading up the Italian and European swimming federations, the bad blood between the two men won’t be fading into the background anytime soon.
New USA Swimming leadership
While the international swimming federation was electing its next wave of leadership, USA Swimming also passed the torch from the embattled Chuck Wielgus (who passed away from cancer) to new CEO Tim Hinchey. In between, USA Swimmin turned to interim executive director Mike Unger, who is still with the organization in a role with the National Team. Hinchey, hired in from a Major League Soccer franchise, brings a new, outside mentality to USA Swimming’s operation, particularly in terms of media and promotion in a post-Phelps world.
Lochte Rule controversy and adjustment
A rule interpretation brought to light in 2015 really reared its head in a major way in 2017, with a number of major swimmers disqualified for illegal backstroke turns during 200 and 400 IMs. Our own editorial critical of the rule interpretation was the most-read story on SwimSwam for the entire year, and it didn’t take long for FINA to slightly modify its interpretation of the rule.
World Para-Swimming is, quite frankly, a mess right now. So much so, that we decided that we couldn’t even award a Para Swimming Swimmer of the Year honor in 2017. The problems are laid out in that article, but range from accusations of cheating, accusations of intimidation and bullying by coaches and parents, and even accusations of threats being made against whistle-blowers by their federations. All of that topped with a fragmented World Championships that many nations could not afford to attend after they were rescheduled from Mexico City following the horrendous earthquakes.
Early NCAA Commitments
Some have tried to explain it away as a blip, or a fad, but with high school class of 2019 commitments already rolling in, it’s clear that earlier commitments are here to stay. In most collegiate athletics, commitments as juniors, sophomores, and freshmen have become commonplace (a junior high softball player recently committed to Florida), and now swimming is joining the trend. Barring a change in NCAA rules, the days of committing as high school seniors will soon be all-but-gone, especially for top commits. 2017 will be the year to remember for when the early commitments really blew-up.
Cut NCAA programs
Several NCAA swimming & diving programs were cut in 2017, including a run of Division I programs. Wright State was the most visible – a massive nation-wide fund-raising effort over the summer saved them, but that was short-lived: the school announced this fall that there would be no further relief, and that 2018 would end the school’s swimming & diving programs. Buffalo cut it’s men’s swimming program, which resulted in a lawsuit from 6 swimmers. Division II Quincy University also cut their program, and Clemson poured salt in the wound by finally cutting it’s diving-only program (they cut swimming in 2012).
Age group tech suit bans
It started in Australia, and then immigrated to Southern California. Soon thereafter, as with many trends out of Los Angeles, it had spread nation-wide. The new ‘it’ thing to wear for the youngest swimmers was suddenly…not tech suits. At least 6 LSCs implemented tech suit bans in 2017, and USA Swimming finally stepped in. They hired a consulting firm, led by a former Sr. Vice President at Speedo, to study the matter and help them develop a national policy. Results were due in November, but now won’t be made public until February.