SwimSwam’s Giusy Cisale contributed to this report.
Despite being vocal in her criticism of FINA and its handling of the International Swim League, Olympic champion and multi-time world record holder Sarah Sjostrom will participate in the inaugural FINA Champions Series, she told SwimSwam last weekend.
“Yes, definitely. It’s working well with my program, so I will definitely be there,” said Sjostrom, speaking with SwimSwam at an Arena photo shoot in Rome. She added of her upcoming schedule: “The World Championship is the main goal [this year], but obviously, the ISL competition is a very big deal for us, Energy Standard.”
Sjostrom, 25, was one of the approximately 30 Olympians to convene in London for the International Swim League summit last December and had signed on to race the canceled Energy for Swim meet last year as a representative of Energy Standard. Sjostrom trains with the club independent of its activities in ISL as well.
After FINA responded to the ISL with a similarly-structured series, Sjostrom was critical.
“We wonder where they will get this money; from the sky it seems? They had always had it, but preferred to keep it for their family vacation,” she told Swedish site SVT Sport. “Moreover, they are copycats. Strange also that they monopolize the organization. This must change and others that they should be able to create competitions. That FINA is able to threaten to suspend, eliminate swimmers, is in itself an incredible thing. ”
The three-meet Champions Series (Guangzhou, April 27-28; Budapest, May 11-12; Indianapolis, May 31 – June 1) will be swum in long course with athletes participating on an invite-only basis and will include a team scoring format. Sjostrom has not announced which of the legs she will attend.
FINA sent invites to 45 male swimmers from 15 different countries, and to 37 female swimmers from 17 different countries, but we don’t know exactly who was invited. The list of invited swimmers includes “Rio 2016 Olympic medalists, Budapest 2017 World Championships’ medallists, World Record holders, and leaders of the 2018 FINA World Swimming Rankings,” FINA says. Sjostrom was presumably invited to race the 50 and 100 free, as well as the 50 and 100 fly, in all of which she is the current world record holder. She was also the Rio silver medallist in the 200 free.
The competition as a whole will lack distance events, with each meet including timed finals of just 50, 100, and 200m races in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, as well as a 400 free and a 200 IM. FINA will award nearly $4 million in prize money across the series, making it the richest swimming event in the organization’s history. It will also cover athletes’ travel costs and provide them with appearance money.
When Sjostrom spoke about the ISL in December, she stressed her concern over the ability for swimming to monetarily support professional athletes not only at her level, but those just below.
“We have not tested the concept so far,” she said. “This is a new era for swimming. It would be a shame to stick to the 1970s. We deserved better in terms of money. After all, swimming is the most popular sport in the world. There is money, and I do not think so much about my situation, but those behind, maybe the top 20 swimmers in the world, who are struggling to hit a dime and can barely pay their rent.”
Sjostrom joins Russians Yuliya Efimova, Vlad Morozov and Anton Chupkov, as well as Australian star Cate Campell, German Franziska Hentke, and Brazilian Felipe Lima among the athletes confirmed for the series. As for Americans, only Michael Andrew, who is currently suing FINA, has committed.