So, this morning I got an email on my ipod that said I have a comment on a blog. No big deal. I passively check my email several times a day. Tony Austin had left a comment that ended with something to the effect of: “what do you think of the new FINA rule?” …but I am off work for the day and playing with my kids so I didn’t really think anything of it. I figured he was talking about FINA adding the words “swimsuit” rather than just the vague “device” to rule SW10, as reported at SwimNews.
Then, in the evening, when I checked in to my hotel (as I am away at a meet this weekend) I realized that my wife had texted me during the drive, to turn the radio to NPR. The text said “fast skins banned today. Tune to 107.5.” I didn’t know I got the text until over an hour after she sent it. As soon as I got within range of my hotel wi-fi I had to find out what in the hell was up. The first link I tapped was this radio interview with the President of USA Swimming. After that, I found articles at the Texas Swimming Blog, SwimNews, Universal Sports, Kast-Away, Swimming World and, of course, more from SwimNews.
Damn... I got scooped. Time to sharpen the horns.
How in the world did my wife find out about this before I did!?! How was it on NPR and in the AP before Craig Lord had ranted about it? How did my RSS feeder not keep me in the loop? How could FINA have made this decision without consulting me? How dare they?!
I don’t have a problem with returning to pre-2008. I really don’t. I never liked the cost, and at times the record breaking was exhaustingly heart-breaking. The first list, with the LZR still on it, was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen. I have come to the conclusion that it needs to be all or none regarding tech. FINA has now decided to go with NONE. That can be seen as a good thing. No middle ground, because the middle has proven to be too muddy.
What I have a problem with is the BS that has led to the decision and the fact that now we have some problems to solve that are bigger than asterisks and patience.
How much influence did Speedo and their outspoken, high powered sponsors have in this decision that will put them back in the saddle? If the LZR and their 2% advantage had remained the pinnacle of swimsuit technology, would we be backtracking right now? When TYR athletes were ditching contracts to wear Speedo, people treated TYR like they were the villains for trying to get swimmers to honor their commitments. When athletes like Andrew Lauterstein started jumping from Speedo’s ship, we suddenly needed to change the rules for everyone. Speedo sponsored athletes and coaches have made a serious turn-around regarding tech. What the hell? In the months leading up to Beijing, the media frenzy surrounding the LZR left the world with no doubt that the new tech was the way to go. At the time I read more article about the NASA developed suit than I ever had about swimming as a whole.
Now that we are returning to skin and length restricted textiles, what do we do about all of the records set in super-modern suits? Asterisks might sound simple and harmless, but once they are put in place they will carry an ominous connotation that implies cheating. Years from now, when people are reading about Michael Phelps tremendous 8 gold medal performance, it will take a very involved footnote to explain that his races were “artificially aided,” although everyone else he raced at the time, or at least those from America and Australia, were also performance enhanced. Also, what about Thorpey’s records set in the full body? If we are choosing NONE with the suits, we probably oughtta take our asterisks back to pre-FS1. Think about it. The suits aren’t just going back to 2007... They are going to pre-2000, and the record board should go there with it. Are we really ready for that?
Just like the interviewer on NPR, the non-swimming public will not quite understand what is going on within our sport. They really won’t get why, when other sports are embracing similar innovations, we feel we need to banish them. They won’t know what it means when they see a list of the top 50 meter freestyle performances in history it will show asterisks after every name until they get to Alex Popov and Tom Jager. How far down the list are they right now?
Beyond that, will our sport be taking a step backwards regarding the income that keeps our athletes in the sport? In my opinion, post-grad opportunities are the greatest change that swimming has ever seen. Name recognition has been taken to a new level, and that counts for a lot when we are trying to break through to becoming a more mainstream, televised sport. Are post-grads going to struggle in a sport where innovation has been halted?
I really don’t know what the right answers are. I can only hope that decisions of this magnitude have been given the thorough investigation they deserve. The problems we face now will not be solved easily. Let’s hope that our sport can handle the road ahead. I am still on board. Let’s try to make the most of it, eh?
Maybe it is time to start the ball rolling on that tech-friendly pro league. Maybe the tech mess can spawn a healthy, media friendly, and positive addition to an unquestionably pure sport.
Let me know what you think in the comments section.