Monday, November 23, 2009

Let’s All Kiss and Make Up

The Viking ship has sailed into some scalding waters lately. Chris DeSantis’ recent sarcastic post brought on seventeen comments, including one from Craig Lord himself! Then, my post about Craig Lord’s resistance to splitting the world record book between tech and textile brought on a SwimNews editorial! Hot damn! I knew I would never swim fast enough for him to include me in an article, so I guess pestering him was the only other way to go. :)

It is too bad that he didn’t provide a link to my site. I am pretty sure that only about half of my nine loyal readers even figured out that he was referring to me as the “helmet and horns of a different opinion.” At least he didn’t call me a “blogging blockhead” this time. And the best part is that he actually said that I am “not stupid,” and he even threw a Monty Python reference my direction. It is nice to see that he is able to play along with the blog-fight. Mr. Lord, if we ever meet, I will buy you a tall one, we can have a fun-spirited, fist-waving argument entirely in the third person, and then throw back a hearty skoal to the greatest sport in the world. The best part of a blog-fight is always the making up afterwards, if you know what I mean. Wink, wink… ;)

Tony Austin recently suggested I get in on the talk about the possibility of a pro league with a producer who is willing to pitch it. I am all for that, but I want to suggest another idea for a show first. We oughtta have a big-brother style TV series with the whole swim blogger community living together in one house until we finally settle the swimsuit technology issue and all of it’s subsequent “baggage” once and for all. Just think. We would have the world’s geekiest swim geek, a Viking, Lord Voldemort, and a host of other opinionated and passionate thinkers all in one big powder keg of an apartment. It would be like a dysfunctional superhero swim nerd costume party! I am pretty sure we could come up with some really goofy challenges to make it fun. We could go to the Y and start coaching random people. We could each take a turn writing work-outs and coaching the national team for a day. We might each have to go Christmas shopping at the mall in briefs, or maybe take a run on the slip n’ slide in a Jaked. Now that would be great TV drama and definitely good for the sport. It could end with Craig Lord and Tony Austin on Split Time, announcing the solution we all came up with. Holding hands, of course.

The fact is, as Chris DeSantis so humbly suggested, that perhaps none of us completely disagrees with Craig Lord, and he doesn’t entirely disagree with us. We all want what is best for the sport and it is okay to argue out the details on the web. That is how we get into the discussions that bring the best solutions. As for me, I feel that tech did interfere with the purity of our sport in a way, but I don’t feel that tech has to completely disappear. I think we could find a way to include it, even if it is in a limited fashion. NASCAR and Formula 1 are both car racing. They both have a place on the road. If we are really smart about it, allowing technology in certain specific locations and dates, with separate records to chase, could help us to promote traditional swimming.

There is something exciting about in-season swimming being fast. That is one of the benefits of suits with full legs. If we left our traditional meets alone, what harm would it do to offer a pro-am type of competition at different points of the year that don’t interfere with what we already have going on? What harm is there in allowing suit companies to form teams that compete in duals which might bring more sponsors on board to support the world’s best athletes and keep them in the water? There could be a place for shiny suits, and I feel the idea needs to be explored. If we came up with some workable ideas, we would have to keep a separate set of records. Period. If there is not any possibility of future tech in any way, then I feel the proposal from Craig Lord and Phil Whitten far outshines the idea of splitting records that was presented by the FINA commission. Two sets of records make no sense unless we have two categories of competition.

Now I have to wonder… how many times has Craig Lord anonymously commented on my blog? How many anonymice are actually world class swimmers and coaches who don’t want it known that they are participating the realm of the swim-blogger? Has the great Bob Bowman deigned to grace my blogspot with his presence? Hmmm… must investigate further. Maybe it is time to start rattling his cage.

Of course Tony Austin, as usual, is
one step ahead of me on that one too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Separate World Records? Why Wouldn't Craig Lord Want That?

Upon reading the recent SwimNews article about the FINA Coaches Commission's recommendation to separate tech records from textile, I was a little confused. I was under the impression that Craig Lord would have loved to isolate those “shiny suit” records in an effort to cast them into obscurity. I was a little taken back before when he was part of the team that recommended leaving them on the list of historical records while still listing the "world record" as any set outside of the non-textile time frame as he suggests again in the current article. That solution seemed to actually find a way to honor the athletes who set them legally in tech without disgracing them by erasing them completely.

When I got to thinking about his recent post, it occurred to me that Craig Lord was right in a strange way, when he suggested that the new recommendation might be like singling out the athletes who set the “inferior textile records” if we listed them separately because they would have less "perceived worth"… but why would he have issues with that? He has been the first to single out athletes who set records in tech, pointing the harshest and most damning finger in their direction. The records would be weeded out and all would be right in the textile world. No more chasing the marks of cheaters, right? Plus, when a tech record gets broken in textile, he would have a great "man triumphs over machine" article to write, eh?

Then, when he asked how reporters are supposed to deal with two world records listed in the start lists and results sheets of every event and the problems that may bring, he referred to listing tech records separately as “dragging the baggage of the past two years into the future…”

That’s when I got it. I see the angle now.

Maybe Craig Lord is foreseeing the future that I might dare to predict. Maybe he worries that the coaches commission is somehow trying to under-handedly keep those records in the public eye, not so that we can celebrate them more when the records are broken “unenhanced”… but perhaps he feels that they are trying to keep those records talked about to warm FINA and the general swimming population up to the idea of creating a separate PROFESSIONAL SWIM LEAGUE.

Think about it. Now, don’t just roll your eyes here. Hear me out. There is no other really valid reason to keep those records alive in this way. FINA holds the power to be able to completely squash any movement to create a separate league, but if the FINA coaches commission puts all of the pieces in place, it would open the door for FINA to have governance over it and be able to decide under what circumstances tech would be allowed. It might actually become a legitimate movement if it starts with this exact move on the chessboard. It is the most perfect first step toward finding a place for tech.

Craig Lord is not worrying about protecting the reputations of those athletes who set textile records for fear that those separate records might “indicate to the public that their ‘mark’ is somehow less important or worthy than the ‘real’ record” as he puts it.

Mr. Lord might be seeing the writing on the wall. There is a large contingent out there who wish for tech to stay around, and by keeping those records in the books separately, it ensures that those records will be looked at and talked about long enough for the issue to come around again with a new face and agenda. It ensures that the thorn in Craig Lord’s side might leave a wound that can be re-opened. Why keep those records listed in the meet program if they are not meant to be broken? Why have tech records, unless there might be future racing in tech? Separation is the only way tech could possibly follow us into the future.

I have always wondered if tech suits might be considered again if swimming does not receive a tremendous press following leading up to the 2012 or even the 2016 games. I kind of thought that we might have a little bit of a “Michael Jackson” reaction in the press. You know…. “Let’s hate on the suits until they are gone, and then we can all lament about how the sport will never be as exciting again without them and consider bringing them back.” We shall see. It could be that we are still unsure of what to make of tech and want to keep the door open to consider it for the future.

Is the FINA commission up to something big here behind the scenes? Is it possible that the big brains of the coaching world aren‘t ready to completely push technology out of our sport? Could it be that the decision makers of international swimming don’t see “shiny suits” as quite the abomination that Craig Lord contends that they are? Could the whole tech league idea have a chance at gaining some momentum? I can’t wrap my head around any other reason why Mr. Lord might have issues with a separate list of records.

Are you with me here? Conspiracy theorists please weigh in below.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Guest Post by Chris DeSantis

For the past year, Craig Lord has been spreading lying propoganda via his perch atop (yes, I know Nick Thierry is in charge but Craig produced most of the content). Craig has made many outrageous claims, but now guest writer Cecil Colwin has taken the fight to a new low. In an article appearing yesterday, he makes the following claim about the world championships that took place this summer in Rome:

"At the Rome world championships, many hitherto unknown swimmers, used the shiny suits as virtual implements to set marks that, in the normal course of events, would have needed ten strong men pulling them through the water on a rope, to replicate their recent "world-record-breaking" feats"

I have tremendous respect for the breadth of literature that Colwin is produced. Perhaps that is why it is so shocking for him to make such an ignorant statement. I will forgive the comment about "ten strong men" and a rope, after all this is just for dramatic effect. We all know one person can tow an average swimmer into the wall at speeds faster than the fastest swimmers in the world. However, lets examine the less subjective part of this comment, that "unknown swimmers used the shiny suits" to achieve "world record breaking" times. The following are world record performances from the Rome World Championships:

Men's 100m Free: Cesar Cielo 46.91. Oh you mean the guy who was the fastest scy sprinter before the "suits" and who also finaled in both the 50 and 100 at just 20 years old (very young for a sprinter) at the 2007 world champs. Yeah, no one had heard of him.

Men's 200m Free: Paul Biedermann 1:42.00- Totally right here. I never heard of this guy when he was European Junior Champion, or when he finaled at the Olympics the year before, or when he set the SCM world record in a textile suit earlier in the year. Totally unknown

Men's 400m Free: Ditto, 3:40.07. Need I say more?

Men's 800m Free: Zhang Lin 7:32.12. Totally anonymously got a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in the 400, where the 800 was not contested at the event. Also 22 and male. Completely unexpected that he would drop time at that age.

Men's 50m Back: Liam Tancock 24.04. Had medaled in the two previous world champs. 2008 SCM World Champ in the 100 back. 2006 Commonwealth Games Champ in the 100 back. I would think above any other meets, Cecil would pay attention to the Commonwealth games.

Men's 200m Back: Aaron Peirsol 1:51.92. Aaron who?

Men's 50m Breaststroke: Cameron Van Der Burgh 26.67. 2007 Bronze Medalist at the World Champs in the 50 breaststroke at just 19 years old (i.e well ahead of any other 19 year old 50 breaststrokers at that point).

Men's 100m Breaststroke: Brenton Rickard 58.58. Was a bronze medalist at the 2007 World Champs. 2008 Olympic silver medalist. I dare you to walk into his hometown of Brisbane and see whether he is unknown.

Men's 100 and 200m Fly: Michael Phelps 49.82 and 1:51.51. Managed to dominate the sport for the last two Olympic periods without anyone noticing.

Men's 200 IM: Ryan Lochte 1:54.10. #2 all time performer in the event prior to the meet besides Phelps, who didn't contest this one this summer.

Had enough? Too bad. Lets look at the women:

Women's 50 and 100m free: Britta Steffen 23.73, 52.07. European Champ in 2006. Double gold at the Beijing games despite racing in textile. But she's German, so she was definitely cheating even though East Germany crumbled twenty years ago.

Women's 200 and 400 Free: Federica Pellegrini 1:52.98, 3:59.15. 2004 Silver medalist in the 200 free at barely 16 years old. 2005 Silver medalist. 2008 Gold Medalist in the 200 free. Most importantly, stole Laure Manadou's boyfriend. How could you miss that?

Women's 50m Back: Zhao Jing 27.06. Swam on China's 4x100 medley at the 2008 Olympics as a 17 year old. Set a 2006 continental record in the 50 back (28.50) as just a 15 year old. Totally unbelievable that one of the best junior swimmers in the world panned out this way.

Women's 100m Back: Gemma Spofforth 58.12. Probably one of the least "known" swimmers on this list. Still, was an NCAA champion in 2007 pre "shiny suit".

Women's 200m Back: Kirsty Coventry 2:04.81. I suppose you could have missed her 4 medals at the 2008 Olympics or the three medals from the 2004 games while representing swimming powerhouse Zimbabwe.

Women's 100m Breaststroke: Rebecca Soni 1:04.84 (Since broken by Jessica Hardy). Silver medalist from 2008 and beat the fastest breaststroker of her era (Leisel Jones) in the 200m that summer.

Women's 200m Breaststroke: Annamay Pierse 2:20.12. Also the SCM WR holder from the prior March. You could make an argument for this. But she was 6th in the world in 2007, pre "shiny suits". So its not like she was chopped liver.

Women's 50m Fly:
Therese Alshammar. Has won more than 30 medals in international competition (World Champs, Olympics or European Champs). I'm not going to waste time listing them, lets just agree she's been pretty good over the last decade.

Women's 100 Fly: Sarah Sjostrom 56.06. I will forgive her for not having too many international results before 2008 considering she was still 15 when she swam at World Champs this summer. Was 2008 Euro Champ at just 14 years old.

Women's 200m Fly: Jessica Schipper 2:03.41 (Since broken). 2005 World Champ. gold medalist in both the 100 and 200 fly, 2007 World Champ. gold medalist in the 200 fly.

Women's 200 IM: Ariana Kukors 2:06.15. Ok possibly just as unknown as Spofforth. Still, we are talking about the silver medalist at the 2006 Pan Pacs. American swimming fans hve been waiting for her to break out and swim to her ability level for years. She would have represented any other country besides the US in the 200 IM in 2008 and would have likely made the final. She was 11th in the world in this event as a 16 year old in 2005 then posted three straight years in the top ten in one of the IMs. So I'd say she was pretty well established as one of the best IM swimmers in the world.

And thats it, all the world records that were set at the world championships this summer. It makes me sad to see a great like Cecil Colwin say something so incorrect because his words deservedly carry a ton of weight. I really wish Craig (or Nick) would stop trotting out greats like Cecil to bolster their point.

A Glimmer of Hope in Textile

My old college coach stopped me at a high school meet to ask me what I thought about the decision to take the shiny suits away. Apparently he doesn’t read my blog. He is a suit fan. He thinks they were good for the sport and he listed some pretty valid reasons.

I replied that I wasn’t sure whether it was the right decision to take tech away but that I am curious to see where it goes. I remember saying that we might see a psychological phenomenon. You see, now that all these swimmers have gone so darn fast with the suits, I was anticipating that there might be some swimmers who can’t deal with not going best times after going back to textile. I know a few swimmers who will probably struggle because they will not be able to rationalize it and will be tied to unrealistic expectations… and I could see them getting discouraged enough to consider hanging it all up.

But then, there was the other side of it. I had to wonder, how many swimmers will expect to keep swimming those fast times… and then live up to it?

Last year, at the Missouri high school boys championships, the talk on the deck was that swimming in our state had taken a real step up. It wasn’t about the winning times. I believe that only two state records were broken, and they were in relays. What struck us all was the depth. There were times that would have won events just a few years before that would not have even made the top 8. It was fascinating. I know that I felt that we were part of something really special for our area. We all were pointing at the suits; not as the only reason Missouri was getting better, but as a catalyst that helped us move a few years ahead of ourselves since the 2007 meet.

Then this year, in 2009, even with the suits taken away, we actually got better.

In 2008, there were an amazing 12 swimmers in the 50 hitting 21’s… and this year there were 15! Last year, 7 swimmers turned in 47 in the 100, and this year there were 9!

In '08, the KC Rockhurst boys were given a hard time when they broke the state record in the 400 free relay by three seconds. They were called cheaters in the comments section of the floswimming coverage of the event. They were swimming “enhanced” because they were all wearing tech, and somehow that meant that their record shouldn‘t count. It was the same disgusting treatment Dana Vollmer and others got when they broke NCAA records. That rotten behavior by swim fans was so disappointing.

This year, Rockhurst got to do something really rare at our championships. They came back and proved that they own that 400 record without a doubt. They broke it again, in textile jammers! For me, it would have been enough for them to take the old record of 3:08 just to hush the nay-sayers. That should have been enough to prove that the 400 free relay record rightfully belongs to them. But they didn’t stop there. They took it further by going eight tenths of a second faster than they did with their fancy pants on. 3:05.14! And when I asked them about it, they said that they had forgotten that they had even been criticized at all. They just wanted to go best times, just like every swimmer at every level, since our beautiful sport began.

Wild. Right on. Way to go, guys!

Maybe, just maybe, Aaron Peirsol has made up his mind that he is still a 1:51 200 lcm backstroker. Is it possible that he doesn’t intend to start over in the 1:54 range? That maybe he has the same mindset that swimmers develop as 8& unders going after those best time iron-ons for their t-shirts? Maybe Ariana Kukors will go into her first race of 2010 with the confidence of a 2:06 IM’er. And can you imagine Fred Bousquet ever letting it settle in his mind that the world is going back to a time when it was an exclusive club of just a handful who are capable of getting their fingertips to the end of the long course pool in under 22 seconds? The world class pack is no longer full of 22’s with a few 21’s sprinkled on top. 21’s are now the whipped cream, and a 20.9 is now the cherry on top. In Fred’s mind, I don’t think that will change. (Of course, if he is gonna go faster than a 20.9, he better do it in a brief, because Craig Lord will have his dirty, cheating head if he wears a jammer.)

Maybe, just maybe, the suits have opened a psychological door that might have taken a lot longer for us to open otherwise. Kind of like the guy who finally cracked the four minute mile on the track. How many people realized they could do it only after they had seen it done? Wouldn’t that effect magnify a little when you have seen yourself do it, rather than someone else?

Sports psychology is fascinating. The bar was raised partly due to technology, but are we really certain that the bar has to come back down without it?