Ryan deserves more credit for this one than he is gonna get.
After watching the replay of Ryan Lochte absolutely destroying the textile world best in the 200 back, I am a little saddened that we haven’t done anything official to recognize those achievements other than saying “while it is not a world record… it is a textile best.” Just listen to the commentators. It sounds like a let-down when they justify that the record he was chasing was "really fast."
He took it from a 1:54.0 to a 1:52.9. Before the days of tech suits we would have had our minds blown by that swim. It should be remembered in the same way that Mary T. Meagher was for being the first under 59 in the fly but skipping the 58’s completely in the process by hammering out a 57.93. If not for the tech years, our world record progression might never have listed a 1:53! Instead of being a dominating swim that changed the face of backstroke forever, it is really something we could pass off as a “pretty good try” in comparison to the 200 IM, a swim where he has his rival Michael Phelps within a tenth of a second of him. Yes, it was a true world record, but it was not nearly the dominant performance that the backstroke was. Lochte owned that 200 back. He is in completely uncharted territory with that swim, except… oh yeah, it’s not a world record.
We all have chatted about the issue before on various blogs, and have debated all sorts of options with asterisks and the like. I am not unhappy that the world records are listed the way they currently are. I am glad that news sources and bloggers have come up with a pretty standard way of describing it, but I still worry. Now that Lochte has actually broken one of the rubber suit records and the man vs. technology articles have finally been written we might all feel a little better about it for now, but when it is really gonna hit us is in London. You see, when Spitz took his seven golds a big part of what made it awesome and what made it that much more impressive to the world at large, is the fact that he broke seven world records at the games. There was an undisputed aura that went with his achievement-- he was the best. No doubt about it. Phelps, in comparison to that in taking his eight golds, broke seven records as well, leaving nothing to be dismissed for those concerned about it being less of a achievement.
In London, Ryan Lochte has hinted that he is looking at matching or possibly outdoing Phelps' magic eight golds. Just the fact that he might attempt such a feat deserves a little more reverence than the current system will give him. The sad part is that even if he pulls it off, it will be hard to listen to the commentary: “Lochte takes eight golds with one world record and seven textile bests” just doesn’t sound as impressive. Maybe I am splitting hairs here, but I am pretty sure that my non-swim-geek friends just aren’t gonna be as moved.
It really is not that I want to take the tech suit records away-- I want those athletes to be honored and recognized for the world-leading performances of their generation. I just worry that in London, even though I expect that multiple world records might be broken, many of the greatest swims in history might be overlooked as this one feels it is to me, and this whole mess will sink in a little deeper for all of us who are in the know.