Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ryan Lochte on Funny or Die!

Classic. This is a well done treat for swim fans. I need to somehow add "fastest pee in the west" to my piece on the Developmental Stages of Swimmer Potty Training. Haha!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Jumping Back on the American Bandwagon

I had a lot of conversations with coaches and swim fans leading up to the trials and the games.  I read a lot of stuff, including things from Olympic Gold Medalists like Mel Stewart and really smart multi-lingual people like Chris DeSantis.  I was forming opinions based on all of my inherent brilliance plus all of the information I have absorbed through those conversations and various media, and found myself in the same place I always seem to always end up when nearing the end of each Olympic cycle, thinking:

1.  We are crazy for having our trials so close to the games and we need to just start being like everybody else.

2.  We are watching the decline of American Olympic dominance.

...but of course, after the dust settled on swimming in London, it is pretty clear that I, and many of the other pessimists I surround myself with in the world of swimming, don't know what the hell we are talking about.  This was a pretty damn good meet for the USA.  It wasn't just the Missy show on the women's side, and no one is walking away feeling like if it weren't for Phelps and Lochte we would hardly have won a medal for our men.

I remember when we made the switch and placed the trials so close to the games.  We subscribed to the logic that we might miss some up and coming stars.  We had shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times in the past and the big brains at USA-S moved the calendar around to make sure that didn't happen any more.  This time around, we might have left Katie Ledecky at home with the way she came on like a monster in the short time leading up to the trials and games, if we had moved our trials back to an earlier date.  We won that gamble this time... but of course the trade off is in training.  Our Olympic team swimmers come in from different coaches with different training plans and different philosophies, which has to be really hard to manage when we finally bring them all together.  It is hard enough to take a college team and rest them for a conference meet while planning for your stars to also perform at their peak at NCAA championships.  We want our athletes to have a lifetime peak at the games, not just a pretty good swim.  Logic just tells us that getting the team together further ahead of time is better.. but then again, for a comparison to college swimming, some other nations are essentially going for the December shave and expecting to peak again in March.  Neither is ideal.  There were a few teams I expected more from and I have to wonder if the early trials worked against them somehow in comparison to the American plan.  There were a lot of close races and we ended up with several of the best surprises, from Ledecky, to Adrian to Clary....  The list goes on.  Has America stumbled on to something with the late trials?  Have we just figured out the best way to make it work?

On the second point, regarding American dominance, the fact is, our team showed this time around that even at the highest level, the team who is the most "on" can put on the best show.  The 100 free could have very easily gone another way at the finish, as could several of the other close races across the meet program.  At the beginning of the meet I did worry a little.  Phelps' 400 IM and the men's 400 Free Relay are the kind of things that can deflate a team, but as the meet went on our men and women just seemed to get more "with it."  Hansen's breaststroke medal was one of my favorite surprises of the meet, but didn't make me feel that we dominated the event obviously, so then came the 100 back and not only did Grevers win but Thoman took silver.  Sure we were shut out of some events, but our successes were spread out amongst the entire team, and that speaks to tremendous depth. 

Am I ready to say we are dominant after London?  Yes and no...  We were the best team there, but several of our brightest moments could very easily have gone the way of the 400 Free Relay.  There is a level of parity in swimming that has been steadily building for years and more and more we will see world class swimming events going to the individuals who are the most ready that day.  We will see more world-leading seeds out-touched in the finals, and rankings will mean less and less as the field gets tighter.  This is exciting and scary.  Luckily, it seems that there are a good group of people out there who are a hell of a lot smarter than me making it work so we can have our best day on the right day.  The USA was on their game in London and I might walk into Rio with a new mindset because of it.

Great job Team USA.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Watching the End of An Era

Thanks for the good times Michael.
Phelps, Hansen, Kitajima... As the names rolled out for the final race of the London Olympics, I started to feel pretty nostalgic. Cseh too...the final race of the 2012 Olympics was going to be the end of an era. This is truly the first generation where the best of one generation all stuck around to race the next wave. It made for probably the most exciting Olympic racing I have ever seen. Many of the story lines are not new- young stars breaking through and veterans making one last stand. It just seemed that, in 2012, there were far more of both than there has ever been.

A wave hit me while Michael Phelps took his last few strokes of fly as surely as it has hit so many of his competitors over the years. I knew it was coming- I tried to cherish the last few strokes of the greatest swimmer I will ever see. It was a satisfying end- especially after the world seemed prepared to bury Phelps after the first day of the competition. Phelps vs Lochte will never be a serious debate among swimming historians.

It's going to take far longer than a few hours to dissect his legacy, but here's the best we have so far. Phelps showed what heights swimming could go to but also it's limitations. Can a swimmer be an all-world "professional" athlete? Sure, if he's transcendentally great. A handful of others can scrape something together, at least enough to stay competitive. Hansen said as much in their post race interviewThe next generation will define whether "pro" swimming is going to be real or not. At the same time, he revealed how unready for "prime time" swimming is.

Both Phelps and his eternal crown prince Lochte, through no fault of their except for being human, wilted under heavier media attention. Phelps, as we found out, is a dorky guy who was forced to grow up way too fast in some ways while being trapped in puberty in others. . How many other 27 year old swimmers necessitated a reaction shot from their mother after every swim? Part of me desperately wants to see if Phelps could keep going for another four years with a complete change of scenery- but alas it seems that has come and gone.

More than anything, while I watched the final moments of the 2012 Olympics, I thought of some future young swim fan, if I'm lucky enough my own child, asking me what it was like.

What was it like to watch the great Michael Phelps? I'll tell them it was like watching the skinny kid with an underbite from your elementary school beat up every bully in the world.

What about Kitajima, seems like he struggled in the end? I'll them what a frustrating mess breaststroke can be. It's like trying to wrestle a lion with your bare hands. I was totally amazed that one guy seemed to pin that lion so many times. So maybe he didn't have it in London, but on that final relay he delivered a gem.

Maybe they'll ask: why didn't Alexander Dale Oen defend his world title? That'll be a tough one to start, but I'll smile when I remember the two breaststroke champions from London, Cameron van der Burgh and Daniel Gyurta. Each paid tribute to Dale Oen in their own way.

Finally, maybe they'll ask me about Chad Le Clos, who hopefully will go on to be far more than the "guy who touched out Phelps". Perhaps Ye Shiwen, or Missy Franklin, is poised to dominate female swimming in a way no one has before. Maybe, just maybe, rather than the end of era I'll look back at this as a beginning, when swimming reached a tipping point. I sure hope so.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I have actually been able to watch some of the Olympics this time around!

My wife has even been watching it with me!
It has been an awesome ride so far.  It has been weird watching bits live and more bits delayed.  For a little while I tried to avoid all the spoilers out there in social media, but after NBC decided to intro a clip with "will Missy Franklin win her first gold medal?"  and then 30 seconds later show a picture of her with said backstroke gold, I figured what the hell... no one can avoid the results with them running the show.  Even after knowing that Allison Schmitt was gonna win the 200, when I saw it I was so excited that I wanted to tweet about it, but then realized that everyone else probably tweeted about it seven hours ago.  I didn't want to be that guy...

I actually watched the Men's 400 Free Relay live on my iPad on deck at Arkansas champs.  Me and several coaches were behind the blocks during warm-up and not paying any attention to our swimmers at all.  We were yelling and having a good time which led to a high pitched peak at the touch and then several slumped, defeated shoulders when we realized Yannick Agnel had pulled it off.  I guess it might have just looked like we were really excited about warm-up.  Some of the officials came over to see what in the heck was going on. We immediately split apart and did the "what... we weren't doing anything over here" whistle.  Haha.

After the men's 100 breast final I remember telling one of my friends that Cameron van der Burgh's breaststroke as close to butterfly as I have ever seen.  He was fluid and his timing was incredible.  So of course, there has to be a dolphin kick controversy.  I think I am sick of it all.  FINA just needs to hire this guy:
If this official was on the job, we might actually see cheaters get spanked.
And then of course, there is Michael Phelps...  it has been strange to watch him be so hot and cold at the biggest meet ever.  As a swimmer, even though I pick on him sometimes in the blog, I still see him as the greatest.  Seeing how the meet has been so far really says something about how incredible the 8 golds was.  As I browse reddit lately to see how the internet feels, I have found that many non-swimmers aren't willing to give the guy a break.  They are quick to forget how much he has done in his career... but alas, there is one small group out there who are forever loyal to Michael.
No, Debbie... don't get too excited about it.  It's the potheads.
Michael has become a hero to these guys and they like to use him as proof that weed is good for you.  It is weird for me to get into comment arguments and have them be the ones who have my back.  I just can't imagine watching the Olympics with them. The cheering is probably not that enthusiastic.  Oh well...  he can't take that incident back and I am glad he has been able to move on.

If I have to pick favorite moments, two come to mind:  Dana Vollmer's 100 fly and Brendan Hansen's 100 Breast.  Vollmer for the fact that she missed out last time and has been close to that record for a while.  It was very satisfying to see her finally get it, and in the Olympic final no less.  And Hansen?  Just because it has been awesome to see him not only loving swimming again, but on his game.  What an incredible comeback.  Bravo.

Keep it up guys and gals... it has been worth the wait.