Monday, August 6, 2012

Swimming To the Future

In an earlier post about swimming, I opined that it's "easier to find a liquor store in Utah than it is to find a non-Olympic swim meet of any consequence on American television" and that "being a swimming fan in a stick-and-ball country like this one is like looking for someone to play chess with when everyone else plays checkers."  Watching Bob Costas's interview with Michael Phelps - a real interview, not that puff piece Ryan Seacrest offered up at the start of the London Olympics - made me wonder if that's going to change.
Phelps believes that his success and the advent of social media have helped promote the U.S. swimming team's profile in its own country, and that more people will be aware of competitive swimming outside the Olympics.  He may be right; the team has been buoyed not only by his victories but the astonishing successes of his team mates.  In addition to all that tweeting, a video posted on YouTube of the swim team performing the hit song "Call Me Maybe" has gotten more than 2.6 million hits as of now.  American television would most certainly follow that trend, and we might be able to find more non-Olympic swim meets on TV quite easily.
Historically, Americans calling themselves swimming fans follow their favorite athletes only quadrennially, when the Olympics are on.  (This is like calling yourself a Beatles fan when you're only familiar with a few of their hit singles from the moptop years.)  In calling myself a swimming fan, I'm guilty of that too.  I've already made it clear that Janet Evans is my favorite female athlete of all time, but my admiration for her is based on only her Olympic races, and I haven't even seen all of them.  She won three gold medals in Seoul in 1988, but I only caught part of two of those races - I was spending evenings volunteering for the Dukakis campaign at the time, so I didn't get to see much of the Olympics.  (I think I saw Florence Griffith Joyner run once.)  I was staying in Nantucket with my father at the time of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and I definitely saw one of Evans's races - the 400-meter freestyle, the one she lost to a former East German.  I can't remember if I saw the 800-meter race or not.  But I did see her in the same race in Atlanta.  How could I forget - it was her last Olympic race ever, and I didn't want to miss that one.  (She came in sixth.) So, as much as I admired her swimming - and developed a crush on her when she went from being a girl to being a woman :-D - I didn't get to see much of it at the Olympics. How much of her non-Olympic swimming did I see? As much as I saw of Michael Phelps's non-Olympic swimming - zero!
Actually, there are a lot of American swimmers I've been a fan of. Matt Biondi.  Pablo Morales.  Summer Sanders.  But if you asked me to talk about their records or their medal counts without peeking at Wikipedia, I wouldn't have a clue.  A lot of us root for American swimmers during the Olympics, but it probably has less to do with a passionate interest in the sport than with rooting for the home team.
With a dynamo like Michael Phelps as the sport's new ambassador, we may not become as passionate about the sport as the Australians.  No one could be as passionate about swimming as the Aussies. But  we're most assuredly going to take more interest in a sport we've only watched or participated in casually, and we're not going to take it for granted so much anymore.  Expect to find more swimming meets on TV.
But don't look for a liquor store in Utah.  You shouldn't expect miracles.          

1 comment:

Steve said...

Aside I couldn't resist: On the day Janet Evans swam her last Olympic race in Atlanta, my sister asked me if I planned to watch the Olympics that night. I said yes, and that I didn't want to miss the 800-meter freestyle race because it would be the last time Janet Evans would ever swim in the Olympics.

"Who?" my sister asked.