The 2016 Olympics are over. I loved the performances, especially track and field and swimming. The Olympics are a business, for sure. A lot of money is spent and made. It’s pretty overblown in many events and that’s probably why I like athletes that don’t have much on except shorts and a pair of shoes.
I’m also sorry we don’t get to see such events as table tennis, weight lifting, badminton and many other “minor” sports. We’re missing some incredible performances and terrific athletes. Alas, the money thing again. But, about swimming.
I was a pretty good swimmer in high school and college. I look at the times in the recent Olympic swimming events and can’t imagine how I could ever have been so slow, back in those days. I worked hard and sometimes exhausted myself, mostly swimming against other guys I knew in Arizona.
I was the Michael Phelps of Arizona (and maybe New Mexico) but probably not anywhere else. I set state records in the individual medley and the breaststroke. I wondered…….then I began to think about how swimming times could have improved so much over the years. Here’s what I came up with:
- Indoor pools. We only had outdoor swimming pools, with wind and rain and dark water at night. We practiced in pools that were only 25-yards long. Not good.
- The lane markers (floats) today touch each other and form a perfect barrier that really isolates swimmers in each lane. Our lane markers were flimsy little things that were sometimes several inches apart, creating waves from other swimmers.
- I believe the lanes are wider today than they were for us. Easier for swimmers to avoid the lane markers and stay in the center as they swim.
- Swimmers train all year. We went to high school and college during the winter months and only swam competitively in the summer.
- Swimmers lift weights today, a lot. We were told it wasn’t good for swimmers. Wrong. We did strap 2-1/2 pound weights to the back of our hands with duct tape while practicing but that was it.
- Running. We were told that running wasn’t good for swimmers. Wrong.
- Swimmers wear bathing caps. We wouldn’t be caught dead in them back then.
- Swimming trunks are tight-fighting spandex or something equivalent. We weren’t allowed to wear trunks like that. Neither were the girls, unfortunately.
- Swimmers shave their bodies. We didn’t do that. I have to say we thought about it though.
- Great, high starting blocks are used all the time now, with non-slip surfaces, instead of just the edge of the pool.
- The water is clear and temperature controlled. We swam in cold, cloudy, highly chlorinated water.
- Coaches are fabulous and highly paid now, not just part time high school teachers. It’s a science and a business now, not just a sport. I trained myself to swim faster. Wrong.
- The flip turns that are done now were totally illegal then. We had to touch the wall with our hands before we made our turns, for example.
- Swimmers now are allowed (trained) to swim underwater with a dolphin stroke when they start and after they turn. They do that for several meters. That was illegal back when I swam. We had to get to the top of the water quickly.
- Swimmers today have sports psychologists, dietitians and agents, not just parents.
- Swimmers today have protein shakes and supplements and other cool stuff. We had steak and baked potatoes.
- Swimmers now use super-cool, well designed swimming goggles. We didn’t have them. My doctor told me my red eyes and cloudy vision were the result of too much chlorine and advised me to quit swimming. I did.
- There’s a lot more competition now, motivating swimmers to perform better. And giving them targets to shoot for.
- Swimmers are genetic giants now, apparently bred or selected for certain sports. I can’t prove this but there are a lot of 6 foot 6 inch swimmers out there. Where did these guys come from?
- Many swimmers (even well below the big stars that we all know) are highly celebrated, have sponsors and make a lot of money. We were all complete amateurs. There was no money in swimming except for a few college scholarships. In my sophomore year, my mother once wrote me that I had received a letter back home with a scholarship offer to Stanford. It was for $400 a year. It was a nice thing but even then, that wasn’t close to covering college costs. It would perhaps pay for a cafeteria card. Besides, by then I knew I was going to be an engineer
I think if I had access to all these improvements, my times could have been a whole lot better. Could I have gotten a gold medal (or any medal) in the 1960 or 1964 Olympics?
………Not a chance in hell. But I still enjoy watching swimming events.