Very few of us are lucky enough to realize when a golden age is upon us. It’s difficult, if not outright impossible, to fully appreciate a golden age while it is happening because we perpetually want things to improve. No one wants to look forward to the inevitable decline of a sport, or league, or competition. They want to look forward to things getting even better. They want to expect athletes will only become stronger, faster, and more coordinated.
Well, sometimes, the competition is so captivating, so spectacular, that the only explanation is we are witnessing the pinnacle of performance. We are seeing history unfold before us—and although we may still want things to be even better, lap times to be even shorter, swimmers to be even faster, it would be ridiculous to not acknowledge where swimming is now. We are in a golden age. We have seen the best swimmers in the world break record after record. Women, finally, are getting the respect they deserve. They are outshining even the men, and in this dramatic shift of the spotlight, I think it’s safe to say—the golden age of swimming has arrived.
Although the men put on an amazing show as we are now nearly coming to expect, the women’s performance was even more noteworthy. Yes, Michael Phelps added even more gold medals to his treasure chest. Yes, Anthony Ervin became the first swimmer in world history to win the same event at the Olympics sixteen years apart. Yes, Kosuke Hagino broke the longest gold medal streak in an individual even when he won the 400 IM.
However, these achievements pale in comparison to the women’s accomplishments. For example, Katie Ledecky broke not one, but two individual world records in the 400 and 800, and added yet another gold medal in the 200. Katinka Hosszu took home four different medals, all starting when she set a world record in the 400 IM. Sarah Sjostrom set her own world record in the 100 fly. Maya DiRado staged one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history when she out-touched Hosszu at the very last stroke in the 200.
Truly, the swimming events this past year in Rio were historical, worthy of standing the test of time for as long as swimming remains a competitive event. The time has come. We must acknowledge where swimming is and where it used to be if we are to fully appreciate it. The facts speak for themselves. This is the golden age of swimming.