Well, the Rio games have come to a close. A historical Olympics for United States swimming, we were awarded a remarkable 33 medals (16 gold, 8 silver, 9 bronze). Katie Ledecky captured American hearts and minds. Michael Phelps, somehow, one-upped himself yet again. Team USA made America proud.
Yet, as the curtains close on the 2016 Summer Olympics, so too do they close on the sport of swimming as a whole. Swimming is full to the brim with remarkable athletes but it goes unmentioned, neglected, and nearly ignored unless it’s thrust into the global spotlight courtesy of NBC. But why? Swimming is a mainstage event every summer Olympics—but it is relegated to the shadows as soon as the athletes accept their well-deserved medals on the podium.
The truth is that it’s merely a result of media attention and commercial culture. The public has not been exposed to swimming in the same way it has been to the NFL and the NBA. This, unfortunately, is a sad fact of life because it’s clear that the public adores swimming when it is given the chance to conveniently access it (as the Olympics can most certainly testify). It is high-time we acknowledge swimming outside of its Olympic confines. It’s a sport where remarkable athletes passionately compete everyday, and just because the world may not be watching, does not mean we should not be watching. Below I’ve listed just three of the many, many reasons we should recognize swimming, regardless of whether or not the Olympics are on:
It’s intense. It’s fast-paced. It’s thrilling. To see men and women in peak physical condition go head-to-head in any competition is exciting, and to see men and women do so when only with only a few feet separation, is captivating.
The electricity is palpable when they glide down the lanes, pushing off the wall with nearly hydraulic gusto, their knees looking like they were spring-loaded before the competition. Gliding underwater as their body propels itself forward, they rise and break the surface to resume full-speed while under scrutiny from the audience, under pressure from the judges, and under fire (water?) from their competitors. Eventually they win—or lose—and the race ends in a splash of feverish excitement.
World Records are Made Before, During, and After the Olympics
Although the Olympics do have a knack for bringing out the best in the best, it is by no means the only competition where Olympians are made. In fact, Katie Ledecky herself has consistently been breaking her own world records year after year in the 2013 World Championships (which is after her Olympic debut).
Moreover, most world records are not even from the Olympics. Swimmers do not wait to swim fast every four years. They are always pushing themselves and always striving for greatness. Of course, all athletes go through ups and downs, and sometimes the best last year are not the best this year, but someone is always pushing the envelope, making not just themselves better, but the sport better.
These Guys Deserve More.
Nearly every day, every minute, every second, an Olympic caliber swimmer is thinking about one thing: swimming. They dedicate their lives to the sport, waking up at the break of dawn to push their bodies to the brink. They are forever honing their craft, perfecting their technique and optimizing their strokes. They are true masters of what they do, and yet their efforts largely go unnoticed. True, they’re not doing it for the attention. They’re doing it for themselves.
But is that not all the more reason to show our support? To show that humility should be valued? To show that hard work does not go unnoticed? I think it is. I believe swimmers should get their fair share. They are athletes of the highest order—and should be respected as such.
I applaud their drive, their ambition, and their motivation. Their quest is an admirable one and the way they push forward despite public ignorance is a true inspiration.