Swimming


For the most part, I grew up without a television, but there were two notable exceptions at my father’s house: the Olympics and professional tennis. To watch or not was never a dilemma at Mom’s because we didn’t have a TV. As a result, I’m an inefficient TV viewer. I find it nearly impossible to wrest my focus from the little buzzing box and therefore I generally choose to forego it entirely. However, I’ve been following the swimming events closely this summer mostly thanks to Dara Torres. I’ll save my rant on ageism in this country for another post, but I couldn’t be more thrilled to watch a middle-aged woman make her teenage and twenty-something competition look slow. In the process of following the swimming events, I’ve been moved and amused by the antics of human beings everywhere. Here’s a sampling.

Bob Costas, do your homework. I, along with the studio crew, applauded gymnasts Nastia Luikin and Shawn Johnson following their interview with the NBC anchor and Bela Karolyi. The poise of these two remarkable young women saved what has to be one of the worst performances from a experienced news anchor I’ve ever witnessed. Shawn Johnson, in particular, never let the smile leave her face as she patiently answered a series of the exact same question from Costas. What did you think Bob, that a young woman who races top speed down a runway to throw herself at a vault and land solidly on her feet after performing two somersaults with a couple twists thrown in for good measure is going to buckle under your inexpert questioning? Next time, instead of digging for dirt, try for a little substance. Here are a couple of suggestions: What event made you the most nervous? Which element were you particularly happy to stick? What advice would you offer to young gymnasts who would like to follow in your shoes? Put things into perspective for our audience, how many hours weekly do you spend training? I could go on. Why couldn’t Costas?

Out-touched. In swimmer parlance, this means being beaten just as one touches the wall. In a sport that is regularly decided by tenths of seconds, these are not uncommon, but we’ve witnessed some particulary spectaclar touch-outs at this meet. 1. Jason Lezak’s surge to the finish in the men’s 4×100 free relay. 2. Natalie Coughlin’s picture perfect underwater thrust to the wall (with a dolphin kick for good measure) in the 100 back . 3. Michael Phelps’s mid-stroke finish in the 100 fly. The latter was particularly unbelievable. For a man who typically stays underwater longer than most of his competitors, his instincts proved spot-on allowing him to beat Milorad (Mike) Cavic by the slimmest of margins.

Kobe Bryant is fluent in three languages. How cool is that? Is this common knowledge? If it’s not, it should be. Bryant’s tremendous star-appeal would go a long way sending a powerful message to kids about the importance of education.

Mom on deck. When the suits of the one of the girls in Dara Torres’ 50 free semi-final heat tore, guess who kept the other swimmers from hopping up on the blocks until she could wiggle into a replacement? You’ve got it, the only parent in the pack. The NBC commentators made much of her sportsmanship, but more remarkable is the decisiveness with which Torres sized up the situation, communicated the plan with the other swimmers and the starter, and kept confusion from ensuing. Easier said than done! Torres was dealing with potentially eight different languages and a bunch of keyed-up swimmers focused only on getting from one end of the pool to the other as quickly as possible. The experience necessary to deal with the unexpected and then hop on the block and post the fastest qualifying time in your event only comes with age.

American sportsmanship. Perhaps more than anything else, I’ve been impressed with the poise, humility and statemanship exhibited by the American athletes. At a time when this nation’s ideals were taken hostage by an administration crippled by the fear and ignorance causing tremendous damage to our reputation abroad and placing us in further jeopardy from extremists, there are no better ambassadors to repair the damange done.

All in all, this time in front of the TV has been well spent.

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Swimming To AntarcticaIt should go without saying that I’ve read a book on open water swimming, Lynne Cox’s autobiography, Swimming To Antarctica: Tales of A Long-Distance Swimmer. Compared to her very impressive achievements, swimming two miles in the balmy waters of Canandaigua Lake doesn’t even count as a warm-up, much less a real open water event. As far as open water swimmers go, she is legendary. Lynne CoxHer most impressive accomplishments involve multiple English Channel crossings (in record-setting times), and swimming the Bering Sea from Alaska to the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, both a physical feat and a diplomatic achievement. As the title of the book suggests, she also swam one mile in thirty-two degree water (not solid ice because of the salt content) to set foot on the continent of Antarctica. Cox’s tales are absolutely fascinating and well written, and as I read them I was struck by her humility and down-to-earth assessments of herself, very much at odds with her extraordinary abilities.

This past weekend I participated in the annual C. Lake Open Water Swim. Open water swims are essentially that, swims or races held on “open water,” not a pool. Since I spent the better part of my developmental years racing in pools, I’ve backed off of racing and training seriously since I graduated from college, but I still swim for exercise when I can find the time and do the occasional open water race. CanandaiguaThis time I did the two-mile swim. Doing the two-mile event involved going out to the end of the buoy line and back twice. The green buoy in the middle marks the quarter-mile point. The vertical black flag is the finish line on the beach. I’m happy to report that I finished in under an hour and was the third fastest female overall and first in my age-group category. Not too shabby for an out of shape swimmer! One of the most pleasant aspects of this particular race was getting to hang out with fellow Master’s swimmers, Jim and Art, and their families after the race. The last time I drove to C. Lake I swam alone and this was an enormous improvement over that experience. Both these guys participate regularly in Master’s swimming events and their enthusiasm has me reconsidering my current ban on racing. Master’s Nationals will be held in Austin, TX this coming year, a city I would love to visit. Incidentally, our club had a great showing at this event, with each of us winning our respectiveage-group categories and Jim and Art posting the fastest times in their events overall.