Kamis, 06 Januari 2011

Swimming's Top 10 for 2010


MAJALAH RENANG INDONESIA. It was a crossroads year for the sport of swimming. The suits got slower, the stars re-aligned, and scandal and tragedy forced us to take hard looks at our reflections in the water. Here are ten stories that defined the year, and that will continue to shape every competition in the years to come...

10. The End of the Super Suit 
After a storm, things tend to get quiet as the rebuilding begins. For two years, from early 2008 until the end of 2009, performance enhancing super suits like Speedo's LZR and Arena's X-Glide demolished swimming's record books in a hurricane of false speed. In 2010, it was a return to apparel purity, and as expected those suit-assisted records went nearly untouched, until four world records fell at the short course world championships last week in Dubai

9. Parity Among the World's Women 
The greatest women's swim team on earth? Hmmm. Take your pick. While the ladies of Team USA racked up top world rankings in the relays and added three more top individual spots, the Chinese women ended the year ranked first in four events, while Great Britan, Italy, and Sweden each claimed number one rankings in two events each. Across every women's event, the competition is as deep and evenly spread across multiple nations as perhaps never before. At the Worlds in Shanghai and the Games in London, look forward to a medley of many national anthems...  

8. Aussies Absent from Top of World Rankings 
For the first time in 20 years, since 1990, no Australian swimmer finished the year ranked first in the world in long course meters. For swimming's second greatest super-power, and certainly the proudest, this is surely unacceptable. Don't expect that disappearance from the top of the world's podium to last for long. The Aussie's aquatic pride is too powerful, its legacy too strong, to prevent a resurgence in 2011 and '12.

7. No Shanghai Surprise 
When the host Team China shows up at the World Championships in Shanghai next summer and proceeds to dominate the proceedings, don't act surprised. They've given full warning, if you were paying attention to the results at this fall's Asian Games. And given that these are the first Worlds ever hosted in China, it might be even more important to them than the next Olympics in London. The Chinese currently boast the best distance swimmer on earth (Sun Yang), the best female backstroker (Zhao Jing), the best female 200 flyer (Jiao Liuyang), and a host of others primed to reach the podium. Like seemingly every other facet of your life, it might just be a matter of time before China overtakes top billing across the board. And 2010 might have been the year when that became undeniable.

6. Rebecca Soni, Queen of the Breaststroke 
Enough of the China fear-mongering, fact is Team USA remains the state of the art of swimming, and Rebecca Soni has sealed her status as the greatest female breaststroker on earth. Her performances in 2010 elevated her from upset Olympic champion and mega-talent on the rise to a full-blown superstar of the pool. A case can be made that her 200 breast at Pan Pacifics was the single best swim of the year. She finished the year ranked first in the world in both breaststrokes by wide margins, exposing the suit-aided pretenders who challenged her dominance a year ago. 

5. It's Never the Principle, It's Always the Money
Let's be honest, with the exception of a chosen few, there's not much money to go around for the top athletes in this sport. Which makes the fight for the few spoils that remain all the more brutal. From the contentious Athlete Partnership Agreement recently passed by USA Swimming, guaranteeing National Teamers a decent wage, to diminishing apparel deals and other sponsorships, the landscape of 'pro swimming' was redrawn in 2010.

4. Sex Abuse Scandal Rocks the Sport 
In April, the sport of swimming was struck by a worst-nightmare scandal. In a wide-ranging lawsuit filed in San Jose, California, 32 swim coaches were named - some accused of, others already convicted of, sex crimes against young swimmers. ABC's 20/20 ran an ugly piece of journalism on the scandal. Suddenly, on every pool deck across the country, paranoia ruled, with neither coaches nor parents nor swimmers knowing just how to respond. It was terrorism, pure and awful, the sport hijacked by an evil few.

3. Phelps Falls to Earth 
Let me be delicate here, so as not to offend the guardians of the greatest. Is Michael Phelps still the greatest swimmer in the history of the sport? Yes. Unquestionably. In 2010, was he the best swimmer in the world? No way. Was his greatest-all-around-on-earth title legitimately claimed by his green-shoed buddy and rival, Ryan Lochte. Absolutely. No matter how many gold medals Ryan Lochte takes home in London, it won't be eight, I'll bet my house on it. Which means, my daughter's daughter, sometime in the 2040's, will still be calling Phelps the GOAT. Just not in 2010...

2. Lochte Ascends the Throne
Why is this man always smirking like a Cheshire cat who swallowed a canary? You would be too if you had the year that he did. Just two years after Michael Phelps' epic eight achievement in '08, Ryan Lochte proved himself to be a legit, in-the-same-sentence heir to the greatest. What he did in 2010 was, no other word for it, Phelpsian. 6 for 6 at Pan Pans; 6 for 8 last week at Short Course Worlds in Dubai. Chasing world records in textile with what-me-worry abandon. Doing it all with a shrug, a refreshing refusal to take any of it - or himself - seriously. But hitting the water every time with serious intentions... 

1. Fran Crippen, R.I.P. 
The defining story of 2010 was, unfortunately, one that will leave us with tragedy. The death of Fran Crippen in an open water race near Dubai in October. The tragic, infuriating negligence that led to his death is sending shock waves through FINA's powers-that-be as we speak. Here's hoping that it results in real change throughout the sport that Fran loved - and died for.  (USA Swimming)



Ryan Lochte

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