[Editor’s Note: You’re about to read Part 2 of our Summer Olympic Preview. If you missed Part 1 and you’re dying to know more about the Modern Pentathlon, click here. In Part 2 we discuss Swimming, perhaps the most popular Summer Olympic event. But just why is it the most popular? You’ll have to continue reading to find out. Also, a big congrats to Nkilla for giving birth to a baby boy yesterday. Well, his wife gave birth actually; he sat outside in the waiting room working on this blog with me the whole time. As happy as we are for him at the WBFF blog, we are giving him no excuse to stop blogging. If anything, he should be blogging more frequently while he spends time with his new bundle of joy. That baby’s going to sleep for like 20 hours a day…that’s prime blogging time.]
Now that we’ve covered perhaps the most obscure olympic sport—the Pentathlon—let’s change gears and talk about some of the more popular events. Have you guys been watching any of the qualifying stuff that’s on at primetime every night?
I assume if you’ve been watching anything, it’s the swimming right?
If so, is your wife getting as illogically excited over the races and specifically Michael Phelps as my girlfriend is? Maybe it’s because Julie was a swimmer in high school, but she’s dancing around the house saying things like, “oh my god, this is the best sport ever. Why isn’t it as popular as football?”
She was screaming for Phelps one night last week and just kept going “Come on, Michael, come on!” Apparently they’re on a first-name basis. Oh, and after one of his qualifying events she said that she wishes she had the same birthday as Phelps. No explanation on that.
I was enjoying the swimming trials right up until we had to watch an eight-minute event, the 800M Women’s Freestyle. They went to commercial in the middle of the race…that, to me, means it’s too long of a race.
Anyway, my question is what’s the main reason, in your opinion, that swimming is the most popular sport in the Summer Olympics?
A). Like Julie said, it truly is just the best sport ever.
B). It’s only popular right now because of Michael Phelps and as soon as the next olympics comes and he’s not around, the popularity will drop off.
C). The Summer Olympics sneakily has mostly really terrible events so swimming wins as the default only decent event.
I think the answer lies somewhere between B and C.
First of all, I would argue that the Summer Olympics has two major events that do not fall within the realm of main stream sports: swimming and track & field. The Olympic Committee knows these are the main attractions because all the swimming happens in the first seven days, all the track & field happens in the last seven days, and they don’t overlap. I think the general population is attracted to these two events because almost everyone knows how to swim, and almost everyone knows how to run and jump, so people feel some sort of kinship to the athletes. I also have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people are either into the swimming or into the track & field, but not both.
Back to the original question: I went back and looked at the swimming results for every olympics since 1988 (since that is the first olympics I can remember following) because I had a feeling that each olympics had a dominant swimmer involved. It turned out I was mostly right: 1988 Matt Biondi (7 total medals, 5 gold), 1992 Alexander Popov (5 total, 3 gold), 2000 (Ian Thorpe 5 total, 3 gold and all happening in his home country), 2004 Michael Phelps (8 total, 6 gold), 2008 Michael Phelps (8 total, 8 gold). The only year without a dominant male swimmer is 1996, and that year the US as a whole dominated the swimming, including winning gold in all six relays. What I am getting at here is that I think there is a chance that swimming is only popular because there is a dominant swimmer to follow in each games. I expect that to be fueled additionally by the “Phelps vs Lochte” hype this year. (Side question: Have you done any research yet to see if we should be “Team Phelps” or “Team Lochte”?)
Do you think my theory on “swimming only being popular because there is a dominant swimmer” holds water (pun intended)? Do you have a favorite discipline or race you look forward to more than others in the swimming area? And finally, the front crawl, back stroke, and breast stroke all seem to be natural swimming motions, but where the hell did they come up with the butterfly?
I’m in agreement with you that swimming is only popular because there’s a dominant swimmer we can latch onto each year. I think that’s how being a casual fan works. If the network broadcasting the olympics (with the help of ESPN and other media outlets) doesn’t create a compelling storyline that makes us connect with a specific athlete in these obscure olympic sports, then we won’t follow. There’s no such thing as a true, hardcore olympic fan. If someone tells you that they really are fans of any of the sports we’ll be seeing in August (except basketball or soccer of course), be sure to ask them when was the last time they caught the swimming, gymnastics or wrestling world championships on TV.
This brings me back to why I’ll be tuning in for swimming this summer, but won’t even notice when things like track & field, cycling, archery and gymnastics are going on. Swimming has done an incredible job creating compelling storylines for us. And the storylines vary. In the past 14 days, I’ve been tuning into the US swimming trials to see the greatest olympic athlete ever try to qualify for another chance at eight gold medals (Phelps), a 45-year-old woman trying to earn a spot in her sixth olympic games (Dara Torres), a 17-year-old phenom outswim the field over and over on her way to qualifying for seven events in London (Missy Franklin) and Phelps’ closest competitor and biggest “rival” try to overtake Phelps once and for all (Ryan Lochte). There’s so much drama, intrigue and stimulation that my nipples just got hard from typing the previous sentence.
As for my favorite discipline to watch, all I can tell you is breaststroke is my least favorite…it’s just so slow. I think the individual medleys are pretty sweet because the swimmers are tested in all four strokes, and I’m always expecting one of them to screw up and do them in the wrong order. I can also tell you I won’t be watching any events where NBC could theoretically take a full commercial break, return to live action and inform us that the race still has halfway to go (sorry, Women’s 800M and Men’s 1500M Swims…I don’t have time for you).
And by the way, don’t bother googling the history of the butterfly…it’s far less exciting than when I googled the Ancient Pentathlon. Basically some guy didn’t like how slow the breaststroke was and decided to tinker with it. Boom, butterfly born in 1933.
What are your thoughts on Phelps’s decision to drop out of the 200M Freestyle, thus ending his chance to repeat the eight gold medal haul from 2008?
I know one true olympic fan: my father-in-law. He loves track & field almost as much as we love football. He watches the world championships every year in his living room and times the races with his own stopwatch to make sure the official timer does not mess up. (I’m only slightly exaggerating. I went to the Olympic trials with him in Sacramento in 2004 and he did bring his own stopwatch.)
I’m fine with Phelps not doing eight events again. That was such a ridiculous goal he set for himself in 2008 and amazing that he made it happen. He should treat these olympics as his victory lap and only do the events he knows he can win with minimal effort. He deserves it. Though I do wish he would have dropped one of the relays instead. Phelps and Lochte will go head-to-head in the two IM races. Phelps holds the world record in the 400, Lochte in the 200. So assuming they split the IMs, the 200m Freestyle would have been the tiebreaker. I can definitely see the potential for a “Dan-Dave” situation where Lochte fails to qualify for the finals in the 400 and faults his way out of the 200 or something like that. Also, after just seeing Lochte’s picture on his wikipedia page, I decided he looks like a typical Yankees fan so I am completely “Team Phelps” when they go head-to-head, but I’ll switch back to “Team Lochte” any time he is competing against the Russians.
The compelling story lines are nice, but let’s not forget 50% of the reason to tune into the swimming events, Finland’s Finest.
Another thing that makes swimming highly popular amongst the viewing audience: for the first eight days of the games, swimming will have four medal events per day. Should I rank the eight days of swimming from best to worst medal events by day? I think I should:
1. 28-Jul (M: 400 IM & 400 Free; W: 400 IM & 4×100 Free)
2. 4-Aug (M: 4×100 Medley & 1500 Free; W: 50 Free & 4×100 Medley)
3. 3-Aug (M: 100 Fly & 50 Free; W: 200 Back & 800 Free)
4. 31-Jul (M: 200 Fly & 4×200 Free; W: 200 Free & 200 IM)
5. 29-Jul (M: 100 Breast & 4×100 Free; W: 100 Fly & 400 Free)
6. 1-Aug (M: 200 Breast & 100 Free; W: 200 Fly & 4×200 Free)
7. 2-Aug (M: 200 Back & 200 IM; W: 200 Breast & 100 Free)
8. 30-Jul (M: 200 Free & 100 Back; W: 100 Back & 100 Breast)
I love when you put the TV schedule/event logistics in your email because it tells me it’s time to wrap this conversation up. I never answered your “Team Phelps” vs “Team Lochte” question, but I think it’s fairly obvious from my original email that if I don’t choose Team Phelps, I’m likely to have a girlfriend who refuses to talk to me until the 2016 Summer Olympics.