Gary Hall Jr.: OK, Computer
BEIJING -- This piece is going to wrap my thoughts on the swimming in Beijing.
I'm reminded of the classic line from "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure":
Everything is different, but the same ... things are more moderner than before ... bigger, and yet smaller ... it's computers...
Then came the "San Dimas High School football rules!" line that you should remember if you’re older than Michael Phelps.
What can account for the incredible time drops we've seen in the swimming pool over this last year? It’s an important question and I am proud to announce that I have cracked the case.
There is speculation about doping. A Google search with the word "doping" returned 50,837 results in 1.01 seconds. Doping does exist, but it can’t account for all of these swimmers breaking records.
What about swimsuit technology? A Google search of "LZR" turned up 4,801 results in 0.56 seconds. The suit does help but suit technology can’t account for all of the drops we’ve seen.
Maybe you’ve heard about the pool. It’s deeper than other pools, but not much deeper. It has overflow gutters. Overflow gutters have been around longer than most of the swimmers in the pool. Wave reducing lane lines are older than overflow gutters. There have been too many records broken outside of these Olympics for the pool to account for all of the records.
Starting blocks with built-in catapults maybe? No.
Maybe you don’t care. The issue has been beaten to death. Yet, still I didn’t have an answer that I was satisfied with, and it’s been eating at me.
In the famous words, "It’s computers …" I think we find our answer to that pestering question. The one thing that hasn't been discussed is computers and the common use of that tool that allows us to blog, and post videos on YouTube.
Additionally, the international lines are blurred. This is nothing new. Foreign swimmers have been coming to the United States, and more specifically NCAA swimming, for years. Now swimmers are living and training abroad. They bring with them knowledge that is shared and combined with the knowledge of other swimmers. This belief that all ships rise with the tide drove me to form The Race Club, comprised of athletes from all over the world. Athletes and coaches with knowledge from every swimming nation in the world are congregating and learning from each other a la Race Club style.
The Internet further blurs those international lines.
Is it a coincidence that the time drops in swimming coincided with a push from the swimming community’s effort to create video content for the swimming websites about a year ago? I don’t think it is coincidence.
About a year ago, a few swim websites really upped their effort to address the already passé trend of adding video capability. Content included quirky skits with Olympic gold medalists, interviews, technique discussions, training tips and swimming race footage.
A YouTube search for swimming turned up 129,000 results with a large video library of underwater footage that captures and measures the intricacies of the sport.
Now any coach from anywhere can pull up training sets, heart rates, yardage, recovery methods, lactate levels, underwater video analysis, stroke rates, tempo, send off intervals, dietary intake, supplement, sports psychology techniques, leg shaving techniques and message board discussions about suit technology and everything else swimming related.
Before the Internet a swimmer might get one chance a year to size up their competition in action. In the old world, while you might be able to see the results or technique of another swimmer you never caught a glimpse of anything else, like their training.
Very few races were televised and if a meet was televised it was a shaky hand-held camera from the stands, or the Olympics, and it was difficult to access. A camera in the stands is not a good vantage point to study what the swimmer’s hand is doing to catch and hold water.
Any swimmer or coach, of any ability, can now easily access a wealth of information from the best coaches and swimmers in the world and not just view it but also receive a detailed explanation as to why and how the stuff works.
We have talked and talked, written and blogged about suit technology. We’ve been over the speculation of doping. But we have neglected to talk about the Internet and how this tool has had such an impact on how we view and share and learn in the sport of swimming. I think this can explain the phenomenal rate of progress we’ve seen in the sport of swimming.
Since I cracked the case of the mysterious world record assault the only question that remains is, what ever happened to Bill (S. Preston, Esq.) from that classic movie "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure"?
-- Gary Hall Jr.
Photo: Michael Phelps during the men's 200m butterfly semifinal last week. Timothy Clary / AFP / Getty Images
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