Thursday, May 10, 2012

Distance Memories

Buried in Craig Lord's 10,000 word opus on the future of swimming a few days ago was a quote from prominent coach Bill Sweetenham. In a rambling post that only Lord has the patience to produce, Sweetenham spoke the words of many coaches in his generation and peer group.

"short distance, high exposure has delivered many benefits to the sprint fraternity of world swimming but at a massive cost to the performance of 200 metre and up events on national and international scenes"

He goes on, but you don't have to read much to understand how Sweetenham feels. He's not happy about this development, even if he concedes the progress made in shorter events. You don't have to look far to confirm Sweetenham's hypothesis. Progress on a percentage basis has been dramatic in events from the 200 on down for the last 35 years. Distance has improved relatively little since it's heyday in the same period. 

The question I have: is that a bad thing? I'm sure you can guess my answer. I don't think so. I think that many older coaches, who grew up in the "distance generation", like Sweetenham, are too easily discounting how positive this change has been. Yes, if we still trained all swimmers mega volume, we would definitely have more distance swimmers, it would be easier to be a distance swimmer, and we likely would have progressed farther since.

I like to think more of all the sprinters and stroke specialists we trained right out of the sport in decades gone by that are now still swimming. It's not surprising to me that with alternatives to mega volume, the greatest progression since the 1970s has been in breaststroke and butterfly, with shorter races improving at a faster rate than longer ones. Those are strokes where major technical flaws can be more likely to appear under the pressure of high volume. 

So let's celebrate the fact that in 2012, there is a place in the swimming world for more swimmers and training than ever, and that despite all the panic mongering about "THE SUITS", it is likely that several world records will go down this summer.


  1. This isn't really related to the crux of your post - of which I agree completely - but how does a professional writer (which I assume Mr. Lord is) write this sentence?!

    While Phelps's 60 Minutes interview appeared to close the door on his mother's hope of a trip to Rio in 2016, a road show including fat fees for the two US giants of the race pool and others at the very pointy end of the sport, would be the kind of promotion for swimming that Phelps would be willing to sign up to, according to American sources.

    That is just...woof.