Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Shower Thoughts- Why Free Will Is the Real Secret Behind American Swimming Dominance

Welcome to Shower thoughts, a who knows if I will keep it up series in which I post my swimming thoughts in a free flowing manner that is possibly best understood while medicated.

It seems like one of the biggest general fears of Americans these days in the post cold war era is China. Specifically, thinking of China as a monolith of massive proportions that will take over everything. In swimming, the fear is that China will somehow figure out how to harness their massive population and wrest the swimming dominance that the US has had in hand for the past few decades.

I'm here to tell you why that won't happen in the near future. Now you might say "WAIT, it already HAS happened" and point to this past summers World Aquatics Championship in Kazan where China led the overall medal count. However, in swimming China is still sitting well back in third, even at a World Championship where team USA submitted perhaps their worst performance ever.

Somehow, Australia, with not even 1/20th of China's population and quite frankly massive dysfunction in their swimming organization, also bested China. Why? Well I'm finally going to get to that.

Once you get to a certain level in elite swimming, it's a really big, fat, enormous advantage to have chosen that path. Both the United States and Australia have really high level athletes well past the age when their parents or a university is going to make it "easy" for them to continue in swimming. Better yet, they chose the sport at a young age and weren't forced to do it by some totalitarian talent selection procedure.

In fact, it appears China missed it's window all together while it was completely isolating itself from the world. They would have a had a much better chance at dominance in the 1970 or earlier, when the mean age for top international swimming stars was under 20 years old. At least at the younger ages some sort of "forced" program could have produced better results.

Another result of China's insular approach is that despite now having some elite international swimmers, they haven't been able to develop a single elite level coach within their own country. They've done a smart thing in farming out their best swimmers to Australia to get top level coaching, but it has to also be a huge cultural challenge for those athletes to see how different life is for top athletes in the free world.

Of course, the counter to all this is that China could just as well sponsor doping as fellow "non-free" nation Russia did/does. That would make up for the disadvantage of having athletes forced into performing rather than making the choice.

In the meantime, take a bet that despite all the challenges that come with not being able to "make" our best do whatever it takes, Rio will show that a nice big helping of freedom is still America's biggest advantage of all.


  1. This is bad and dumb. China's like, dominant in other sports ya know, right? Just imagine how good they'd be with "freedom!"

    I'd be more likely to give ya the benefit of the doubt if it weren't for that SwimSwam article about the U.S. beating Europe because of dual meet experience.

  2. Yes I can see that you didn't like that one either. Never made the argument that China wasn't dominant in other sports, after all they do have the world's largest population and unlike the other country with crazy huge population (India) they actually have built sporting success into their culture.

    Given that, look at how atrocious relative to the size of their country they are in all the developed professional sports. How's their soccer team? They're ranked #82 by FIFA in men's soccer! That's 46 places behind Iceland! A little better in basketball, where they are ranked 14th behind Slovenia and Croatia.

    They fare a little better in women's sports, but are still quite a ways down the list- and I would argue that they are only that high because women's sports are less developed.

    So essentially they only dominate in almost entirely amateur sports, and the way swimming is headed, they are not likely to dominate especially if there is more money involved.