Not Every Revolutionary Situation Leads To Revolution

By David
Scott at Timed Finals recently discussed how we could better promote the sport of swimming. At the risk of over abbreviating his argument, here is a summary. The full article drew a lot of responses, including one from Gary Hall Jr.

“I mean seriously, does anyone care about this sport? While “mainstream” media hounds Britney Spears as she neglects her child, swimmers and swimming sit here doing what we always do – get up early, go to bed early and be model citizens.

But in defense of the public not caring, we are boring, aren’t we? The biggest news of the year in the eyes of the public? Ian Thorpe retiring. Someone leaving the sport dwarfs everything else. Seriously, no other story in swimming came close?

Call me what you want, but it is time we take stock and figure out how we can take this sport mainstream.”

Amen. You can say that again.

One of swimming’s problems is its overwhelming niceness. I once coached a swimmer who was moderately rebellious. Every time Toni said anything controversial I’d get a frantic phone call from Swimming New Zealand suggesting a program of media training. She didn’t need media training. She handled the media better than they did. It was the message they didn’t like and wanted to control.

There is nothing wrong with niceness. It’s just not very interesting. A fair number of today’s best swimmers have been media trained into oblivion. Every question is answered with a well rehearsed phrase. You know the sort of thing, “I just wanted to do my best,” or “Coming first was such a surprise,” or “I owe it all to my coach or the timekeepers or the referee.”

New Zealand is a classic. No one says anything anymore. A few years ago when the “rebellious” Toni was competing, the national television channel in New Zealand used to call regional swimming championships to find out if Toni had entered. If she was, they would have cameras set up to cover the meet for the 6.00pm national news.

Toni was sponsored by a local strip club. Public interest in that was sufficiently high it was one of the leading stories in USA Today and Japanese deep-sea fishermen visiting New Zealand would get into taxis and ask to be taken to the club that sponsors “that Olympic swimmer”.

Rhi Jeffrey has just started training here and contributing to Swimwatch. She’s refreshingly direct. And long may it last. I suspect it’s one of the qualities that made her good in the past and will do so again. I bet there are plenty out there who would love to see it beaten out of her. A local Florida reporter called me the other day to arrange an interview with Rhi and among the questions she asked me was, “Will you be able to control her?” Good God woman, that’s the last thing I’d ever want to do.

Swimmers like Rhi are good for swimming. John McEnroe, Dennis Connor, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Connors, Terrell Owens didn’t promote their sports by being nice. They promoted it with a quality called personality. So when swimming has personalities; when Sabir Mohammed ripples his fantastic abs and sends World Cup crowds wild, when Mark Foster wants to do a few weights and drink an Australian beer with his name on the can, when Gary Hall wears his flashy dressing gown, don’t be too quick to rush to judgment. Don’t do a “Craig Lord”.

Gary Hall Jr., robed and ready

Take heart though, the signs are good; you are already being fairly rebellious – you’ve just read SwimWatch.