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Courtesy of: Azaria Basile
Courtesy of: Azaria Basile
Commentary by Duncan Scott
MESA, Arizona, April 26. SWIMMING meets have long been a marvel of coordination of efforts of folks wanting to serve the interests of "the kids." Professional coaches, volunteer parents/family/friends, officials, facility operators and staff, vendors, sponsors and other community elements. These events are amazing, when you think about it, and are taking place at hundreds of locations across the country almost every weekend all over the country.
Grand Prix meets have evolved from this root. They continue to serve their initial competitive purposes but have grown over the years into platforms for effective promotion of the sport.
By the early 1990s, changes were developing in the society of American swimming which called out for a new format codifying setting out meets facilitating national team program development and effecting change down through each level of athletes striving toward being part of that program. Additionally, various factors, often related to availability of money, had been resulting in more and more post-graduate athletes looking to continue their swimming careers.
Consistent reliable opportunities for quality competition were needed throughout the year, including for the increasing pool of athletes who no longer had eligibility for school-based meets. A special confirmation of meets outside the school year was also expected to help prepare our best to be at their best in national and international championships by concentrating participation by a higher share of our top athletes in specified meets through the preparation period.
Grand Prix meets were born at a USA Swimming (USS then??) convention (1993? 1994?) when legislation was proposed by Mark Schubert and his compatriots on the Technical committee, I believe then including icons of the sport David Marsh, Skip Kenney and John Urbanchek, among a few others, which was then adopted by the House of Delegates of that Convention and added to the rulebook. This assured involvement of the national office and national team, leading to a developing consistency in format and event quality.
Initially meets were bid for at the Convention and awarded to clubs annually. Over time, with more operational direction taken over in the national office, including award/assignment of the meets, multi-year agreements were entered, giving an improved opportunity for long range planning to the local partners in the meets. Over time, the national office has sought to improve the quality and consistency of meet experience for both athletes and public. To this end, they contribute staffing of multiple meet operational functions, both from the national office and from contract sources. Over time, they have begun providing equipment, for both meet operational and promotional functions, handling of meet entries, including participation from national team members desiring a meet. They have taken a hand in officials assignments, press relationships and information distribution, including through various web services, including webcast, and available broadcast arrangements to sell/grow the sport.
As the national office has become increasingly involved in execution of Grand Prix events, it might suggest participation by local club hosts has waned. As demonstrated by "2014 Arena Grand Prix -- Mesa", that would be a wrong conclusion. Roles may have adjusted over time, but the amount of effort and manpower put in by local sources has surely increased, both from the host Mesa Aquatic Club and its supporters and other LSC wide servants to the sport.
Mesa Aquatics Club, through Paul and Laura Smith, coordinated the work of hundreds of people to assure coaches, athletes, government officials, swimming officials, spectators, media and USA Swimming staff leave the event wearing smiles for swimming. Even with Michael Phelps swimming, grandstands do not automatically fill. Tickets must be sold, VIP sections with special amenities must be developed and manned, kids groups invited, hospitality for officials, coaches and media must be arranged and re-supplied through the weekend, marshals organized and coordination throughout the year with the city and schools, and security, to make sure the facility is adequately staffed and modified to handle the crush of people/parking and increased electrical power needs. There are certainly a myriad of other functions planned and executed by the locals I'm not privy to; this is only a list drawn from observations of site conditions and activity.
Other members of the Arizona swimming community have played roles as well, including, for example, 25-30 Arizona Swimming Officials, among others volunteering from all over the country, providing support to the work of the key officials assigned through USA Swimming.
The Mesa Grand Prix event can be called just another swim meet. But the synergy of efforts of hundreds of staff and volunteers deserves recognition in making it, instead, a special and memorable event.