By David Rieder
DURHAM, North Carolina, September 2. WITH all the major meets from the summer in the books, swimming news tends to go on the backburner for a couple months. How rare was it, then, to see swimming the top story on ESPN’s Sportscenter all afternoon. With college football, NFL, and major league baseball all big stories on Labor Day, ESPN sent its camera to Key West, where 64-year-old Diana Nyad had just completed her 59 hour swim all the way from Cuba after attempting the swim four previous times, three in the past two years. The world hailed Nyad as a hero for finally completing the swim after so many attempts that had come up short.
What, then, would have happened if Nyad had failed in her fifth attempt? She had claimed repeatedly in many of her previous appearances that the current attempt would be her final try before failing each time for either health reasons or drifting off course. When news broke on Friday that she would try the swim again, it seemed almost old news, as similar reports have come out every year at about this time for three years. In a situation that seemed like d?j? vu to many observers, Nyad have quietly faded away had she stopped short once again. After five failures, it wouldn’t be much of a story.
Over the weekend, news kept coming out that Nyad had made big progress, and hype built that she may make it all the way to her final destination, Key West. Finally, just before 2pm eastern time on Monday, she walked up the beach in Florida. After so many tries and nearly becoming a media also-ran, Nyad had done it. Suddenly, the entire world had their in full focus a woman who had experienced the disappointments of sport to the fullest extent and gone through more ups and downs over a long stretch of time than any other athlete ever has. Suddenly, Nyad had made it. No better success story exists in sports.
Mack Horton Now a Contender
Last week at the World Junior Championships in Dubai, Australia’s Mack Horton made a major statement with his six medals, five of them gold, including a sweep of the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 free events. His 800 free time of 7:45.67 vaulted him into fifth in the world, while his 1500 free effort, a 14:56.60, would have placed him sixth at the senior World Championships last month. While that time didn’t beat Jordan Harrison’s 14:51.02 as the top time in his Australia this year, he performed in the biggest way at the biggest competition of his life. Next year, Horton will be a strong favorite to reach bigger meets, assuming he qualifies for Australia’s team bound for the Pan Pacific Championships and Commonwealth Games.
The pressure will be on the 17-year-old Aussie to step up at those meets as he hopes to establish himself as Australia’s next big star in distance swimming. Since the retirement of Grant Hackett following the 2008 Olympics, no Australian has won a medal at a major meet. The likes of Ryan Napoleon, Robert Hurley, and most recently Harrison have all teased with impressive swims at the national level, but none have delivered internationally. Horton qualifies as a prospect unlike any since a young Hackett rose through the ranks. In a country that lives for the 1500 free, Horton has a change to become a national star if he keeps performing when the pressure mounts.
Michael Phelps Comeback Speculation Greater than Ever
On Sunday, Swimming World noted one of Michael Phelps’ tweets in which the 18-time Olympic gold medalist wrote “”Tomorrow is a new start… Can’t wait!!!” Immediately, the swimming community began to wonder if that meant Phelps was beginning the comeback to the sport which had been long-rumored since former Morning Swim Show host Peter Busch reported the comeback in May. Phelps has repeatedly attempted to deny the claim, but the rumor has persisted. At the World Championships in July, Phelps expressed his disappointment with the American failure to win gold in the 400 free relay, and he indicated that his competitive nature made him wish he was in the race.
Although no one, including Phelps, confirmed that his tweet referred to a comeback, other tweets from today have led to even further suspicion. Matt McLean tweeted on Monday that he was beginning training at North Baltimore today, while another NBAC swimmer, Conor Dwyer, tweeted a picture of the first day dryland training in Baltimore with Keenan Robinson. If Phelps was indeed rejoining longtime coach Bob Bowman at North Baltimore, today would thus have been a logical day to start training, and his tweet does indicate a beginning. The speculation on Phelps won’t stop until he comes out and says something and/or he re-enters the drug testing pool in hopes of a return. Stay tuned: this story will have further developments soon.