Guest editorial by Chuck Slaght
PHOENIX, Arizona, May 5. BACK in the 1980s when the United States was planning on converting to the metric system, there was so little support that that idea was scrapped, and we retained the same standards of measurements (yards for swimming). We are currently the only country that has basically sidestepped this issue, and continued with building facilities using the yardstick.
NCAA and high school swimming have retained yardage as the measurement for performance with a few beginning to convert their programs via facilities to meters. USA Swimming (USAS) age group, and U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) has retained short course yards (SCY) meets and records, and minimized short course meters (SCM) due to the lack of meter facilities (USMS does maintain SCM records in alignment with FINA Masters).
A little history, swimming has changed once before in two areas regarding swimming while we were regulated by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Swimming dropped long course yards around 1965 (55 yard pools and competition) and the "Country Club" type pool (33.33 yards), which even some recreational centers developed just for these meets prior to 1965! So, it can be done, it just takes an effort on the part of all of us involved in swimming wholeheartedly supporting this change. I don't remember any difficulties or battles over this change, these facilities just faded away as they became obsolete (or they rebuilt to accommodate competition). Change can be a good thing but it will take our complete support!
So, what should we do to begin to correct this problem, and it is a tremendously complex problem for America with the majority of our facilities being SCY?
I believe we have to ask the people, the aquatic industry, and our governing bodies to begin an aggressive campaign to build new facilities to accommodate SCM competition.
I would propose building several facilities as soon as possible strategically located to hold major events that can accommodate multiple meets (maybe for SCY but surely for SCM and LCM). These facilities would be massive compared to the current facilities, but there could be a universal design that would help standardize this singular building event.
What I am suggesting is an 86 meter by 25 meter tank (wide lanes) with double bulkheads for course divisions. One area could accommodate diving, and a water polo course, since these areas are also declining rapidly. This would accommodate three short meter courses of 10 lanes each, a long course meter course, and also, with the double bulkhead, it would accommodate two short course yard courses!
These facilities, or a special national facility, could become a site for the World Championships currently not held in the U.S. These facilities could also hold regional SCM championships (zone type championships), World Championship Trials, and a National SCM Championship (on a rotating basis). This will be a difficult endeavor, but it is critical to our sport.
Here are just some further thoughts to conceptualize. Why are other countries getting faster SCM performances? Could it be that they train and compete in SCM? Why is there a movement to add the 50 butterfly, 50 backstroke, and the 50 breaststroke to the Olympic events? Why are World Championships held outside the U.S., and why are so many records held by non-USA swimmers? Does FINA maintain SCY World Records, and if not then why not as the U.S. is the powerhouse swimming country right? How many facilities outside the U.S. are short course yards capable and where are they? If the answer keeps coming around to short course meters, then we have to make a bold decisive move quickly!
If the United States is to remain ahead of the world in swimming, we must change our thought process, our focus, the aquatics industry, and our current building philosophy.
Our success has been through diversity, yet we fail to provide diverse facilities (SCY, SCM, and LCM equally)! It should be strongly recommended or required that all new 50 meter facilities be built with a 25-meter width. Use a bulkhead to retain 25 yard courses if necessary, thinking of NCAA current requirements but this too must change.
We must proactively and aggressively design and build facilities to compete against all nations, all competitors! We have fought too long against the metric system, and now we must campaign to change for our future and to remain dominate in swimming. Will we act now or react when it is too late? In our current state of economic crisis, this seems a daunting task and maybe even impossible to correct: are we already too late? This will take bold sacrificial efforts by everyone in the aquatics community to create change!
What say you America?