By Shoshanna Rutemiller
PHOENIX, Arizona, December 21. WHAT do you get when you comment on a swimmer's “Speedo” in an article? A giant red circle and one word written in all caps: BRAND.
It's an easy mistake to make. In fact, it's one of the most common mistakes in the world of swimming. Generations of swimmers know their swimsuits as “Speedos.” Coaches told little swimmers horsing around before practice to go run and put on their “Speedos.” But a swimsuit is a swimsuit, and Speedo is a swimsuit manufacturer. It's swimming jargon, vernacular, perfect brand association engrained in the world of swimming.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to walk around with a giant red editing marker, correcting mistaken brand association. Just like “tissues” are “Kleenex,” “swim briefs” are “Speedos.”
Even before swimmers are coordinated enough to perform a perfect flip turn, they can pen Christmas lists asking for a range of Speedo-brand gear. Goggles, suits, swim caps, swim bags, mesh bags, duffle bags… the list goes on and on. People stumble over Speedo brand products everywhere scented with slightest hint of chlorine.
Swimmers choose Speedo for one simple reason: it's the most recognizable brand in swimming. If longevity is any indication of popularity, Speedo has been around since 1914. Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps are Speedo-sponsored athletes. How much more exposure can a suit manufacturing company ask for?
Age group swimmers sit for hours at swim meets, waiting for their thirty seconds of racing. Years ago, during one of those painful age group sessions, I remember picking at the Speedo sticker on the side of my swimsuit. I eventually whittled it down so that the “SPEEDO” became “PEE.” When it finally came time to race, I gleefully told my coach that I was going to “PEE” in the pool. And then I pointed to the mangled Speedo logo. It was the punch line to a very bad joke.
I came to associate those age group meets with my Speedo suit. The brand branded itself in my head. And, yes, I am still regularly drawn to the Speedo section of the suit store, because, hey, it's what I know.
USA Swimming may have signed a new National Team apparel sponsorship deal with Arena, terminating its 27-year exclusive sponsorship contract with Speedo, but I'm betting little age group swimmers will continue to “PEE” in the pool.
After all, the little kids want to be like the big kids. Yes, National team members will be decked head to toe in Arena apparel behind the blocks and on the podium, but what are they racing in? Between the lane lines, the suit choices are endless.
Young swimmers emulate what they see. Arena gets a considerable amount of US exposure with its National team apparel contract. But there's still a ways to go before coaches stop telling their young swimmers to “Go put your Speedo on.”