FINA World Cup Should Be Called FINA Cash Giveaway

2016-hosszu-tounge-celebrate-final-200im
Photo Courtesy: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

By David Rieder.

At the most recent stop of the World Cup circuit in Doha, Katinka Hosszu finished first in nine out of 17 women’s events, giving her 200 career World Cup gold medals. Sounds impressive—until you remember that only six out of 58 individual Olympic medalists from Rio even showed up in Doha.

“World” Cup? Not even close.

This series is not a marquee event like the soccer’s World Cup.  It’s not even on the level of the World Cup of Hockey—the international tournament the National Hockey League put on last month in lieu of sending its players to the Olympics.

No, the FINA World Cup is a series of two-day short course meter events spread throughout the months of August, September and October while most of the world’s top swimmers are either on break or back home ramping up their training cycles. So few top competitors show up that Hosszu has been able to win more than one million dollars in prize money from World Cup competitions alone.

Yawn.

Year after year, the World Cup meets remain largely noncompetitive. The 2016 season has included exciting showdowns between Alia Atkinson, Yulia Efimova and Katie Meili in the sprint breaststrokes. But far more races have been downright lackluster—like the one where eighth place finished 33 seconds behind the winner, or this one, with four total competitors.

Why FINA puts such high value on this diluted series in its annual selection of World Swimmers of the Year continues to miff the swimming community, let alone so much money.

The international attendance at the first cluster of meets in Europe this year was adequate, but hardly anyone showed up at second cluster of meets in Beijing, Dubai and Doha. No Canadians made the trip, and no Britons, either. China had the likes of Lu Ying and Xu Jiayu in attendance, but at the Beijing meet only.

Among Australians, Brittany Elmslie, Madeline Groves and Bobby Hurley competed in the last three meets. Top-flight Americans included Meili, Breeja Larson and Josh Prenot.

Prenot travelled to the World Cup for the first time this year, simply because the circumstances allowed—he was not in school, and he earned funding to do so. Swimming in each of the second cluster of meets, Prenot said that he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to travel around the world and compete.

“Getting lots of race experience helps you become a better athlete, and racing in cool locations is probably the most fun way to accomplish that,” he said in an email.

A unique opportunity to gain racing experience, and credit to Prenot for jumping on the chance. But you might still be getting the sense this event is, despite the name, not so marquee.

Try this one: do you know what Katie Ledecky, Adam Peaty, Ryan Murphy, Lilly King and Kosuke Hagino have in common? All individual Olympic gold medalists from Rio, yes. There’s also the fact that none have ever competed in a single World Cup meet.

When asked in an interview with SwimVortex’s Craig Lord if he would consider doing World Cup meets, Peaty responded that he had no interest.

“No, no World Cups, and we had an option for the World Short Course [Championships], and I said no to that,” Peaty said. “No one cares about short course in Britain. There’s no coverage of it and what people want to know about is the Olympic Games and the World Long Course Championships.”

Apparently, the sentiments are fairly widespread. USA Swimming hosted World Cup meets from 1998 to 2006, but it could not attract enough of its own National Team athletes to justify continuing. Great Britain has not hosted since 2001, Canada since 2002, Australia since 2008. No World Cup meet has even been held in the Western Hemisphere since Rio hosted in 2010.

On the flip side, plenty of athletes have taken advantage of the World Cup opportunities—and the associated prize money. Stud breaststroker Cameron van der Burgh won the World Cup series three times. Before he had made a name for himself long course, van der Burgh travelled the world, did his (later controversial) pullouts and won the 50 and 100 breast meet after meet.

American backstrokers Randall Bal and Peter Marshall sustained their respective careers several years past their prime on the World Cup circuit, and now Hurley has done the same. Morozov has pure speed and power, which in short course translates to 50s of stroke and the 100 IM—hence his points lead for this year’s circuit.

Chad le Clos is the only man to have won more than 100 career World Cup races, including three each in the 50 and 100 free. Le Clos is by no means a sprint freestyler, but good underwaters plus poor attendance equals victories.

But no one can compare to what Hosszu has done at World Cup meets. Since her debut in 2012, she has won a whopping 200 gold medals, almost twice has many as anyone else. 52 of those wins came in 2014, when she swept six events (200 free, 100/200 back, 100/200/400 IM) at all seven meets on that year’s circuit and broke five world records—two each in the 100 IM and 200 IM and one in the 400 IM.

For her efforts, FINA named Hosszu its top swimmer of the year, citing her World Cup series win, her five short course meters world records and—lastly—her six medals at the European Championships.

Sure, that’s impressive—but then remember what Ledecky did that year: five world records, all of them long course, and five gold medals at the Pan Pacific Championships. For those efforts, Ledecky was unanimously named Swimming World World Swimmer of the Year. Hosszu earned European Swimmer of the Year honors.

“If not for Katie Ledecky’s earth-shattering swims in distance freestyle, Katinka Hosszu definitely would have had the credentials to win World Swimmer of the Year.” (from Dec. 2015 issue of Swimming World Magazine).

While Hosszu was piling up World Cup gold medals that fall, Ledecky was back home in Northern Virginia, training for the long course World Championships coming up in 2015. At that meet in Kazan, Ledecky would become the first human being to sweep the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 frees at a World Championships, breaking three world records in the process.

Hosszu won two golds in Kazan, broke one world record and then took home her fourth-consecutive World Cup series title. Swimming World again named Ledecky World Swimmer of the Year—once again by unanimous vote—and FINA again picked Hosszu.

Also in 2014, Hagino won Swimming World Male World Swimmer of the Year award for his five medals at Pan Pacs, seven at the Asian Games and his top times in the world in both the 200 and 400 IM in long course. Like Ledecky, Hagino won his award by unanimous decision.

Le Clos, meanwhile, did not make top five in that vote—but his win in the World Cup was enough for FINA to hand him their honors for top male swimmer of the year.

Sensing a disconnect here?

FINA puts immense value on its signature World Cup series, but only a minority of elite swimmers share those sentiments. World Cup victory totals seem like hollow numbers when your competition is thin—and when you have more than a hundred of them.

Does the series’ short course format have anything to do with that? Well, last year FINA made the events long course because of the Olympic year, and the competition took a step up. Hosszu won “just” 30 gold medals—15 of them in IM races.

The more taxing nature of long course prevented Hosszu from attempting race programs as busy as she often does, and she faced stronger competitors than she typically does on the circuit—Lauren Boyle in distance free, Emily Seebohm in the backstrokes and Cammile Adams and Franziska Hentke in the 200 fly.

It’s become abundantly clear how little short course meters competition means to many of the world’s top swimmers. Athletes like Peaty are declining invitations to compete at the Short Course World Championships—and surely, there will be more. Ever heard of anyone choosing to skip the long course version of that meet for any reason other than injury?

Of course, it’s hard to advance short course meters when the world’s swimming powerhouse refuses to buy in. High school and college competition in the United States is almost exclusively short course yards, and with the prohibitive costs of building pools, that’s not changing anytime soon, if ever.

American swimmers grow up not caring about short course meters. Many other elite athletes from around the world come to share those sentiments when the focus becomes all Olympics, all the time, and the grind of long course training does not allow breaks for distractions like the World Cup.

But don’t think FINA will stop marketing the World Cup as a marquee product anytime soon—even if it may as well be called the “Hosszu Cup” or the “le Clos Cup,” maybe even the “Morozov Cup” if the Russian keeps up with current pace.

The “World” Cup? Got to get the world to show up first.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

25 comments

  1. Chris Gallagher

    It’s nearly impossible to make a living as a professional swimmer, yet you ostracize swimmers who pursue their financial interests by competing? Seems backwards.

    • avatar
      David Rieder

      Nothing against Hosszu or any other athlete, Chris. She took advantage of the system. I have an issue with the system as it is. “World Cup” is a silly title for what these meets actually are.

      • avatar
        AllTruth

        Good points, David

      • avatar
        Paul Windrath

        David –

        Why are you against a financial program that allows swimmers to extend their sporting career? This series does not fit the school schedule for some of the Olympians. So what. It is SCM. So What. I like watching SCM better that the Olympics. “Disrupting” a training cycle? So What. Maybe it would show that more racing in lieu of training is good for your performance. And, get Paid? Sign me up if I was good enough.

        FINA has put the money out there and the swimmers are not taking advantage of it. Too bad for the swimmers not taking advantage of it. Maybe the US Swimmers ought to try a little different training program and see what happens and take a shot at the money.

        A post yesterday talked about swimmers not being household names. Maybe this would be a partial answer to that by competing, winning, cashing the check, and publicizing the meets to the press. I see an opportunity being missed and not a system that is wrong.

        Sorry – don’t agree with you on this one.

    • avatar
      Tom W

      If the goal is to increase competition, FINA is failing. If the goal is to give money to a few athletes, they are succeeding.

    • avatar
      Cate

      When did he ostracize the swimmers anywhere in this piece?

  2. Noria Gaier

    Well said Chris!

  3. avatar
    Bill Bell

    How about the Katinka Hosszu Invitational ( Benefit?)

    But as Chris Gallagher observes above, there’s nothing preventing other swimmers from emulating Hosszu’s World Cup feats…save perhaps for a lack of talent.

  4. avatar
    YY

    Average ranking of the second place in the races where Hosszu won gold medal was 29 in Moscow. When you answer the question why leading swimmers do not participate in the so called world cup then it will be very clear why swimmers like Hosszu fit such tournament the most. There is no supporting team traveling expenses. There is no interruption of the coaching process. There is no time away from family.
    Should the competition be at the level as it was let say in Kazan WC even in Hosszu’s case the prize money wouldn’t cover the expenses, inconvenience and interruption from training process.
    If the world cup is the successful business in terms that organisers earn more than spent then we have too see more of such meets. If it is not profitable then who pays for this “world” cup and what actually it promotes.

  5. avatar
    Tony

    That’s the longest and most boring cry baby snivel I’ve ever heard.

    Hosszu wasn’t too shabby at the Olympics was she?

    If the rest of the world looked down their noses at millions of dollars on the table that I was capable of scooping up I’d be the first with his nose in the trough

    Get a grip!

    • avatar
      YY

      You will never beat Hosszu in scooping competition 🙂 She is the best Scooper in the world.
      Her Olympic performance is another story that deserves special discussion. Especially this last 200 at her epic 4:26 race.

  6. Tony Tapper

    Pathetic!
    Snivelling because someone scooped up a million bucks that no-one else wanted
    You couldn’t make it up

  7. avatar
    Charlie

    Four people in an event at a “World” cup? Get a reality grip!

  8. avatar
    asdd

    you guys in the swimming world are pathetic…two attacks at hozzu in two consecutive years?well im not even getting in trouble to answer to your stupidity..i ll just remind you the leaks from wanda where jack conger and simon are-in legally context- doped..

  9. avatar
    IIN

    With Hosszu’s performance in World Cup and Short Course World Championships coming up, I have no doubt she will be become Fina Female Swimmer of the yeat next January for third consecutive year.

  10. avatar
    completelyconquered

    Great stuff David.

  11. avatar
    Guppy

    Odd mash-up of issues here. A negative comparison of completely unrelated sports based on their use of the term “World Cup” is a silly and spurious way to construct an argument, especially when you ignore sports that might offer a more appropriate analogy, like World Cup track, skiing or surfing . A survey of how “World Cup” is applied within various sports might be an interesting article. There is a long list of sports that use the term in very different ways. The FIFA World Cup that you mention has much more in common with Olympic swimming than an in-season series.

    Dismissing Short course meters format, which has steadily gained importance over the past several decades, shows a lack of knowledge of history or understanding of what is healthy for the sport. The belief that it’s irrelevant because the US hasn’t embraced it is a sign of jingoistic navel gazing that is disrespectful of the world. An article that examines American swimming’s reluctance to let go of an irrelevant, isolated and anachronistic format might be an interesting article. It isn’t true that we are forever hopelessly locked into yards. Nothing is stopping new pools from being built metric, or even a yards and meter combination except a failure to let go of outdated ideas and traditions. No one will ever set a world record in yards. No one else in the world cares about our private little backyard pool. Again, taking a thoughtful look at how another similar sport transitioned from an isolated domestic only format to a world standard might be inlightening. Can you imagine track still running 440s and 880s? Why is swimming any different? Man, we’re comfortable in a our own little bubble, aren’t we?

    I don’t think most British swimmers agree with the one you quoted in their disregard for short course. The sport needs year round competition and most of the world has seasonal weather that precludes competing outdoors during winter months. Track and field offers a good analogy. Indoor track will never be as prestigious as outdoor, but it is still a vital component of the sport’s survival and growth.

    What is the real point here? To attack things foreign? It’s an odd way to embrace our sport and cultivate its success. Certainly not the most intellectually robust article I’ve ever read. A bit lazy on thoroughness and depth of thought.

    • avatar
      NotGuppy

      Dear Guppy… You use a lot of big words but fail to understand the gist of the article. Why call it a “World” cup if some races only have four contestants and the difference between first and 8th in other races can be over 30 seconds. Certainly not the most intellectual comment I’ve ever read.

      • avatar
        Guppy

        My comments are in direct response to the article that was published….the entire meandering diatribe. Yes, I read the whole thing, not just the first paragraph.

    • avatar
      YY

      You are missing the point of this article. It is not about Americans and their traditions. It is not against Hosszu personally, it is not against SC races as a kind of swimming competition. This tournament is a great example of stupid stubborn business that is wasting money. These meets haven’t been attracting neither swimmers nor spectators regardless their nationality and training habits. If they at least make awards adjustable based on how results fit season rankings it would make more sense and stimulate swimmers to perform. But when I see Hosszu earning a great deal of money by winning 800m (SC) with the result that will rank her #49 in LCM and beating with this time the second place by 10 seconds then …
      I don’t know, you may like it, then I don’t.
      Let some people with brains and proven business skills managed this money and they will do great favor to the swimming as the sport and to swimmers as professional. When spectators return to stands then and only then the swimming will prosper as the professional sport. Giving away money doesn’t do any good.

      • avatar
        Guppy

        You just edited out 90% of the article and listed the ideas that are actually written in the article that you are discarding. I think I can figure out what the point of the article is without your help. But thank you for your effort.

  12. avatar
    Lawrie

    Try this one: Adam Peatty and Kosuke Hagino have competed in previous World Cups. Get your facts right David.

  13. avatar
    Oscar

    Don’t agree with this article. Olympians are attending so you can’t say it is not attracting top swimmers. Maybe not attracting many US Olympic and top swimmers, but that is because most have to give priority to their schools programs, they have scholarships as commitment. NCCA is a good example of a high level swimming with an unconventional format. More competitions is good for the sport and if they are profitable much better!! It is not even that much prize money compared to other sports, traveling to competitions has a high cost and prize money is a good source of funding. Good for all those swimmers making some money. I ❤️Katinka

  14. avatar
    Chris Gallagher

    This article is pure garbage, and your using the angle of “criticizing the system” as a ploy to make a dig at one of the best swimmers in the world. It harkens back to the 2016 Games when the media critized her for showing too much emotion toward her husband on deck. You make Americans look bad by taking this bitter angle. We have a lot to be proud of and don’t need this negativity in the swimming community.

    Instead, we should be brainstorming ways to increase financial opportunities and enhancing exposure so that our sport can grow instead of chastising people who take a non-traditional approach. Otherwise, swimming will continue to be marginalized.