COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, August 25. BOLSTERED by record performances and high television ratings at the 2008 Olympic Games, USA Swimming is anticipating its largest single-year membership boost in history. With past Olympics sparking 5-10% increases in membership, USA Swimming hopes to see post-Beijing numbers surpass those marks.
"The excitement surrounding the sport of swimming is undoubtedly at an all-time high," said Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming's executive director. "We absolutely expect that this sort of excitement and exposure will translate to membership growth at our clubs across the nation. The performances by our Olympic athletes were awe-inspiring, and NBC did a wonderful job of sharing those performances with a national audience. We are confident that those factors will inspire thousands to take up the sport."
Following Michael Phelps' six-gold-medal performance in 2004, USA Swimming saw year-round membership spike by 7%, the highest single-year gain for the organization in more than 10 years. Early indicators suggest that the 2009 bump will exceed that mark.
"We have been hearing from our member clubs across the country since the completion of swimming in Beijing, and they are seeing the effects already." said Pat Hogan, USA Swimming's Managing Director of Club Development. "The clubs we have spoken with tell us that their phones have been busy all month, and that trend is being mirrored across the country."
Though swim season and registration won't fully begin until early to mid-September, some USA Swimming Clubs are already reporting results.
At the Sarasota YMCA, Head Coach Ira Klein stated that approximately 100 children turned up for the first day of its three-day try-out period. The 400-member club set an ambitious goal of 25-30% growth which Klein said now appears attainable.
"We knew we set some high goals, but after seeing the numbers at our try-outs, we've got a real good shot at the 25-30% mark," said Klein. "We held our try-outs at the beginning of a tropical storm, and we still had record numbers. I think it's not just what Michael Phelps did, but all of the publicity and coverage that the sport got, and the positive image that the swimmers projected, that are sparking so much interest."
Across the country, the Spokane Area Swim Club is seeing a similar influx.
"We came back from vacation and I had more than 30 voicemail messages," said Todd Marsh, head coach and director. "I was kind of surprised, since we haven't even started our recruiting campaign. We're going to have to try to make room for all these new swimmers."
Marsh's wife, Vicky, who works with the SASC and at the local YMCA, said kids aren't the only ones getting into the spirit.
"As a Coach for the Spokane Area Swimming team for the last 20 years and also an employee of the YMCA of the Inland Northwest, I've seen first-hand the impact the Olympics have had on interest in competitive swimming. Michael Phelps' performance has kids excited about swimming competitively, but I've also noticed that adults are swimming and exercising more. It seems that Dara Torres' philosophy of ‘age is just a number' is inspiring many adults to train and get in shape at any age."
USA Swimming's highest post-Olympic bump in history came in 1993, following the highly-viewed Olympics in Barcelona. That year saw a 10% increase in nationwide membership. In 1997, the Olympic Games in Atlanta sparked an 8% increase, and membership lifted 5% in 2001, after the Olympic Games in Sydney.
Those wishing to find a USA Swimming Club in their area are invited to visit www.usaswimming.org to locate one of USA Swimming's more than 2,700 member clubs across the nation.
Press release run directly from USA Swimming.