ISL Swimmers React to Solidarity Program: New Life for Amy Bilquist, Justin Ress, Others

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Amy Bilquist. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

When the Olympics were postponed for an entire year, it left a lot of swimmers wondering if they could afford to keep their dreams alive. ISL swimmer Amy Bilquist was one of them.

The reigning U.S. champion in the 100-meter backstroke, Bilquist is a full year removed from college at Cal and was looking at 2020 as her career finale, whether that happened at the Olympic trials or in Tokyo.

After dealing with several injuries the past few years, she had to make a decision about her future.

That decision was a lot easier after the International Swimming League (ISL) announced its Solidarity Program in which each swimmer will receive a guaranteed $1500 wage for 10 months between September and July next year to tide them over in a time of challenge.

“I think it is a great move for the longevity of swimmers. Postponing the Olympics is what we needed to do, but that also puts professional swimmers in a financial strain,” Amy Bilquist told Swimming World. “It is big for me. I was pretty much ready to retire after this summer and go into the career force, but when this all happened I had to look in the mirror and wonder if chasing the Olympic dream was worth putting that on hold for another year. I really appreciate this. It will allow me to keep swimming that level I want to swim at for another year, which I am really grateful for.”

Bilquist swam for the LA Current last year but has not signed with a team yet this year.

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Justin Ress. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Justin Ress has re-signed with the Cali Condors after this news.

“It’s absolutely huge and it gives athletes like me or athletes similar to me an opportunity to keep going and training full time without having to obtain another job for financial stability,” Ress said. “Just a few years ago that wasn’t possible. I can’t say enough good things about how the ISL has a very good balance between spectator interest and athlete interest.”

Some swimmers will receive $3,500 a month through bonuses related to their success and status in a package that provides $11m in funding for swimmers: $6 million has been set aside for wages, while a further $5 million has been allocated to prize money for a condensed ISL season.

That is a big boost for swimmers who are living around the world, training in places other than at home. Such stars as Katie Ledecky weighed in on the decision via social media:

 

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Grateful for the support being shown by the @iswimleague for the sport through backing swimmers during this time

A post shared by Katie Ledecky (@katieledecky) on

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Siobhan Haughey. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Siobhan Haughey was one of the leading scorers of the ISL last year. The Hong Kong native has been training in the U.S., which takes a financial toll.

“I think it is great. It gives athletes a stable income leading up to the Olympics,” Haughey said. “I rely on this kind of thing a lot. I get a little bit from Hong Kong being on the national team, but this is definitely helpful having the ISL. It helps me pay rent and pay for food. I am in a different country, so I can’t rely on my parents or anyone for expenses.”

Haughey was the leading scorer for the DC Trident last season but signed with Energy Standard this year.

The ISL also announced a format for a condensed second season.

“It seems like we will all be training together and competing,” Haughey said. “It is a short period of time. Instead of spreading the season out, it is five weeks of hard work and hard racing. I think that is pretty fun. I think it makes a pretty big impact on swimming. For a lot of big international meets, you can only send two athletes per event. But with the ISL there are more swimmers who can see swimming as a professional career.”

“I am grateful that the leaders of the ISL have come together and taken a proactive approach to this and found a way to financially support the athletes,” University of Alabama grad Robert Howard said. “Hopefully things will be back to somewhat normal by the summer. If everyone is on board with the camp and we have a good environment to train in then I’m all for it. The stipend is very nice and that really gives me an incentive to do it. It will be interesting to hear more details about the camp.”

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Robert Howard Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

“I’m grateful that the leaders of the ISL have come together and taken a proactive approach to this and found a way to financially support the athletes.”

All 10 teams, 320 swimmers and their coaches have been invited to attend a five-week training-and-competition camp in October-November this year (the dates contingent on the coronavirus crisis’s development) at ISL’s cost, and will compete in matches four teams at a time, including a final.

It will bring swimmers from around the world together in unprecedented fashion, including Marie Wattel of France, Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, and Georgia Davies of Great Britain, among others.

“I really like the new concept of 4-5 weeks training and competitions,” Wattel said. “I’m also really pleased and grateful for the solidarity program. It means a lot for me as I have a lot of expenses since I’m in the UK, specifically with the university. I think it’s a great thing for swimmers and will help to focus on swimming. It is also another step forward for professionalism in swimming. Hopefully it will expand even more in the next few years and give opportunities to a larger pool of swimmers.”

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