Lack of Fans Could Be Factor For Slower Times at TYR Pro Series

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Lack of Fans Could Be Factor For Slower Times at TYR Pro Series

With less than 100 days until the United States Olympic Trials and 138 days until the Olympic Games, the Olympic fever is starting to heat up as we inch closer and closer to Tokyo. It was this week last year when the world was put on pause. Eventually, international travel was halted, Trials were canceled and the Games were postponed. With so much uncertainty around the upcoming Olympics, this past month of championship meets and growing vaccinations gave fans and swimmers a glimpse of hope that some day large gatherings will take place again.

With so much training lost last summer, it has certainly impacted the sport of swimming, although at some points within the last six months, it has not felt that way. World records fell at the International Swimming League last fall. American records were dropping at the conference championships this past February – all showcasing the tremendous heart of what the human body can achieve.

However, the long course times produced at the few meets these last few months have been indicative of what many people believed would happen this Olympic year. It seems like every swimmer in long course has just been a meter or two shy of their season bests for where they would be during this time. That can be chalked up to a number of things: lost aerobic base during the summer, lack of full training slots and limited long course racing.

NBC Olympic sports reporter Nick Zaccardi noted that this past weekend’s TYR Pro Swim Series in San Antonio was noticeably slower than the March 2020 meet in Des Moines.

The pandemic can’t be fully to blame for this dropoff in times, due to the fact that the swimmers have been swimming lights out in the short course pool, both meters and yards. Of course, long course is a different animal, but the athletes have been back to training full-time since October and November, so why have the times not been up to speed?

One thing to consider is the lack of fans in the stands for these meets that have been occurring. Des Moines has hosted a TYR Pro Swim Series meet two years in a row, and many athletes stated the Iowa fans were fantastic, and race video from the last two years shows that the crowd knew a good race when they saw one and made the finals plenty exciting when there was fast swimming in the water.

It is no secret that athletes feed off the environment they are in. NCAAs and any college conference meet is a great example. The atmosphere created by the swimmers, coaches and fans where they are fighting for every possible point brings out the best in the athletes, and can provide them with a swim they never thought was possible. Oftentimes swimmers can swim faster at their conference meet than at NCAAs even when they aren’t fully tapered because of the team energy being brought to each session. Many swimming fans chalk this up to swimmers “not hitting their taper” at NCAAs, but more often than not, it is because the swimmer may be emotionally lower than they were at the conference meet, and find it difficult to swim faster in a different environment.

The conference meets haven’t been too different this year without parents in the stands because all the athletes have filled the upstairs seating and are still bringing the noise for each race.

At the Pro Series, the empty stands can bring a challenge, especially when the excitement needs to be conjured by the limited number of people on deck. The coaches can only do so much, and it is hard to replicate the energy brought by a packed grandstand when there are less than 150 people in the venue.

There is a reason why swimmers, coaches and fans love attending their high school state meets, or their college conference meets, or Olympic Trials. When a crowd goes wild during the finals of the first 200 medley relay, the rest of the deck feeds off of that. When a swimmer turns under world-record pace at Olympic Trials and the crowd rises to its feet, the swimmers feed off of that. It can be hard to replicate that environment when fans aren’t allowed, and that may be part of the reason why the times have been off from where they were 12 months ago.

Yes, swimmers swim every practice in front of nobody except their coaches and their teammates and need to manufacture the energy internally, but in a tough long-course meet in early March, in front of an empty grandstand, it can certainly be difficult to light up a swim when the energy from the crowd is zeroed. Of course, this argument may be completely thrown out the window by Olympic Trials in June if the finals times are faster than the 2016 meet, but it has to be worth considering when fans are puzzled looking at meet mobile and seeing the less than stellar times being done.

Training cycles have been disrupted and athletes’ aerobic bases are not where they were at this point last year, which can cause athletes to approach these midseason meets differently than in years past. It is going to be difficult to determine who is going to rise up at Olympic Trials and the Olympics due to everyone’s differing circumstances with training during the pandemic. But the fact that we are even in this position with a second chance at the Games is reassuring that this five year gap will be worth the wait.

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2 years ago

Nope, totally wrong view, had nothing to do with lack of spectators. The San Antonio pool was an unfortunate (but perhaps only) choice for the meet. A facility structure originally built in 1960s, pool with narrow lanes and gutters with lane-to-lane spillover, uncomfortable starting blocks, shallow at turn end with bad “T” for judging turns. If Nick Zaccardi or other media interested in this issue had bothered to watch the meet or ask a couple of simple questions, it would have been obvious.

2 years ago

Well said Nelson!