Movie Review: ‘Swimming for Gold’ Earns a Participation Ribbon

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Movie Review: ‘Swimming for Gold’ Earns a Participation Ribbon

Growing up, I always watched sports movies and wondered why there were none about swimming? My personal favorites were always about gymnastics because it was a sport that I knew nothing about and learned from watching them. I felt like it would be great for non-swimmers to be able to learn about swimming from a fun and lighthearted movie. Imagine my excitement when I saw the new movie Swimming for Gold being released in 2020.

As soon as I saw it on Hulu, I decided to watch it immediately. Let me just say it was not exactly what I expected, but it certainly added some amusement to an otherwise boring Saturday afternoon. Before I get into my reactions to the movie, I want to say that I am very grateful for this movie being made. I love to see swimming getting some exposure, even if it is of the family drama movie variety.

Warning spoilers ahead!

The movie Swimming for Gold follows Olympic hopeful Claire Carpenter in her transition from swimmer to coach. Claire has a traumatic experience that leads her to walk away from swimming, but her dad encourages her to take a coaching job with a friend’s camp in Australia for a team preparing for “nationals.” The team has one month before their national championship, and if they do not win, they will likely lose their sponsorship and the camp will be shut down. The team expects Claire to lead them to a national championship. 

I could go on for hours about the small details of this movie that do not accurately portray the world of competitive swimming, but I will stick with the large issues that drove me nuts throughout the movie!

First, I want to address the glaring issue that I noticed within the first minute of this movie. Swimming is not primetime news. As much as I wish swimming got publicity regularly on the news, it just does not. The vast majority of the U.S. population only cares about swimming every four years when the Olympics roll around. However, I can overlook this issue because it is a dream come true for swimming to get such noteworthy news coverage regularly. 

When Claire arrives in Australia, there is a month until this “national championship.” She goes through a few different training styles throughout her four weeks of preparation. First, she is very lazy and has swimmers play games all day long. Then she becomes a drill sergeant and runs her swimmers into the ground. This seems like a very interesting style of coaching if you ask me. Those final four weeks of preparation before a meet are when most swimmers put their finishing touches on their training and begin a meticulously planned taper.

It is quite unrealistic that the team would swim well on this type of training, let alone drastically change their physical performance within a month. The team captain keeps track of the team’s average 100-meter freestyle time and average stroke rate. After about two days of hard training, he says that their average has decreased significantly and if they keep up their stroke rate they will drop lots of time. This is quite a large feat for such a short period of time. Dropping large amounts of time takes at least a  season’s worth of training to accomplish. I am not quite sure how Claire’s training magically made them faster, but if it really works I want her as my coach. 

Now for my least favorite element of the movie: the wardrobe. Clearly, the movie worked with Arena for their swimwear, and I commend them for working with a real competitive swim brand. What I do not understand is the choices of suits and other equipment. At the beginning of the movie when Claire is competing in a high-level televised swim meet she is wearing a suit fit for Grandmas to swim laps at your local YMCA. Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong per se with those suits, but they do not belong at a national level swim meet. The suit was simply too big and completely the wrong cut for optimal performance. Where are the kneeskins?!? This does not depict any sort of high-level swim meet I have ever been to. 

I understand that I am watching a teen drama movie which means there must be some kind of romance throughout the film. However, there are some serious Safe Sport violations in this movie. I mean it is definitely inappropriate for a coach to start dating one of their swimmers. I do not care if they are the same age, it just does not seem right to me. I read up on the Safe Sport regulations in Australia and it is certainly not up to their standards either. 

Swimming for Gold has an array of inaccuracies, but I am glad that swimming is getting some exposure. I do wonder if producers talked to any competitive swimmers when ironing out the details. Hopefully, this will not be the last movie to tackle the complex world of swimming but do I hope these films get better with time. 

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

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