Quiet Competition Schedule Means Elite Swimmers Can Reset

ISL, warm up pool
Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

Quiet Competition Schedule Means Elite Swimmers Can Reset

After a summer packed end-to-end with international competitions, from the World Championships in Budapest to the European Championships and Commonwealth Games (plus several junior-level competitions along the way), we are in the midst of a quiet time in swimming, a collective deep breath for all parties involved. Sure, in the United States, we have seen some college teams begin their seasons with dual meets, and the fall championship season for high school swimming is beginning, but there is still plenty of time until the late November/December rush of competitions.

For a chunk of the world’s top swimmers, that meant an excellent time to take a break, a physical and mental refresh. With the International Swimming League on hiatus this year, there was no rush for swimmers to hit heavy training right away after their big meets of the year. That’s in huge contrast to 2021, when a collection of Olympians gathered in Naples barely a month after the Tokyo Games concluded for a month-long stretch of ISL regular season action.

When Caeleb Dressel posted on Instagram in September after a months-long silence, he said that his break from the pool had helped him find happiness again, and he issued a valuable reminder that breaks are necessary for mental health. He was not the only one to prioritize his mental well-being over the last few months. Leon Marchand skipped the European Championships for a quick reset before college swimming, and Canadians Penny Oleksiak and Sydney Pickrem were among those to miss the Commonwealth Games. Those who finished their long course seasons after Worlds, including the bulk of top U.S. swimmers, could take advantage of two full months to reset.

American-record holder and World Championships bronze medalist Kate Douglass was among those to take two full months off from training. After a whirlwind five-month stretch of college championships, qualifying for Worlds and then the Budapest meet, the timing simply made sense, even with the long-range target of the Paris Olympics already in mind.

“Definitely the idea of taking a break scares me. Getting out of shape really stresses me out,” Douglass said. “Me and (Virginia coach) Todd (DeSorbo) talked about how mentally and physically it’s definitely for the best that I took time off going into these next two years. After the summer, we felt like there wasn’t really a time where I could take a big chunk of time off again like that.”

The last time most top swimmers got extended time away from the pool was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, but that unplanned hiatus was hardly a mentally refreshing time with Olympic pressure already taking hold, and the after-effects of the longer-than-usual buildup to Tokyo were evident throughout 2021, with stress wearing on athletes even more than in a usual Olympic campaign.

Of course, each individual operates differently, and plenty may have finished up the summer competition season with no urge to get away. And that’s fine. But for the bulk of swimmers, the advantages of time off easily outweighed any physical benefits of a month or two of training well-removed from any major competition. They will likely be better prepared for the Paris Olympics because of their time off.

As most return to training, they can deliberately return to full training without rushing back at the risk of injury. Even a swimmer keying in on December’s Short Course World Championships in Melbourne would have plenty of time to prepare for that, and same for the major competitions in the first half of 2023 that will serve as qualifying meets for the next long course Worlds in Fukuoka, Japan.

In August 2023, on the other hand, few swimmers will be pining for an extended break. Olympic fever will be in full swing. It will be all-systems-go in the final run-up to Paris.

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