Races I’d Like to See

Guest editorial by John Craig

PHOENIX, Arizona, May 25. SPORTS fans have always debated the hypothetical questions, for instance, how athletes from different eras would have fared against each other.

Luckily, with swimming, stopwatches have always been calibrated the same, so it's relatively easy to compare swimmers from different eras. But, there are always complications that make comparisons less straightforward than they seem.

As a swimming fan, there are a number of things I would like – or would have liked – to see. It's too late for some, but others are still possible. A short list follows. (The first two deal with the overworked topic of tech suits, so let me get those out of the way first.)

* I'd like to see the current crop of outstanding sprinters race in briefs in Rome to see how they'd compare to Alexander Popov's 21.64. Maybe Fred Bousquet is faster than that, maybe not. Either way, we'd have our curiosity satisfied.

* I'd like to see the 1981 version of Mary T. Meagher get to race in a deep pool, wearing a new suit, to see what she could go for a 200 fly now. (My money is still on her as the greatest 200 flyer of all time.) I'd also be curious to see what the 1988 version of Janet Evans could have done in a tech suit. (Alternatively, I'd like to see what Rebecca Adlington and Liu Zige could do in an old nylon suit.)

* I'd like to see the alternate universe where Kiki Vandeweghe, Tim Duncan, and Kris Humphries continued their swimming careers till age 25, just to see what they might have been capable of. All three showed tremendous early promise, then deserted the sport for basketball. Vandeweghe set several NAG records as a 10 year old back in 1969, and eventually grew to be 6' 8," 220. He played with the Nuggets, the Trail Blazers, and the Knicks. Duncan was a swimmer until a hurricane destroyed the only Olympic-sized pool on his home of St. Croix (He was reluctant to practice in the ocean because of his fear of sharks). He ended up as a 6' 11" star for the San Antonio Spurs. Humphries set three NAG records as a 10 year old (his 50 lcm free record still stands), then turned to basketball at age 12. He became a 6' 9" power forward for the Toronto Raptors. (Both Vandeweghe and Duncan had sisters who became Olympic swimmers.) I know, all three of these guys probably ended up with more money for having played basketball, so I can't begrudge them their choices. But as a swimming fan, I can't help but wonder what might have been.

* I'd like to see the 1984 version of Rick Carey swim a 200 meter backstroke with flip turns and several dolphin kicks off each wall. A flip turn plus several dolphin kicks (as opposed to the old hand touch backstroke turn with no dolphin kicks) has to be worth at least a second per turn. So Carey's best time of 1:58.4 in the 200 backstroke in 1984 compared very favorably with the top backstroke times of 20 years later. (Likewise, Betsy Mitchell's 2:08.6 from 1986 still looks awfully good.)

* I'd like to see Michael Phelps try a 100 fly breathing only every other stroke, using a straighter pull (the keyhole pattern he uses is more of a 200 fly stroke), just to see what he could do. Bowman has him breathing every stroke to maintain a consistent rhythm, and maybe he does have to breathe more to make up for those eight dolphin kicks off every wall. But I have the feeling he'd go faster with a more Cavic- or Munoz-like stroke. Phelps now has different strokes for his 100 and 200 free; he could do the same with his two fly events. There's no reason he has to be a body length behind at the 50.

* I'd like to see Natalie Coughlin really go for a 200 yard IM sometime. (Her days as a cardio animal may be over, but at one point, she probably could have gotten the 400 IM and 500 free records as well.) Given that she's set American records in the 50, 100, and 200 yard free, 100 and 200 yard back, and 100 and 200 yard fly, and in late '07 held all of those records simultaneously, one can hardly accuse her of not having explored her limits. And yes, she did medal in the 200 IM in Beijing. But still, she ought to try a serious 200 yard IM, which would lend itself more to her underwater abilities. I'd also like to see her really attack the World Cup circuit one of these years. If she can win six medals in one Olympics swimming long course, imagine what she could do short course.

* I'd like to see Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte participate in the World Cup circuit one of these years, for the same basic reasons. With their underwaters, they'd rip up the short course record books. Given that neither has ever really peaked for an SCM meet, that set of records, at least on the men's side, is somewhat cheaper currency. Time to bring those records into line.

* I'd like to see Laure Manaudou achieve some sort of peace of mind, then make a comeback with, say, NBAC. She wouldn't be hounded by the French media in Baltimore, and she'd have some great training partners. Bob Bowman has had a great deal of success with middle distance types. (And he seems to be a master psychologist as well.) Her 1:55.5 and 4:02.1 still compare very favorably to the newer, suit-enhanced records. A couple years of consistent training with a stable (if boring, by her standards) lifestyle should do it. There would be no better way for her to take revenge for those leaked photos than to win in London.

* I'd like to see the 50 stroke (non-freestyle) distances added at the Olympics. In track, the shortest event lasts approximately 10 seconds, then there are the sprint hurdles, which last roughly 12 seconds, and then the 200, which lasts for 19 seconds. In swimming, the shortest non-freestyle event lasts for 50 seconds. We should get the 50's added. (I wouldn't even mind a 25 at short course events. Okay, a 25 would never pass official muster, but it would certainly be fun to keep unofficial records.)

* I'd like to see a 50 meter underwater event. Or maybe a 50 yard underwater event, so that the swimmers could get a breath at the turn. This would answer the question, for once and for all, of who the best underwater dolphin kicker is. (Coaches now refer to the underwater dolphin as "the fifth stroke;" let's make it that.)

John Craig's personal (mostly non-swimming) blog is justnotsaid.blogspot.com