Swimming Beyond the College Years

Column by Kristen Heiss

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, October 30. THIRTY years ago, the end of a swimmer's collegiate career almost always coincided with the end of the swimmer's career in the pool.

Although many of these swimmers would have liked to continue their training as professional athletes, the means for a swimmer to support themselves after college as a swimmer were nearly non-existent. A change that has benefited the progression of swimming today has been the continued support for athletes after their college days are over.

It is no longer just Michael Phelps who is able to support himself as a swimmer: the opportunity is now available for many of the elite swimmers to continue in the sport.

Two bodies that make it possible for swimmers to support themselves are the United States Olympic Committee and USA Swimming. These two organizations provide monetary support to help cover training and living expenses, provide elite-level swimmers with health insurance, help provide jobs that still allow athletes the ability to train, and offer grants for swimmers who would otherwise be unable to train because of financial strains. These bodies even provide scholarships for graduate level students who would still like to swim while attending graduate school. All of these benefits give swimmers today opportunities that swimmers 30 years could only dream of.

Besides the USOC and USA Swimming, swimmers are finding other ways to profit on their athletic ability through company sponsorship. To name a few: Ben Wildman-Tobriner is sponsored by Biogenesis, Cullen Jones is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and Toyota among others, and one of Gary Hall's sponsors is Everlast.

Additionally, Larsen Jensen is sponsored by Evian Natural Spring Water, Ian Crocker is sponsored by Aircast, and Jason Lezak has found sponsorship through 24 Hour Fitness and Penta.

Clearly, the range of companies providing sponsorship for professional swimmers has expanded beyond just Speedo and TYR.

Not only are professional swimmers sponsored, but they have a "league" of sorts to compete in. In 1989, FINA started the Swimming World Cup, which is a tour of swim meets for professional swimmers world-wide. These days, the World Cup meets are swum in seven cities across five different continents. The top male and female point winner, as determined by the seven meets, is awarded $100,000. That certainly is not a bad paycheck for a little more than a month of work.

The affects of this support for swimmers are showing. At the 2008 Olympic Trials, of the 208 swims in Finals, more than half of these swims were from athletes above the age of 22. This number alone shows how many athletes today are taking advantage of being able to continue their swimming. The new prime age for swimmers is no longer considered to be the age of college seniors. It is now not uncommon to see 26-30 year old swimmers competing in the finals at national level meets, not to mention the likes of Dara Torres and Susan von der Lippe.

Although most swimmers will never make the million dollar salaries that other professional athletes make, swimmers today are given the opportunity to continue competing. The support for swimmers today helps to promote the sport of swimming, and allows athletes the ability to continue doing what they enjoy.