PHOENIX, Arizona January 6. IT’S Monday, January 6, 2014, and for just one episode, this is the year that was, brought to you by swimoutlet.com, the web’s most popular swim shop. I’m Jeff Commings, and before we really dive into 2014, we thought it would be great to look back on the five biggest swimming stories of 2013. These were headlines that weren’t just among the most read on swimmingworld.com, but had non-swimming aficionados talking as well, which in some cases is very good for the sport. So without any further ado, let’s get started with the number five headline of 2013.
Last November, Sun Yang was involved in a minor car accident in China, and his subsequent week in jail for not having a license is number five on our countdown. The two-time Olympic champion was driving his Porsche when a bus rear-ended him. Though Sun was not at fault, the police officer on the scene charged him with driving without a license, something Sun had intended to get after competition at the world championships this summer. In China, even the most famous sports stars are not immune to reprimand, and Sun was ordered to pay a fine and spend a week in jail. The punishment didn’t stop there. Sun was suspended from any national team activity for an undefined period of time, including no training with the national team or competing in meets in China or anywhere in the world. Sun doesn’t have any major meets on the horizon until the Asian Games this fall, so we’ll see how this brush with the law affects his performances in the pool as 2014 progresses.
The world championships in Barcelona, Spain, was a two-week spectacle of great competition in swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming. Inside the Palau Sant Jordi, five world records fell in swimming, all of them by women, and that is our number four headline of 2013. It’s not only noteworthy that five world records fell by women, but that it’s more than twice the number that were broken at the 2011 world championships. Many speculated that the techsuit world records would not be broken for at least a decade, but nearly two dozen long course world records have fallen since the techsuits were banned in 2010. Taking a big wrecking ball to two of those records in Barcelona was our female world swimmer of the year Katie Ledecky, who smashed the 1500 freestyle record with a 15:36.53 then swam an 8:13.86 in the 800 free. Ruta Meilutyte also broke two world records, taking down the 50 and 100 breast marks in semifinals. First, she swam a 1:04.35 in the 100 breast semifinals then a few days later posted a 29.48 in the 50 breast semis to break the hours-old world record of 29.78 set in prelims by Yulia Efimova. Rikke Pedersen did what few thought was possible in 2013. Not only did she get under 2:20 in the 200 breast, but she broke Rebecca Soni’s world record with a 2:19.11. That meant all three breaststroke world records fell on the women’s side in long course racing in 2013, something that hadn’t been done in recent history in one year. How many world records will fall in 2014? Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to find out.
Moving on to number three on our countdown of the top swimming-related stories of 2013, and we come to that freak knee injury Ryan Lochte suffered at the hands of an excited fan back in November. Lochte was in Florida with friends and family when a female fan ran to him on the street. In an effort to catch the fan, Lochte fell back and hit his knee on the curb, damaging the cartilage around the kneecap. This was bad news almost immediately for USA Swimming, as Lochte was forced to withdraw from the Duel in the Pool, which the United States managed to win by just one point. Lochte also had to pull out of nationals, which took away one of the big draws for swimming fans to watch the meet. Lochte has since returned to the water, refusing to have surgery and opt instead for some intensive rehab. He’s said the first few days of training have forced him to learn how to swim all over again, and we’ll see how he does whenever he makes his return to competition.
Rarely does anything involving swimming in a non-Olympic year get the attention of nearly every news outlet around the world, but that’s what Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Florida did in September, and it is number two on our countdown today. Nyad had been trying to complete the 100-plus-mile swim for more than 30 years, and some good fortune, a special mask protecting her from jellyfish and encouraging words from the general public got her to the Florida shore on her own steam. Buoyed by the message of never giving up, Nyad accomplished her dream at age 64. The swim was praised by everyone from President Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey, but in the days following the swim, controversy began. Many in the open water swimming community wondered if she had any assistance during her swim, something that is completely taboo in marathon swimming. Her special jellyfish mask was one piece of assistance that was questioned, as was the rumor that she was touched multiple times while out in the middle of the sea. In the end, many of the questions were answered by Nyad and her crew, and Nyad was placed on many year-end lists of inspiring people — not just athletes — and she continues to spread her message through speaking engagements across the country.
While Diana Nyad’s swim got worldwide global attention, no one got the world talking in 2013, especially the swimming community, more than Michael Phelps. The possibility of us seeing him again in a cap on his head and goggles on his face was the number one swimming headline of 2013. The Olympic legend dodged numerous questions regarding the chance of a comeback early in 2013, saying he was done with the sport and was pursuing an opportunity to be a better golfer. But as summer ended, the rumors started swirling that Phelps was seriously thinking about a comeback. Those rumors were put to rest in November, when the United States Anti-Doping Agency released information that Phelps had put himself back on the out-of-competition drug testing list, and had been tested twice in 2013. Phelps’ response? “I’m keeping my options open,” he told The Associated Press. Every athlete who re-enters the drug testing pool must wait nine months before being cleared to compete, which means Phelps won’t be able to race until March, if he is leaning toward racing again. So far, there’s no word from Phelps’ camp about the level of seriousness regarding a comeback, but just the slightest inkling of having Phelps in the sport again has even his competitors welcoming a return. Chad Le Clos, Ryan Lochte and others have said nothing but good things … well, at least publicly, about seeing Phelps back in the pool. The entire swimming community will be anxiously awaiting the end of this nine-month blackout period, to see how Phelps responds.
And that’s going to do it for this special episode of The Week That Was, which we called The Year That Was. We’ll return next week with our regular Week That Was episodes, giving you analysis of the top aquatic sports stories from the past few days. I’m Jeff Commings, and that was the YEAR that was.