World Championships Day Five Finals Notebook: The Most-Spirited Team in Barca

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Commentary by Jeff Commings

BARCELONA, Spain, August 1. IN the United States, we are told “If you see something, say something.” I have to say something about what I’ve seen these past five days in the Palau Sant Jordi at the world championships. I’ve remained silent about it, and can no longer hold my tongue.

The United States needs to show more support of their teammates during the competition. From where I sit each night, the Americans rarely show much more than a few seconds of applause during the introductions of the athletes. Tonight, I was the 30 feet from where the American team sat, and I observed them for most of the finals session. With the exception of the end of the 800 freestyle relay, I thought about rounding up a bunch of espressos to wake them up a little bit. True, the U.S. didn’t win the 100 free, but why the relatively sedate reaction for Ryan Lochte’s gold medal in the 200 IM? If I didn’t know better, I would say they were bored. They were the quietest team on deck.

You will think I am overreacting, and that the Americans are behind their swimmers 100 percent. Behind the scenes, you may be right. But in the public eye, it could be better. The Japanese were the loudest team — vocally, at least — tonight, saluting their swimmers before, during and after races. The swimmers appreciated it so much they would wave back after exiting the pool. The Chinese had a set of metal percussion instruments that probably could be heard underwater, and while that might not have been the ingredient that propelled them to such a successful night, it was very helpful.

The French and Spanish swimmers have had amazing support all week, and no other team can top that, though Italy and Germany are trying. The United States used to be the loudest on deck, at least when I was on the national team in the 1990s. We used to cheer louder and more often than anyone else in the building. It was typical for us all to be hoarse on the plane ride home from an international competition.

When I was at Pan Ams in 1991, the teams got to be on deck, so you HAD to cheer, but it made the races better because teams were right on the pool’s edge. And I always got a rush of energy hearing more than 30 of my teammates going nuts for me right before a race. The Americans are as close to the pool as I am tonight, and the Japanese are further away, tucked in a corner. I have heard more from the Japanese than the Americans, and the Japanese have fewer swimmers as cheerleaders.

Maybe the Japanese just have better lungs than the Americans. Maybe. Or maybe the Americans need noisemakers. Or maybe they need to give Missy a day off. I know she would be heard all the way down the pool. Her coach, Todd Schmitz, can be heard over the French cheers during the end of the 800 free relay, so I’m sure it’s a Colorado Stars thing to have good cheering lungs.

I will always be a proud alumnus of the USA Swimming national team. Nothing the USA does or does not do here in Barcelona will change that. I just want to know that if there were a Spirit Award given out at this meet that the United States would win it as easily as Lochte does in the 200 IM.

A good day for China.Yesterday, South Africa celebrated a gold medal in the men’s 200 fly and the men’s 50 breaststroke, making them the most successful team of the day. Today, it was China’s turn. Liu Zige’s win in the women’s 200 fly and Zhao Jing’s victory in the 50 backstroke made today feel eerily familiar. China has always been a swimming superpower, and though Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen grab ost of the headlines, Liu Zige should be celebrated for finally breaking through and grabbing her first major gold medal five years after winning gold and four years after setting the untouchable world record of 2:01.81.

The door has been kicked open. Last year, on August 2, Rebecca Soni broke 2:20 in the 200 breaststroke on her way to Olympic gold. It had taken her about three years to get there. And almost one year to the day later, Rikke Moller Pedersen and Yulia Efimova crash through the barrier, with Pedersen taking down Soni’s world record with a 2:19.11. I predicted Pedersen would break 2:20 this year, but I did not forsee her go so far under. It reminds me of the 1:00 barrier in the women’s long course 100 backstroke or the men’s 100 breaststroke. Once those were pushed down, a couple more came through the gate soon after. I hope today’s swims gives women around the world the courage to believe it can happen. I am sure it gave Rebecca Soni motivation to get back into the pool and train hard after taking the year off.