Are You Ready For The Olympics?

According to this, the Olympics start in less than two days.  Really???  Holy crap!  That sort of snuck up on us there, didn’t they?  Or maybe just me.  I sort of assumed they always start in August after Beijing kicked off their’s on 08/08/08.  Of course, it is equally likely that they deliberately delayed the start to sync up with a cool date, which I think might be ultra cool in China because of the importance of the number 8.  (A quick Wiki search indicates that starting dates are all over the map, though this is the earliest since 1996.  The number 8 does indeed have special significance in China.  And I should have researched all this before writing the post but… eh…)

Anyway, the Games are here and I couldn’t be more excited!  Which is sort of odd for me.  The 2008 games were the first that I took any real sort of interest in (which might be why I was so wrong about the dates).  And I’m even more excited this time around*.  Coupled with an ever increasing interest over roughly that same period in golf, soccer, and tennis, I’m wondering what this all means.  Am I old?  Was I stupid?  Whatever… the Games are here!

So… how are you feeling about them?  Excited?  Cautiously interested?  Focused on a few specific sports/athletes/teams but little else?  Annoyed?  Unaware?  Let’s hear it, LoOG!  Surely, the League of Ordinary Gentlemen must have SOMETHING to say about an International Gathering of Athletically Extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen!

Me?  I’m most excited to see the Opening Ceremonies, men’s basketball, swimming, track, women’s gymnastics, and tennis.  How many golds will Phelps take home?  Do we truly have another USA Dream Team?  What will Usain Bolt do for an encore?  How much awkward speculation will we have to listen to from old men sizing up the ages of young female gymnasts?  Most importantly… is Adele performing?!?!

*  The one minor wrinkle I am fretting over a bit is my confidence that London will be unable to match the spectacle that Beijing created.  Maybe I’m selling London short, but Beijing impressed on a number of levels, especially if you ignore all the unfortunate parts of their show.


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.


  1. I’m a fan of both men and women’s gymnastics (even though I don’t think they’re proper Olympic events). I like the diving competitions, but I think the scoring is too subjective for me. There’s always a boxing controversy. Who will have the terrible judge this year?

    Judo! The judo and wrestling events as well as TKD are awesome.

    I can’t get into cycling and while I think marathoners are awesome athletes, I just don’t get watching it on a screen (being there is different).

    • While nearly every sport has an element of subjectivity to it, I struggle with any “judged” sport (boxing sort of splits the divide because, yes, it’s judged, but you can also win by knocking the other guy out). Yet I still find gymnastics fascinating. I have *zero* understanding of it, as either a participant (I can’t touch my toes and have never successfully done a cartwheel… though there exist some funny pictures of me trying) or a fan (I’ll often marvel at a move that seemed ridiculously hard only to find out it was something basic and then not get all the fuss by a seemingly-easy-but-actually-really-difficult one). Do you think diving is unique in being “too subjective” or would you extend this to all the other judged sports? It seems that every incarnation of the games brings about entirely new scoring systems aimed at correcting flaws from the last incarnation that inevitably create new flaws. I have NO IDEA how the gymnastics scoring works… I just cheer when the American girls have higher numbers than the other ones!

      I’ll have to check out all the fighting ones. I’m not the hugest fan of boxing or MMA or wrestling in general but, hey, why not!

      • > Do you think diving is unique in being “too
        > subjective” or would you extend this to all
        > the other judged sports?

        Basically all of them. Note: I don’t have a problem with subjective sports as their own thing. But I’m an unabashed Olympic bigot: Olympic events should be about as iron-clad objective as you can get.

        Can you lift this weight, that’s the heaviest one? You win. Can you throw this thing farther than that other gal did? You win. Can you get more shots closer to the bullseye than that guy? Winner. Judo is less subjective than boxing, it’s right about the edge of “things that are right on the subjectivity/objectivity border”. An opponent tap-out is pretty objective. A choke-out is pretty objective. Pins are more dicey, but just at the edge of acceptable. Boxing would be fine if they actually boxed out, but that went out 60 years ago; as it is, I’d throw it out. Still like to watch it, though… especially the lower weights.

        You want to watch fun boxing, watch the skinny guys, they’re the point guards of boxing. Welterweight or lighter.

        Diving I find particularly subjective because I can watch two divers in the air do the same thing, wherein I can’t see a difference in their form even in slo-mo, and one wins because of the splash. I’m perfectly willing to submit that people can judge the splash, I just can’t.

        Gymnastics I can see when someone screws up. I may quibble over the number of points awarded or removed, but I can see “oh, she didn’t stick that landing” or whatnot. Still pretty subjective, shouldn’t be an Olympic event. But what the hell, gymnasts deserve an international stage once every four years (I just wish it was a different meta-event).

        • I’d struggle to disagree with anything here without sounding like a nag.

          This is actually an issue that I think soccer risks facing if they don’t modernize. With so many blown calls and so much flopping coupled with razor-thin margins, the outcome often seems arbitrary. Oh, that team won because a guy fell down on purpose? Why’d I bother watching for the past 2 hours? They need more refs (the ball simply moves too fast for one guy to watch, leading to him watching for reactions, leading to flopping), goal line technology, and *gasp* a clock that can stop.

          Folks will eventually tune out if they feel results are not decided by the athletes.

    • I’d disagree that diving is too subjective. The elements and the scoring are quite well defined. There is a human element in the scoring, of course, but so is there a human element in the officiating of a basketball game. I’m not an expert on diving, but over the years I’ve come to understand it well enough that I can readily distinguish good and bad dives (although I often have to rely on the slo mo replay!).

    • I love watching the marathon, because even though I’m so far out of those athletes’ league it feels utterly preposterous to saying anything even vaguely comparative it’s still “my” sport. I can relate to it personally on some level, even if only to marvel at home much better those runners are than me. (I was woefully unathletic/uninterested in sports through my formative years, and it’s still somewhat startling to have discovered an athletic part of myself, however amateur and mediocre, in my adulthood.)

      I also enjoy watching the cycling events, for… other reasons.

      • It always amazes me that marathoners can run 26.2 miles at a getter pace than I can run 1 mile.

        But it is one of the few sports where us regular Joes can participate in the exact same manner. Unlike golf, where we likely play on a shorter course, or football, which we might play without tackling or pads, or baseball, which most of us play modified as softball, running is you and the road, 26.2 miles of it, whether you are an Olympian or a blogger. Basketballis another one that we play the same as the pros, albeit much, much worse.

  2. I am in Patrick’s corner in that this is the first Olympics where I’m really interested in the combat sports. I intend to watch a boatload of judo, wrestling, and taekwondo, and maybe some of the boxing.

    I like the more mainstream stuff, too–I’ll certainly watch a bunch of whatever they put on in prime time–but those are the sports I’ll seek out on the web.

  3. Swimming and track and field are the two biggies for our household. But what I especially love is that the Olympics are usually the only times I get to watch whitewater kayaking/canoeing and sprint cycling. I could watch both those sports for hours, but my wife complains that the sprint cyclers don’t do anything, they just stand still balanced on their bikes forever. I guess it either works for you or it doesn’t.

  4. I love the Olympics for all its faults. I’ve love them ever since the first one i can remember watching, the winter games of 76 in Innsbruck. I prepared for watching the O’s by watching a few zillion hours of the Tour de France, so i’m in prime watching condition.

    • I prepared for watching the O’s by watching a few zillion hours of the Tour de France, so i’m in prime watching condition.

      Oh, yeah. Us, too. It was great watching Wiggins become Britain’s first Tour champion, because otherwise it was a bit of a dog this year, I thought, with all the crashes and the tacks in the road, and–frankly–Wiggins being so dominant that there was little suspense after the first week. But must-see TV nonetheless.

  5. If God wanted us to pay attention to the Olympics, he wouldn’t have made it happen during baseball season. (The same principle applies to the first half of the NFL season.)

    • The redeeming quality of baseball is that, like most things, it’s a good excuse to sit on your a** and drink beer.

      • Apparently my comment read as praising baseball? I need to work on my delivery. 😉

        • Well, you were right. And that is praiseworthy. Thus, you praised baseball.

    • As much as I love baseball, I can’t get behind this sentiment. The frequency of games and length of the season make it easy to divert attention for a few weeks (in the case of the Olympics) or one day a week (in the case of NFL).

      James, on the other hand, is spot on. If I could spend my retirement sitting front row in the centerfield bleachers during day games, eat seeds and peanuts and drinking tall frosty ones, I would die a happy man.

    • If golf is a way to ruin a perfectly good walk, baseball is a way to ruin a good picnic. World’s most boring sport.

  6. The Olympics are the only major sporting event I watch with much interest. I think it’s the combination of international intrigue and all the pageantry.

    Also Ryan Lochte.

  7. I would suggest if you get a chance, to catch Badminton (even for just a few minutes). No I am not kidding.

    • This is likely true. The few minutes I’ve seen are very exciting… Nothing like the backyard variety we tend to play.

      Realistically, I’ll get sucked into ay competition I can understand and which has enough action to hold attention (I have a relatively low threshold for this, given that I like soccer). Which is why synchronized swimming ( WTF?) and diving (an hour to watch 45 seconds of “sport”) won’t grab me, but nearly everything is a possibility.

      • I should also say stakes matter. In the same way I’ll watch NFL football but not preseason, because one matters and the other doesn’t, I’ll watch some sports in the Olympics that I wn’t watch anywhere else. With onlya few exceptions (soccer, tennis, maybe basketball), winning the Olympics is as high stakes as it gets for most competitors. And that is truly and genuinely special.

        • Absolutely. I don’t care about weightlifting, but every four years I’m happy to say “hell yeah, weightlifters!”

    • Ditto on the badminton. Also the table-tennis guys and gals are super entertaining to watch. Talk about eye-hand coordination!

  8. Love, love, love the Olympics. This is probably only moderately surprising, as I love sports in general. So packing a few dozen into a few weeks and letting me watch the whole extravaganza makes me melt into a giddy little puddle.

    Swimming has always been my favorite of the summer sports (curling is my favorite winter sport – what, what!), and it’s been even better the last couple times because of my co-collegiate, Mr. Phelps. He and I had a substantial overlap at Michigan (due mostly to my grad school years), so I feel a special thrill watching him – even over and above the fact that he’s the best swimmer in the history of the world.

    Also, I kind of hate to say it, but I really like watching volleyball. Even if the players were wearing parkas. Actually, that would probably be amazing. Let’s do that.

    • Volleyball is an amazing sport. Beach volleyball, too. They sure seem to film it badly, though. Actually I think that about most sports these days.

      The view from the sideline is lame. All hail spidercam/skycam (2nd person shooter view forever!)

    • Maybe I’m just an old fogey, but I lost interest in Olympic basketball when it stopped being American college kids against the world and became an all-star showcase for the pros. I’m not waxing nostalgic about the noble amateur athlete (although there is something cool about that, the dedication despite lack of financial rewards), but I just can’t get enthused. It’s too one-sided. And yeah, I know we’ve lost, but that’s because the players were screwballs, not because another country had more talent.

      Of course I don’t like NBA basketball in general, so I’m sure that colors my views.

      • It’s getting to the point where the international players are up there.

        Still, when I want to watch basketball, I watch the NBA.

        • It’s true there are great international players in the NBA, and no doubt Spain’s got some top level talent. But can even they fill a whole team from NBA rosters yet? Much less a roster filled completely with all-stars or expected all-stars to be?

      • International players have closed the gap, but the elites are still American. Some folks have seen this a degradation of American basketball, when it is really just the difference between teams of guys who grew up playing versus teams of guys who didn’t. Team construction was an issue for a while.

        If nothing else, watching Americans adapt to international rules and style is a hoot!

        • I like international rules. The NBA should adopt the trapezoid lane. Just as they had to expand it from the key shape when players got bigger and faster, they now need to expand it again.

          • And there, we talked basketball. You’re welcome. 😉

  9. We need to get rid of the “sportsy” games.

    The Olympics should be obvious war skills and/or traditional (that is: obsoleted) war skills.

    Maybe we could add stuff like craft skills. Like “build the best wall in 1.7 minutes.”

    • I would not argue with a Spartan styke competition. If nothing else, it will speed up natural selection.

      • I’m not saying they should use real weapons against each other. Just that this whole “synchronized swimming” crap needs to be replaced with dodgeball or something.

        • I’M saying they should use weapons. Short of that, dodgeball in place of synchronized swimming seems fair.

        • Now I’m picturing a hybrid sport called “Fish in the Barrel” or something. Which I would add to my combat sports watchlist.

          • You can’t replace dressage with anything. I’ll let Mitt Romney explain it to you

    • Can we also get rid of athlete drug testing?

      I am not just talking about the prohibitions against performance enhancers such as steroids and the like.

      I mean I want to see athletes competing who are not just ‘roided out, but also possibly under the influence of heavy psychedelics, stimulants, and/or downers.

      Goofballs would of course be distributed equally to all.

      I would DEFINITELY watch these Olympics.

      Weapons would just be a bonus.

  10. I love, LOVE the Olympics. I’ve watched every one since Salt Lake City and pretty much gotten more excited with each one. When the Beijing Olympics were on I did pretty much nothing else (never mind the Vancouver ones, which were right next to my home city, involved endless worries as a patriotic Canadian about whether they’d go off smoothly and whether Team Canada would do well, and in which I actually got to attend an Olympic hockey game!).

    I love London and was just there in June, so the London ones have some extra excitement attached to seeing constant shots of all the famous place I’ve now been to. I’m also a huge Anglophile generally. So in short, they’re likely to be absorbing my life for the next couple weeks; fortunately I just got back from an internship, have nothing I need to do for the rest of the summer, and could use a few weeks of laziness anyway.

    Favourite sports: diving (the Chinese seem to have taken some of the excitement out of that by being so superior to anyone else, but the moves are still spectacular), gymnastics (provided it’s watched on a Canadian channel, as I get a tad tired of the US networks fawning over their team, though you’ve a perfect right to do so), the athletic events, and the canoe/kayak slalom events. Will also watch rowing, as it’s typically one of the few where Canada does well. Swimming gets a bit tedious – is it really necessary to have four or five different styles for swimming each distance? We don’t rework the 100m dash to include options where it’s done as a three-legged race, or hopping on one foot, so why not just have one race per distance, and everyone uses the style that they’re fastest in? Still, I like Michael Phelps (and it’s rare for me to like American athletes – not because I have anything against them as people, but just because the US are so overwhelmingly the favourites in everything) and it will be interesting to see how he does. Oh, yes, and BMX, because it’s awesome.

    It’s disappointing that some of the interesting-sounding events – steeplechase, modern pentathlon – are never shown on TV.

    Least favourite sport: beach volleyball. This time the British Prime Minister cleverly contrived to have it on Horse Guards Parade, quite near the back window of 10 Downing St. It wouldn’t be so irritating if the networks wouldn’t insist on showing it quite so incessantly.

    • “Swimming gets a bit tedious – is it really necessary to have four or five different styles for swimming each distance? We don’t rework the 100m dash to include options where it’s done as a three-legged race, or hopping on one foot, so why not just have one race per distance, and everyone uses the style that they’re fastest in?”

      This is a good point. It also makes medal counts a bit silly. Michael Phelps got 8 golds last time for winning 8 races plus however many prelims he won (he didn’t necessarily need to win all of them to advance). Meanwhile, the basketball team gets one medal collectively (though each player gets their own) for winning 6 or 7 games (whatever the number is). And, honestly, I don’t even know the difference between the breaststroke and the butterfly. They both make people look very silly in the water.

      I would definitely tune in for a three-legged race.

      • Ages ago, I swam competitively. Not at all well, mind you. But I did it.

        Breaststroke and butterfly are totally different, neither of which was my preferred stroke (backstroke). Breaststroke involves pushing outward and down with the arms while doing a frog kick. Butterfly involves bringing the arms up and inward, out of the water, while doing a dolphin kick. Breaststroke isn’t too terribly hard, but butterfly is a killer.

        I agree about the medal counts, but swimming is incredible athleticism to me. It’s not just to look at Ryan Lochte that I plan to watch.

  11. Track actually has more different distances than swimming. 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5k, 20k, and marathon, with different athletes specializing in different distances. And that’s just straightforward running. There are also different “techniques,” such as hurdles, steeplechase, and walking. In jumping events there’s the long jump, the triple jump and the pole vault. In throwing events there’s hammer, discus, shot put and javelin.

    So are the four strokes and distances in swimming really that out of line? Each stroke is a very distinct technique, with precise arm and leg movements and sequencing. Look at Michael Phelps. He’s not just great at swimming, he’s better than everyone at three different techniques. But even he can’t be best at all of them, because to be a great butterflyer and a great breaststroker is like being a great long jumper and a great triple jumper.

    We get why people don’t quite get the different techniques. We didn’t until our kids started competitive swimming and we got roped into training as officials. But thinking of it all as just swimming is like thinking of track as just running. The water replaces the track, and the different strokes replace different running events. And like track, the athletes specialize specialize at different distances.

    • Specializing at different distances I get. But there’s not multiple races of the same length for a bunch of different types of running. There’s the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1600m, 50k race walk (20k for women) and marathon. There’s maybe half the number of running events as there are of swimming events. The only variation on “run” is the hurdles, which are less a variation than a combination of running and jumping – I have no problem with that, as the Olympics are fond of combining multiple events to test someone’s breadth of skill (heptathlon, decathlon, modern pentathlon). It isn’t comparable to having breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, freestyle, and medley for every different distance.

      And it makes the medal count ridiculous: sure, the different styes have their variations, but being good at swimming the same distance in two different ways is not the same as being the fastest in both the 200m and the 400m runs, or as being the best in gymnastics on both the rings and beam. The best option would be to have two swimming races per distance: one where it’s just a straightforward race where you can use any style you choose, and one (for the 200-400m races) where you have to do each of the four different styles for an equal distance. Then you’re testing both speed and versatility, and swimming isn’t so ludicrously overrepresented in the medal count.

      • I’ll fully concede that my swimming experience is so limited that a grand proclamation such as the one I made here was in err. Thanks for illuminating this for us! Swim on, swimmers!

        • Truth be told, I think what makes it seem long and tedious is all the preliminar races. You have just as many in, say, the 100 dash, but they all go by in about 10 seconds, whereas each prelim swim’s going to take considerably longer, most of them w/o significant drama. I don’t blame anyone for getting a bit weary of that.

  12. Except that swimming competency in a particular stroke is just like rings or beam. There just aren’t people who are amazing freestylists and breaststrokers; they are incredibly different. There is also really only one distance for the IM, and 2 distances per stroke with the exception of freestyle. Just like running, freestyle is the stroke which has more distances and there are still fewer distances than running.

    being good at swimming the same distance in two different ways is not the same as being the fastest in both the 200m and the 400m runs, .

    Excelling in two different stroke disciplines at the same distance ISPs harder than excelling in running at distances that are that similar. In running those two distances you don’t have to learn essentially different styles of running. In swimming, any two strokes require totally different techniques. A frog kick is nothing like a dolphin kick is nothing like a scissor kick, and a breast stroke pull is totally different than a fly pull. If you ever go to the pool, give it a try. My husband can do freestyle and breaststoke with no problem, but shoulder problems mean he can’t do the back well, and the fly not at all. I don’t think there’s an analogy to that with running different distances. As amazing as a swimmer Michael Phelps is, he wouldn’t even qualify in the Olympic trials for Breaststroke, but I don’t doubt Bolt c old be competitive in the 200 if he trained for it.

  13. I’d like to see the Summer Olympics return to Greece, where they’d stay forever. Winter Olympics, maybe send them to Switzerland or somewhere neutral of that sort. After the last few decades of Olympic one-upsmanship, words fail to describe how absurd it’s gotten. Preposterous might struggle to the top of that pile of adjectives.

    Return the Games to their intended simplicity. Honest competition, a laurel wreath, the admiration of your city state. That ought to be enough.

    • My favourite story about the ancient Olympics is Nero entering the chariot race, falling out and still being declared winner because – hey you don’t diss the emperor. Is that the kind of thing you want to bring back?

      Plus the admiration of your city state was a little more substantial than you seem to imagine.

      Seriously though, there *should* be chariot races.

    • What a great idea. Deprive average people from different countries the chance ever to see any Olympic events. Hey, most people will never get the chance, so let’s make sure all of them never get the chance.

      FFS, in ’84 my wife saw Olympic soccer in L.A., although her family was not at all wealthy. Had Chicago won the summer Olympics I would have been able to travel there to see whitewater and cycling, which I won’t in Rio, but some average Brazilians will be able to.

      As usual, when someone says the world needs to be more controlled in some particular way, the actual effect is to deprive more people of the benefits of a more wide open system.

      Moralists…god save us from the fishing moralists.

  14. The 50,100,200, etc. Freestyle really is free style. One could backstroke if one wanted. But one would get destroyed. Front crawl is just the fastest stroke, which is why they use it in the freestyle.

    • True, which is why the different strokes aren’t comparable. I just use the term because most folks have no idea since the crawl is the only thing you will see in a freestyle race in the Olympics.

      • Thank god for swim team as a middle schooler and a swimmer ex-girlfriend; it gives me the ‘playbill’ needed to understand these distinctions. Also, it means that I find everyone who can cover the length of the pool with a decent butterfly amazing.

  15. When I worked at a summer camp, we had a counselor who HAD TO BE THE BEST AT EVERYTHING. He had to carry the most bags, he had to wash the most dishes, if you spent a week in London, he spent 10 days. He’d turn every walk into a footrace. He was *THAT* *GUY*.

    We had to demonstrate swimming competence at one point. We had to get from here to there and back in two minutes. I think a particularly good doggy paddle would have done the trick. When the guy had his turn, everybody mumbled to each other “butterfly”. Yep.

    That’s my butterfly stroke story.

    • I literally LOL’ed at this. You are a masterful storytellr, JB. Well done.

  16. Oh my god… What the HELL was that? Did anyone find the Opening Ceremonies preposterously and aggressively terrible? I’m seriously considering doing aretro diary on the whole thing in the AM to make record of just how awful it was.

    • I think most of it was NBC’s fault. They had shiitake camera directing & shot selection for a good chunk of the ceremony, the sound system was jacked up for several segments, and I reading the fark thread on the ceremony, they apparently broke away from the commemoration of the 2004 UK terrorists attacks for Ryan Seacrest to interview Micheal Phelps. (and this I think was *after* they got all huffy about no commemoration of Munich during these games).

      Not to mention “STFU LAUER & VIERRA!!”

      Even the cycling road race today; it’s the same gorram corporation that just did the Tour de France, but their coverage of today’s event was notably inferior on all aspects – camerawork, on screen graphics, race information, announcing.

    • I’m not as enthused as some but I do have to defend this by pointing out it simply wasn’t aimed at an international audience, it was very British.

      Although I would like to apologise on behalf of my nation for the inclusion of Dizee Rascal, there is no excuse.

      • I’m not sure what to make of it. On the one hand it was kind of cool for it to have a story line, but at the same time it seemed a bit pedantic and a bit insular for an international event of this stature. Would have been all right, though, if Branagh had done his speech from Henry the Fifth.

        What really sucked was NBC’s per- ceremony coverage. It’s overly serious talk about security and politics was just an excuse for its announcers to preen, and those video montages were horrible. At least they’re showing us actual events now, instead of spending 89% of the airtime on human interest stories. But please, no more Bela Karolyi whining about having to abide by the rules. What a shiny self- serving tool that man is.

  17. To any of the swimming experts still reading, can you talk about the non-standardization of pools? I remember during the Beijing Olympics, they talked about how the pool was optimized for world records. Somehow they manipulated the depth, the walls of the pool, even the lane dividers, to make the water “faster”. And it seemed to be, as I remember world records falling left and right and even second, third, or worse finishers beating previous records.

    What is that all about? First off, how do you make a pool “faster”? And what do you think this does for the sport? I’m thinking about it in terms of Phelps’ struggles today. Everyone seems to say he swam a poor race. The problem is, we can’t really compare this to his races from 4 or 8 years ago because the conditions were so different. Which is a bit frustrating.

    I realize that track events will vary a bit with the wind but otherwise the conditions are uniform, yes? Unless they can manipulate the track material itself, I struggle to see how it can vary that much. Marathon courses are always going to vary but you typically see folks compared against previous marathons run on that course, not on other courses.

    So, if anyone is still reading, what do you think about the way pools are structured? THANKS!

    • Actually, different track materials are faster or slower. IIRC, when U of Oregon redid the surface of its historic Hayward Field (where the waffle soled shoe was originated), they made sure to choose the fastest type of surface. E.g., not the old asphalt track at your high school!

      • I understand different materials will impact track speeds. But is it possible that London’s track is faster or slower than Beijing’s? Or at the level, are they all pretty much equal?

        • Sorry, man, now you’ve gone past my knowledge level. But I think there’s no end to the search for better materials. If London’s isn’t faster than Beijing’s, or Rio’s isn’t, some Olympic track in the future will be. And London’s track in ’12 is certainly faster than their track in ’48.

  18. There is an incredible amount of science in making a pool “fast”. Everything from temperature, depth and drainage actually make a difference in times for not just elite swimmers. Temperature is extremely important. Think of how it is too walk around in 90 degrees humidity as opposed to on a dry day. If a pool is too shallow, it creates turbulence bouncing off the bottom of the pool. Also the bigger the gutters, the less turbulence as well. Good lane lines also decrease turbulence. When you are talking about 100ths of a second between swimmers, a prime swimming pool can make a difference. Although not scientific, my daughter can tell me whether or not a pool is fast and swimmers can tell the difference so much so that there are pools known for being particularly fast.

    • Thanks, Johanna. Do you think it is okay for Olympics or other venues to deliberately make their pools faster to encourage World Records? If so, how can we compare swimmers of different eras?

      • And, if a pool is faster, it is equally fast for all competitors? Or can certain swim styles/approaches make one competitor better able to take advantage of the setup? In, baseball, which has a great deal of variation in the park structures, certain fields are better for right-handed pull hitters or left-handed hitters, etc. I’m not sure if this is possible in the pool, but I really don’t know much about swimming, seeing as how I can’t do it.

      • I think comparing old records in any sport over time has the same issues when it comes to advanced technology and training.

        • No doubt. But I feel like I can’t even compare Phelps now to Phelps ’08, which is a bit frustrating. Then again, if I was a more informed fan, I could probably tell the difference by watching him.

          • To make it even harder, 4 years ago the swimmers could wear the full body suits, which are now forbidden. But technology always has this effect. Today’s runners not only have better shoes than 50 years ago, training techniques and nutrition have advanced tremendously. In speed skating, the introduction of the clapper skates a few Winter Olympics ago, which allow the blade of the skate to stay in contact with the ice longer, caused just about every prior record to get obliterated.

            It’s like the debates about whether baseball players in the past were better than today’s, or vice versa. These questions are simply unanswerable, but they do give us something besides politics to talk about over beer (hope that didn’t break the no politics rule here!).

          • I remember there being some talk about the change in swim suit attire. I also remember their being talk about the swim suits being made with lasers so that they are entirely seamless. Or something. Seems silly to me. Especially if EVERYONE is using them.

            I like some of the baseball statistics they’ve developed that allow stats to be “normalized” across eras. They’re far from exact, and people often try to do things with the numbers that they aren’t designed to do, but they are interesting in both practice and theory. I suppose the same could be done with the different pools/tracks if their impact could be more specifically calculated, but all the other noise would make that harder.

            I do wonder if we’re pushing the upper limit on human athletic ability (outside that which is capable through gene manipulation and the like). I say this not just because of a bias for the present, but because of the rash of non-contact injuries we see nowadays. When guys blow out their knees simply jumping off a smooth service, it makes me wonder if they simply did something their body isn’t designed to do, namely lift 250 pounds three feet off the ground with whatever hundreds or thousands of pounds of force. Taking a helmet to the knee SHOULD result in a major ligament injury. Running in a straight line shouldn’t. When we see the latter, it seems something is off.

            Of course, folks might have been saying the same thing 50 years ago when baseball players should up to spring training sans beer guts (David Wells excluded, off course).

  19. A fast pool is fast for everyone and yes facilities do try to make fast pools in order to attract swimming competitions. Do you recall all of the speed skating records being broken in the Salt Lake City Olympics and talk of fast ice? That was due primarily because of altitude and its effect on the ice, but it is the same. The fastest pool in the U.S. is said to be Indiana Natatorium and they host the vast majority of the Big Ten NCAA championships, have hosted US Olympic trials I think four times and numerous world and US records have been set there. Swimming boards confirm swimmer’s love for this pool.

  20. I knew squat about swimming until my kids started competing. Now I officiate and know far to many details about the sport.

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