Different Swim Strokes For Different Swim Folks
What I really meant was that there was no more deference paid to him than to any of the other swimmers during the preliminary heats for the men’s 100 meter butterfly competition. It was Day 3 of the ConocoPhillips Swimming National Championships, and things were moving along at a clip that would make process engineers green with envy.
So there wasn’t much time to reflect on Michael Phelp’s 783 (or so) Olympic medals – or much of anything for that matter, as a parade of swimmers went through 14 heats in each of five different events.
In the twenty seconds or so that each swimmer stood on their starting block in preparation for their heat though, I got a good look at what makes Michael Phelps different. Of course, he has the swimmer’s classic V-shape torso, with massive shoulders tapering down to a slim waist. And his arms are long. Very long. But then again, so were most everyone else’s.
At the end of those long arms though, are massive hands. At first I thought he had purchased a couple of those foam “We’re # 1” hands at the AquaZone souvenir shop, and had forgotten to take them off. Upon closer inspection though…yup – those are actual hands. Hands capable of scooping prodigious amounts of water away from one’s path.
Phelps is taller than most swimmers, and here’s the thing – that additional height is not evenly distributed across his frame. It’s all in his upper body. He has the torso of a very tall man and the legs of a much shorter man. So when those XXXL arms and hands go to work in the water, it seems to me that they are carrying along a considerably smaller person in comparison to his competitors.
That would be my understanding of the mechanics involved. But then again, I’ve never completed a “some assembly required” project without having some important-looking bits and pieces left over. So maybe none of the above matters that much. In which case I’ll just go to my fallback explanation for Phelp’s dominance – he’s a wicked good swimmer.
For every top dog there’s a perennial contender. For every Roger Federer there’s an Andy Roddick. For every Tiger, a Phil. And for Michael Phelps there is Ryan Lochte – a swimmer that would be The King Of The Pool were it not for Phelps. Lochte has come agonizingly close on many occasions to unseating Phelps as the top American in multiple events, and has a pretty good winner’s resume of his own. But if you say “swimming” to any random American in the post-Beijing era, they will reply “Phelps”.
If at this point you are beginning to feel the least bit sorry for Ryan Lochte, let me spare you the effort.
First of all, the guy is by all accounts a truly classy competitor who is well-respected by his peers. And nothing that I saw in my admittedly limited exposure to him appeared to contradict that reputation. He’s also getting more than his fair share of endorsements – in fact, Speedo was using these Championships as a vehicle to launch a new line of Ryan Lochte footwear.
And then of course, there’s the girls.
The word went out in the morning prelims that Lochte and fellow swimmer Peter Vanderkaay would be appearing at 4:30 in the Autograph Zone, a tent set up in the expo area that fronted the event venue. I happened to be returning to the site for the evening session right around that time and was greeted by a line of about 300 people, roughly 297 of which were female.
Vanderkaay arrived in the Autograph Zone first and took his place without much fanfare. Lochte arrived a few minutes later. With much fanfare. It wasn’t quite The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but let’s just say that if you happened to be in the vicinity of the Woollett Aquatics Center at that time…you noticed.
I’m comfortable enough with my masculinity to admit that even I was on the verge of a swoon.
I stood off to the side and watched the proceedings for a while, and while I was very impressed with the way that Lochte interacted with his star struck fans, I was even more impressed with the way he acted to make sure that Vanderkaay was not overlooked by the fans who were clearly there for one reason.
As much of a hit as Lochte was with the fans though, it was Michael Phelp’s night in the pool. The only event in which he was entered that day was the men’s 100 meter butterfly, and while he had just barely won his preliminary heat in the morning, he dominated the final. His winning time of 50:65 seconds proved to be the fastest time in the world this year, and was just 0:15 seconds slower than his gold medal winning time in Beijing.
But as soon as he was done swimming, he seemed to fade into the background. I almost had to remind myself that I was watching one of the most decorated Olympians in history. He received his medal with a smile, did a brief interview and then slipped through the gate into the athlete’s private area of the venue.
Maybe he’s more publicity-shy than I had originally thought. Or maybe he was just in a hurry to try on a new pair of Ryan Lochte brand Speedo footwear.