I Love The Smell Of Chlorine In The Morning
The site constructed to host the ConocoPhillips National Swimming Championships was not too overdone, showy or aesthetically assaulting. Nor was it too minimalist, leaving people to wander around Irvine, CA looking for the event. It was welcoming, well-marked and user-friendly.
This shouldn’t really have been a surprise, for USA Swimming, the National Governing Body of amateur swimming in the country, is one of the “haves” among NGB’s. Among “second-tier” sports in this country, swimming is one of the glamour children, primarily because every four years the Olympics make a household name of one or more American swimmer.
This draws sponsors, which in turn provides the funding to train more and more athletes and to stage bigger, better events for them to swim in. I vaguely remember this type of thing being called a “virtuous circle” in PowerPoint presentation-ese.
Let’s recap: As an organization, USA Swimming wants for nothing.
So you think that they would have someone who could communicate to the public what time the ConocoPhillips National Championships start. Well, you would be thinking wrong.
It was Day Three of this premiere event in the world of swimming and I was up early – you know – to get a jump on the Brett Favre “will he or won’t he” news of the day. Frankly I’m not sure how the country used to manage getting through a summer without knowing what Brett was thinking about. Every. Single. Day. But while waiting for that life-affirming information, I begin to plan out my day’s travel.
A quick virtual trip over to the USA Swimming web site…a subsequent link to the ConocoPhillips event site…a little digging…a little more digging…still digging. Now I’m down to the athlete’s “Heat Sheet” – which I’m not entirely sure was meant for Sports Fans, but nonetheless manages to impart that the first “Suit Ready” time is…well, pretty much now. Uh-oh.
I was packed and in the car within 10 minutes for the hour’s drive to Irvine. And when I got there, I found out that the reason for the unusually early start was that the day’s competition was split into two sessions. That morning’s session consisted solely of preliminary heats – with the finals of each competition to take place in a completely separate session. Six hours later. This tiny detail was not mentioned on the web site.
And the worst part about the whole thing? I blew out of the house before learning of Brett Favre’s plans for the year! Now I’ll NEVER find out!!!
As soon as I arrived at the Woollett Aquatics Center though, I was comforted in having had to make that sacrifice. For I had barely settled into my seat when Heat #4 of the men’s 100 meter butterfly prelims was announced. A heat that just happened to feature Alexander Forbes of Central Florida University.
Having spotted his name in the Heat Sheet earlier I was looking forward to seeing him race. See, the name Alexander – which is not exactly a common moniker – appears time after time in my particular branch of the Forbes family tree. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that I had lived just across town from the Orlando home of Central Florida University for years.
I was thinking that in a weird, time-warp-y, black hole kind of way, that this guy was actually a proxy for ME in the swimming world. And except for the chiseled body, remarkable swimming ability and African-American ethnicity, it just as well could have been.
As I watched the prelims unfold, I was taken by what a model of efficiency they were. Almost every available second was filled with bodies in motion – either swimming or diving into the pool to begin another heat. It was so precisely choreographed that swimmers that had just completed one heat didn’t even climb of the pool until the swimmers in the next heat had begun – by diving into the water over the heads of those clutching the wall and catching their breath.
The introduction of the athletes in each heat actually took place while they were swimming, which actually took a humorous turn during the men’s 50 meter freestyle heats. The time needed to complete a heat in this event was less 25 seconds, and the P.A. announcer had to revert to his best impression of a Southern auctioneer in order to get everyone “introduced” before the race had ended.
While we’re on the topic of introductions, I can’t even begin to describe the difference that a good Public Address system makes on an event. And in this particular event, both the announcer and the P.A. system were top-notch. Relevant information was provided on a consistent basis throughout the day and you could actually make out what was being said.
That may sound simple and basic, but trust me when I tell you that it is the exception rather than the rule for an event to provide quality in both content and sound – two things that differentiate a muddled sports event from a compelling one. You heard it here first, and with crystal clarity, no less.
Reflecting on this and basking in the sunshine that had won the day from the morning fog, it snuck up on me that a member of the royal family of heavily chlorinated water had entered the pool deck. Michael Phelps.
I don’t know whether I expected him to be trailed by Jared Fogel carrying a Subway party tray or what, but he didn’t seem to draw much attention from anyone – not the other swimmers, not the officials, and not even the fans. As he took his position atop the starting block for Lane 4, he looked like just another swimmer.
To be continued…