Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Virtues of Slowing Down

Well, while we’re waiting for the Channeling Peace swim to get cranking (read the latest surprising news in the entry below; I’ll keep you posted here and you’re also welcome to join the Channeling Peace Initiative Facebook group), I thought it might be fun to pay attention to what’s been happening in the world of pool swimming.

As anyone who’s been following the FINA World Championships (of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming, open-water swimming and synchronized underwater ice hockey) in Rome knows, FINA -- swimming’s organizing body – has decided that the high-tech suits which have enabled the rewriting of the record books over the last two years will be banned as of Jan. 1, 2010.

It’s been an interesting two years, watching the suits creep into the world of competitive swimming. Mr. Coach was dismayed and opposed to them from the start when Speedo rolled out its LZR suit in February 2008. (Me too.) He called it when he said the LZR suits and every polyurethanic abomination that followed would quickly make their way into even age-group meets, would create more entry barriers with their exorbitant costs for underprivileged athletes and financially-strapped college teams, and would undermine the integrity of the sport because the suits made folly of basic technique and training wisdom. When he asked the other coaches in his collegiate conference to forgo the suits earlier this year, all he got was a chorus of crickets and one long-winded email dissertation from one coach that could be summed up in one sentence: The ship had left the harbor, so wave bye-bye.

Guess what? Last week the ship returned to harbor. Somebody must have discovered it had a rudder. So while the braying of Internet haters (nearly all of whom are suit lovers) will likely continue for a while, I hope the rest of the swim world embraces this return to pure swimming with positivity. I’ve always maintained that swimming, like running and wrestling, is one of the only pure sports, where all you really need to do it is your body. (That’s not to say other sports are impure. I just find this detail interesting.)

But there will be one significant obstacle that athletes will have to surmount now -- and I’m sure it will yield a couple hundred studies to be published in the "Journal of All Things Exercise Physiological and Polysyllabic" -- and that is: How will athletes deal now with going slower? How will they learn to accept slower times when they’re working just as hard, if not harder, than ever before?

To which I say: Welcome to my world! I know ALL about working hard and going slower. Actually anyone who’s ever gotten older (studies prove this happens to about 99.9 percent of the population) knows what it’s like to work hard and go slower.

It happens and somehow you find new goals and redirect your mind (and body) to them. That’s what these elite athletes are going to have to do as they kiss their personal records goodbye. They can organize the numbers however they want: pre-suit, during-suit, post-suit, whatever it takes. The sooner they let go of those during-suit numbers, the sooner they’ll get used to feeling – and enjoying -- the pure water on their bodies again.

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