Swimming & Diving - Just Add Water
30 Apr, 2010By: Amy Henderson
Cookies & Milk; Bert & Ernie; Peanut Butter & Jelly; Sonny & Cher. These are just a few of the great pairings in modern history. But what about swimming & diving? Yes, swimming and diving go hand in hand. Or do they?
Swimming and diving competitions are two of the most versatile individual and team sports on today's canvas. Both are water sports that have been around for centuries. Each requires individual accomplishment to contribute to the team's success. And both require a skill set of strength and conditioning.
Relatively speaking, the similarities end there. One of the most common misconceptions about swimming and diving is that they do in fact go hand in hand. Swimming and diving competitions are held together at the same venue on the high school and collegiate level, but for athletes competing at a higher level in either sport, their events almost never coincide in either timing or location.
USA Swimming and USA Diving are the governing bodies for each of their individual sports and concentrate on preparing athletes for higher level competition like the Olympics. Their events require very different venues and equipment.
Swimming events on both national and international levels require at least two 50M pools, seating for 3,000 spectators and ample deck space. Diving events require a 1 meter and 3 meter springboard as well as a 10 meter platform.
Survival of the Fittest
Swim competitions started out very differently than what we see on NBC today. The first gold medal of the Olympic Games in swimming was won by Alfred Hajos in 1896 when a boat dropped the competitors into the icy waters of the Mediterranean and the first swimmer to shore won.
Competitive swimming has a long Olympic history and is one of only a handful of sports that has been part of the modern Olympics since 1896. Water polo made its debut in 1900 and diving didn't join an Olympic competition until 1904. It would be another 80 years for another water sport to become an official Olympic sport with Synchronized Swimming. The women's Water Polo and Synchronized Diving teams joined the games in 2000 in Sydney, Australia.
Almost every Olympic sport sees a surge in popularity when either an individual or team from the United States does exceptionally well in those Olympic Games. Today, it's almost impossible to discuss swimming without mentioning the sport's most recent phenomenon - Michael Phelps. Phelps captured eight Olympic Gold medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing China in 2008 and catapulted the sport of swimming into headlines around the world.
Overall, 2008 was a standout year for swimming in the Olympic Games. Not only did Phelps set new world records by winning more Olympic Gold medals than any other Olympic athlete with 14 Gold and 2 Bronze in his Olympic career, they also celebrated five-time Olympian Dara Torres. She competed in her first Olympics in 1984 and went on to compete in the games in 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008 and medaled in every one.
What exactly does a year like this mean to the sport? "Building off the massive success of the 2008 Olympic Games, USA Swimming has seen its largest membership growth in history in 2009," said Karen Linhart, media relations manager for USA Swimming. "Numbers released show an 11.2 person increase in athlete memberships bringing the total number of year-round USA Swimming athletes across the nation to 286,084."
One of the most recognizable names in Olympic diving history in the United States is Greg Louganis. He won his first Olympic medal in 1976 at the age of 16 and went on to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988 with gold medals on the springboard and platform giving the same surge of popularity for the sport of diving. Louganis is a six time World Champion and has held 47 National Championship titles.
And the sport continues to grow. "We have had a 20 percent membership growth over the past several years," said Jennifer Lowery, communications manager with USA Diving. "Especially after the Olympic Games, because the sport is out there and we are hoping to build on that. It's a big influence and people are watching the games on TV and kids look up to the Olympians and strive to be like them."
Go for a Dip
USA Swimming is directly responsible for the selection and training of the athletes ready to compete internationally and in the Olympic Games. They are involved in sanctioning over 4,000 events each year and have specific guidelines when choosing a destination.
"Number one is the facility," said Dean Ekeren, events and marketing director of USA Swimming. "We have a small handful of destinations that can hold our national type of events and when we get to the regional competitions, the sites are chosen on a regional level."
"Our number one goal is to run a technically sound event but we are also putting on a show as well as having everyone come out financially intact," continued Ekeren.
Some things that USA Swimming looks for in a destination are availability of hotels and restaurants within the area and that the swimming community plays a big part of the event.
With limited resources available for the Olympic Trials competition, USA Swimming has been constructing temporary venues by bringing in two temporary pools since 2004 in Long Beach, CA. The 2008 Olympic Trials were held at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska and will return there for 2012.
"The technology for this event has really come a long way," said Ekeren. "The way the pools are constructed makes them very conducive to be put up and taken down."
The Qwest Center is a 17,000 seat entertainment venue that typically hosts hockey and basketball events as well as concerts. The Omaha Sports Commission worked closely with Qwest and USA Swimming to make this multipurpose facility even more versatile by bringing in temporary pools to the arena floor in 2008.
"Some advantages of having the Olympic Trials at the hockey arena are that you have all of the seats in place and you don't have to bring in temporary bleachers," explains Harold Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission. "You have multiple scoreboards, electronic ribbon boards for advertising and facility to cater to spectators. It's really just a matter of maximizing what you have to modify it and make it a special event."
The key to success for Omaha is involvement. "They have very enthusiastic and well educated swimming communities to help sell tickets," said Ekeren. "They also have a base of volunteers and the local hosts are very knowledgeable so we don't have to do a lot of education. The business communities from the hotels to restaurants and CVB's are a great resource."
Cliff agrees, "We have a really good solid foundation of people that enjoy amateur sports and we have very flexible facilities," he said. "If you have any type of vision and can imagine what can happen within the realm of your facilities you can go out and do these things."
The same can be said for USA Diving. "Typically the best events are the ones that are a true partnership," said Molly Evans, events and program manager for USA Diving. "When you get the local club, the CVB and the community all working together, that's how it is done right."
"First and foremost, we look for a facility that can accommodate our needs in terms of competition requirement," continued Evans. "But we also look for a destination as a whole. Are there enough hotels? Are there other things for participants to do in the area? Ultimately, we want someone who can create a memorable experience."
The Ft. Lauderdale Aquatic Complex hosted the 2010 AT&T USA Diving Grand Prix in May with the best divers from 20 countries represented.
"There are typically 100 divers that compete," said Carol Hudson of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. "There are several Olympians that will be in attendance. Above the athletes, there are the coaches and the local contingent. We anticipate an estimated 1,000 attendees to watch the event."
According to Hudson the Grand Prix will have a one to 1.5 million dollar estimated economic impact on Ft. Lauderdale over four days.
The International Swimming Hall of Fame is located in Ft. Lauderdale and is considered the swimming and diving mecca among the sports athletes. The Hall of Fame showcases the history of swimming and diving and celebrates the elite athletes within their sport.
In the Pool
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there is no shortage of swimming and diving events among the high school and collegiate levels with approximately 289,060 athletes competing in both sports.
The University of South Carolina Aquatics Center in Columbia, SC is currently upgrading their facility to ensure they are poised to host as many events and tournaments as possible in the region.
"Throughout the years, we usually host two events per year," said Scott Powers executive director of the Columbia Regional Sports Council. "And the long course tournaments are held here on a statewide basis with a direct economic impact of $20,000 for each event for the area."
Spectators attending swimming and diving events average three to four persons for every swimmer - which means revenue not only for the host venue but also for the entire area.
"Those sports bring in the most people and they make the biggest economic impact on the community," continued Powers. "We concentrate on the participants and give them other activities to do while they are here."
That impact is contagious on destinations. "In the last two years we've added 1800 room nights to the community," said Powers. "That has caused a lot of the other hotels to move forward with renovations, especially those located downtown close to the Aquatics Center."
Smart move for any destination. The economic impact from the Olympic Trials in 2008 for Omaha exceeded $120 million in direct and non-direct benefits.
"Approximately 73 percent of the attendees came from out of state," explains Cliff. "We were north of 15,000 room nights utilized for the trials and expect larger numbers in 2012.There were over 160,000 tickets spread out over 8 days."
Each sport sticks to the fundamentals, but as athletic performances increase and raise the bar as Phelps did in 2008 the sports themselves are doing what they can in terms of education and program development.
One such program within USA Swimming is IMX. "The IMX Challenge is a motivation program where swimmers are scored on their performances in a combination of five or six events," said Linhart. "The purpose of the program is to promote versatility in age group swimming while advocating greater participation and development across a range of events that are integral to long term success in swimming."
Some other programs to mention are ‘Make a Splash' which is USA Swimming Foundation's water safety initiative and Scholastic All-America which was designed to promote strong academics and athletics.
Synchronized Diving became an Olympic sport in 2000 and is a main focus for USA Diving moving forward.
"We are focusing on some key elements to build on," explained Lowery. "Synchronized Diving and building our Juniors program are key areas. We've held camps in those areas to match up the divers who pair well. There are only eight teams that qualify for the Olympics and the medal chances increase."