A Little Bit of Everything

1 Aug

There was a really excellent article on ESPN the other day by Eric Adelson discussing the magnitude of the challenge that Michael Phelps will face during the Olympics. Including preliminary races, semi-finals, and finals, he will swim 17 races in the span of nine days.

Here’s a link to the article: http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3508530

This is the part I really wanted to quote though, because I’ve never quite been able to describe to anyone what swimming the individual medley is like. For those who don’t know, the IM is an event in which swimmers swim equal distances of all four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breastroke, and freestyle). The longest race of that type I’ve ever competed in was the 200m version and I distinctly recall seeing black spots afterward—although it was one of the greatest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever felt. At any rate, here’s a paragraph from the article that explains what the 400m event feels like:

“Phelps begins with the most difficult event: swimming’s decathlon, the 400 individual medley. The race begins with 100 meters of butterfly, in which he must propel his body out of the pool, over and over, until he feels as if he’s doing squat jumps with two kids on his back. The fly requires an edge, almost an anger. ‘You have to be tougher, meaner,’ says 1992 gold medalist Mel Stewart. ‘If you don’t have a base of strength and stamina, you fade. You die.’

Next, the backstroke. Lie on your back, put ankle weights on and kick for a full minute. That’s what the backstroke feels like. By the end of these 100 meters, a swimmer’s quads and abs are shot. The race is half over.

Switch to breaststroke, Phelps’ weakest. He will struggle to hold form: back straight, elbows tight, head up, wrists snapping just so. His arms will whine and the field will close in and someone might even pass him, as Ryan Lochte did in the trials.

The freestyle leg will take anything Phelps has left. During breaststroke, muscles lock up. Still, he must sprint for 50 more seconds. Many swimmers drive the final 25 meters without lifting their head to breathe, to wring the final tenths out of the clock. At trials, Matt Grevers saw spots and felt his consciousness start to slip away. Phelps broke the world record to barely win the event at trials, and he called it ‘one of the most painful races of my life.’ He has 15 left.”

…And yet, some people commenting on ESPN continue to claim that swimming isn’t “a sport in the true sense.” What does that even mean? In order to find “the true sense” that this person was talking about I turned to the American Heritage Dictionary. I figured that if I found the definition of the word, I could then determine whether or not swimming fit the criteria. The first listing for “sport” came up as follows: “Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.”

Well, I certainly came out of the pool breathing hard and feeling tired when I raced, so there’s the physical activity component. As for the next part, swimming most assuredly has rules, (i.e. touching the wall with two hands on certain strokes, no flutter kicking during butterfly or breastroke..etc). Lastly, judging from the endless number of swim meets I went to from ages 6-18, I’d say that it is “often engaged in competitively.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a sport! And now that I think of it, those very same principals apply to another sport that some people roll their eyes at even more:

Synchronized Swimming!

I think that synchronized swimming (and figure skating) often get put down as sports simply because when done properly, they look so beautiful and effortless. That’s how these people are trained. Team USA synchronized swimmer Kate Hooven said of the lack of respect, “It gets frustrating at times. Maybe we make it look too easy.”

Here’s an idea of what’s happening under the water for those swimmers. First of all, it’s an immediate disqualification if the bottom of the pool is touched. That means suspending the body in water while performing maneuvers which require breath control, balance, muscle control, and a big smile on your face. Part of the training regimen used to achieve this involves using 10 lb. weight belts and 2 1/2 lb. ankle weights during practice. Like most elite athletes, they devote 6-8 hours a day to their sport. While much of that time is spent in the water, they also do a lot of biking, running, yoga, and pilates to maintain flexibility and strength.

In other words, try treading water for 4 minutes, hold your breath during most of it, and add a host of underwater somersaults (in both directions) and then tell me if you can still determine which way is up. That’s nothing compared to what you’ll see done at the Olympics this year. I’d encourage everyone to try and catch the finals, because it’s bound to be an impressive display of athleticism and artistry.

All of this drama and fun starts a week from today. If there’s a specific event you don’t want to miss, here is the schedule of televised events.

I hope everyone had a wonderful week and that you’re looking forward to a relaxing weekend. Joe and I tried out the Wii Fit last night and I have to say, I’m just amazed at the technology that went into creating the game. The idea that the balance board wirelessly synchronizes with the system and can feel every little movement you make is just crazy to me. The game itself is truly a great step in the right direction. By being so active and interactive, it succeeds in encouraging exercise via fun games and tests. I particularly like the yoga, step aerobics, and the strength training. Joe is much better at the balance games than I am (haha, I know I’m a little clutzy). In any event, I’m really exciting to start tracking my progress with it and finding out if I do in fact get a little more “Fit.” My weekend will probably involve a lot of playing with my new toy (thanks Mom and Dad!).

This weekend also kicks off preseason football with the Hall of Fame Game. Indianapolis plays Washington, but the real focus here is the induction of this year’s Hall of Fame Class: Congratulations to Fred Dean, Darrell Green, Art Monk, Emmitt Thomas, Andre Tippett, and Gary Zimmerman. You can read more about their successful careers at www.profootballhof.com.

That’s all from me today. Again, have a wonderful weekend and remember to think positive! Ciao!

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