Friday, August 15, 2008

Swimming is Boring

I’m trying to get into this Michael Phelps thing. I really am. But I just can’t shake the fact that swimming is kind of, well, boring.

Here’s what I see when I watch a swim meet: a bunch of guys who look exactly alike (long, lean, hairless and white), all doing exactly the same thing, all at roughly the same speed. Then one of the guys, who NBC helpfully informs me is Phelps (because really, how else would I know?) touches the wall a little ahead of all the other guys. Rinse and repeat.

It has so few of the elements that makes watching sports fun. There has never been, in the entire history of swimming, a great play. There is very rarely (the freestyle relay an exception) a dramatic comeback. A swimmer never has to adjust to anything unexpected, the way most athletes have to adjust to an opponents’ play, or a golfer has to adjust to wind or a shot he’s never seen before. You can't fall in a pool, so swimming doesn't have heartbreaking moments like the Olympic skier or gymnast, whose dreams come crashing down because of a momentary lack of concentration.

It has none of the eye-popping 'how do they do that?' wonder of gymnastics or diving. It's just, you know, the breaststroke. I can do that. Not that fast, to be sure, or that graceful. And nobody wants to see me in a Speedo. But it's not as unimaginable as 3 somersaults, 2 corkscrews and a tuck off a 20 meter platform without making a splash.

Even the speed doesn’t dazzle, like the 100 yard dash. If my 8 year old daughter was running alongside the pool she can probably take all those guys, what with the water slowing them down and all.

And I’m pretty sure that swimming isn’t one of those sports that, if I only understood the complexities and subtleties and strategies and tactics better, I’d truly appreciate. For example, I don’t like NASCAR. All I see is a bunch of cars festooned with ads driving in circles. But I know that NASCAR fans are seeing much more. They understand the strategies, tactics, and differing styles that are being employed throughout the race, and are therefore enjoying it far more than I could.

But I don’t think that’s really true of swimming. You push off, swim fast, turn, push again, get to the other side. Did I miss anything? I guess you have to pace yourself a bit, but it’s only one to two hundred meters – you can pretty much let it all hang out, can’t you?

Don’t get me wrong. I respect the greatness of Phelps’ accomplishment. It has everything you associate with true athleticism: speed, strength, grace, skill, commitment, desire.

And I admire the fact that Phelps is the sole architect of his greatness. Many American football fans think Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback ever. But if he hadn’t been given the greatest offensive coach ever, the greatest wide receiver ever, one of the greatest receiving backs ever, and oh by the way, a consistently great defense, he might have had Bert Jones’ career. Phelps doesn’t rely on teammates, systems, equipment, or coaches. It is the human body against one of Nature’s elements.

So, I will be rooting hard for Michael Phelps to win his 7th Gold tonight, and his 8th tomorrow night. And I’ll probably even watch it.

But I’ll thank all of the Gods on Mount Olympus that it will only take a few minutes of my time. Then I’ll put on the Mets game.

Update: I watched a lot of swimming last night. I saw Torres win the Silver, get her medal, and rush back to the pool to win another Silver in the Relay. Then I watched the American men win the 4X100 medley relay, Phelps' 8th gold. It was awesome. The sport itself is still boring - it requires the contextual personal drama of stories like Phelps' and Torres' - but I did thoroughly enjoy it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When Phelps swims and trains nothing is boring, that guy has a million things going through his mind. But for the average Joe swimming can be boring especially if you’re training or doing it for exercise. It takes many laps to burn those calories. By boredom was solved by using a Waterproof iPod Shuffle and WaterWave Headset and there are others. Give one of them a try and I’ll bet swimming wont be so boring, at lest when your doing it.