Unfortunately, we don’t have much history in our sport. Heck, now that Michael Phelps has arrived, few will remember what Mark Spitz did, let alone Johnny Weismueller (well, maybe as Tarzan), Tracy Caulkins, or Helene Madson, not to mention Bill Mulligan, Thompson Mann and other star swimmers. (I told you not to mention them. So, don’t ask. Look them up.)
I love learning about swimming history. And, I like to do what I can to see to it that our sport has some history. As a result, I’m prone to throw swimming trivia at others.
For quite some time now, I’ve been bombarding USA Swimming personnel, swimming friends, and swimming afficionados with “Who is the last U.S. Woman to win the 100m freestyle in the Olympics?” Of course, part of the fun for me is that I know her quite well. (Though I don’t think she knew the answer to that question the first time I posed it to her.)
Some of the people who have been around swimming for awhile took objection to my answer. “What about 1984?,” some asked. (In the 1984 Olympics, Nancy Hogshead and Carrie Steinseifer, both great swimmers, hit the wall together; both outperformed the swimmers from all of the other countries in that 100m swim; and both received gold medals.) My response was usually something like, “Which one of them won?”
When a hockey game ends in a tie, which team has won? When a football game ends in a tie, which team has won? A tie is a tie, not a win.
Okay, FINA in its infinite wisdom, awards Olympic Gold medals when the top two swimmers finish with the same official time.* But, they just as rationally could have decided to award Olympic Silver Medals to both.** FINA awards silver medals to swimmers who tie for second and third. And they award Bronze Medals to swimmers who tie for third and fourth.
What would they do if all 8 finalists tied? Would all eight be said to have won? Would all eight be awarded Olympic Gold Medals?
I do know what they do when two, three, or more swimmers tie in qualifying for the eighth spot in the finals.*** They swim it off. And so they should.
Kissing your sister can be warm and caring; but generally, it’s not particularly exciting, nor is it in keeping consistent with the changing landscape of sport.
Football and basketball have gone to multiple overtimes in order to avoid ties and determine winners. Soccer and Hockey seek to determine a winner with shoot offs.
The public doesn’t want a tie. Fans want a clear winner. And, watching a swim-off is one of the most exciting spectating events in our great sport. A swim-off for Olympic Gold would be unbelievably exciting. TV viewers would love it.
Moreover, I may be wrong, but I suspect most swimmers would rather swim it off than tie. I know I would. It’s much more exciting than kissing your sister.
It’s time we stop that nonsense. Let’s swim them off. Let’s shoot it out, mano a mano or womano y womano, in front of huge screaming crowds.
[By the way, Sandy Neilson-Bell was the last U.S swimmer to win the women’s 100 m freestyle in the Olympics. That was way back in 1972.]
* Of course the FINA rule book makes no note as to what determines the winner of a swimming race; though most, if not all, of us assume (as designated in the American Swimming Association Rules) that the person who completes the designated distance in compliance with the competitive swimming rules, the fastest, wins. Or, since Cameron van der Burgh, maybe not. But that’s another issue.)
** Or, they could laser a gold and a silver, fuse one half of each to each other and award two half gold and half silver medals, which, at least to me, makes more sense. And, it would be way cooler looking.
*** Or for the second spot at US Olympic Trials.