Doping. Jet-engine-propelled suits. Waveless pools. Stroke rules. Magnetic goggles. What else is there to explain the recent phenomenon in Olympic swimming?

Last weekend at the Beijing Olympic Games, swimmers broke six world records in two days. The only time more records were broken was probably on Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in 1979. (I have no idea why I just wrote that last sentence-tired I guess.)

I’m not a swimmer. I don’t tune in to swimming events on television, if any-outside the Olympics-are televised at all. It’s a fine sport, don’t get me wrong. It just doesn’t pique my interest like a football or baseball game, or even a golf match. Yes, watching golf is a wonderful sleeping pill-used as directed, on rainy afternoons-but swimming doesn’t put me to sleep or rouse me from my daily disposition. Swimming does nothing for me.

Six world records broken, and not a “Wow” or a raise of the eyebrows. My brother-in-law was a swimmer, and therefore my wife’s family is somewhat heavily into swimming, but none of them can dribble a basketball. Swimming, to me and my narrow and insensitive mind, just seems trivial. I realize swimming enthusiasts are likely to slingshot their goggles at me, or worse, towel snap my backside, but I’m not a big fan of the sport. I want to be, really I do. It’s just not there.

Michael Phelps and his quest for seven or eight or 27 gold medals, while intriguing, I find overrated. Perhaps it’s the media that has prevented me from taking a liking to this sport. Last Sunday night, the U.S. 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay team literally won by a fingernail when Jason Lezak touched the wall a smidgen of a second before French swimmer Alain Bernard. Lezak, of course swimming the last leg of the relay, came from nearly a body-length behind to beat Bernard. Phelps swam the leadoff leg, but his face and chiseled frame were plastered in newspapers and on the Internet everywhere after the race. Lezak, who at 32, is much older than his teammates, deserved the recognition. He swam the leg in a staggering 46.06 seconds, the fastest relay leg in history, though it doesn’t count as an official record.

It’s not Phelps’ fault he’s become the poster boy for swimming at the Beijing Olympics, despite a DUI arrest in 2004 marring his perfection. He’s trying to upend Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay was expected to be his most challenging. But this brings me to my original point, the recent deluge of broken records.

There’s no actual record book in this sport anymore; it’s all digital to keep up with the constant change. When everyone’s breaking a record, the excitement of it is diminished, not to mention making some people a little skeptical. I don’t think any of the swimmers are doping, but when records fall as quickly as they have been the last few days, and given the track record of many professional athletes from baseball to cycling, it makes you wonder. New technology must be factored in over the years-from the depth of pools to the design of suits-but no one can really pinpoint specifically the reason behind the emergence of faster swims. “The sport continues to evolve,” is what coaches keep saying.

It’s tough to swallow. But then again, perhaps someone like me will become more interested when humans are swimming faster than fish, which seems not too far off.


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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...