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The next generation of male swimmers

August 10, 2013

Cover Dive 7

By now, you know the storyline: Teenage U.S. women dominated the World Championships. If you need a reminder, check out our very own Mike Watkins’ excellent piece on usaswimming.org yesterday: 64% of America’s World Championship gold medals were won by either Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin. That’s a majority of our victories coming from girls who have never even taken a collegiate course or voted in a Presidential election. And while we celebrate our remarkable feat by these young, female teens, we also wonder:

Where are the U.S. teenage men?

Turns out, they’re coming, too. While many haven’t quite made it to the elite roster level yet, judging by performances already turned in these past few days at the Speedo Junior National Championships, they soon will be joining female peers atop podiums and on national team rosters. These younger male swimmers are fast. They are breaking records. They just haven’t reached the notoriety of their female peers quite yet.

But they will soon.

Don’t believe me? Compare the 2000 Olympic Trials results to these Speedo Junior Nationals results. Some teenagers competing this week would have won those 2000 Trials, a meet that occurred not too long ago. Dynamo’s Gunnar Bentz would have taken the 200m breaststroke. He turned in a blazing 2:12—a time that is incredible for anyone, and astounding considering he’s still in high school. 16-year-old Nation’s Capital’s Andrew Saliskar won the 200m fly in 1:56.54, another time that could have taken the 2000 Olympic Trials.

And that was just Day One.

There have been other fast times from teenage males, too: 16-year-old Bolles’ Caeleb Dressel broke a National Age Group Record in the 100m freestyle, swimming a jaw-dropping 49.28. Gunnar Bentz again wowed the Irvine crowd with a 4:14.5 in the 400 IM. Santo Condorelli nearly took down Dressel in the 100m free, also breaking the 50-second barrier.

Folks, these high schoolers at the Speedo Junior Nationals are swimming short course times in a long course pool.

What’s the cause of all this sudden male teen success? Why are so many male swimmers suddenly swimming so fast?

The Michael Phelps Effect. Besides great training, work ethic, and improved coaching, I believe swimming is simply perceived differently among younger males. Over the past five years or so, it’s become relatively “cooler” to be a swimmer. When I went to high school, people reacted differently when I talked about swimming than they do now. People know more about the sport. They watched swimming at the 2008 & 2012 Olympics. They understand that swimmers can have a widespread mainstream appeal. (See: Michael Phelps being quoted in rap lyrics.) There is an X-Factor coolness degree of swimming now like there wasn’t in the 1990s growing up in a small rural community in Michigan.

Of course, that’s not to take anything away from these athletes working their butts off. And their great coaches putting in the work, too. And technological development, both in training, development, and equipment. Of course, the main reason for their success is hard work.

But I think we’re just now witnessing the fruits of the Phelps Era in the younger generation of male swimmers. That’s a natural effect after you have an athlete profoundly influencing millions of people around the world. That’s a natural consequence after thousands of young boys watched swim meets broadcast live on NBC for an entire week. (See: 2012 Olympic Trials.)

Younger male swimmers are going to keep getting exponentially faster. The talent pool will be cast even wider. And when crossing off a list of sports to try, younger male swimmers might be more inclined to add “swimming” in addition to all the regulars, like soccer, baseball, and basketball. A large part of that has to do with The Michael Phelps Effect.

On the female side, we’ve seen younger teenagers can quickly and suddenly rise to the top of the World podium. And while it might take a bit longer for their male counterparts to do so, we’re already witnessing their potential at this week’s Speedo Junior National Championships. We’re seeing what increased exposure can do on both a grassroots level and the elite teenage level.

If you want to see the next generation of male swimmers, check out these Junior Nationals results.

Then get excited.

Mike Gustafson | USA Swimming

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