The mantra of open water swimming could also have been the theme of the Aquatic Centre at the 2012 London Olympics pool events.
From the men’s 50m freestyle and 200m backstroke to the women’s 100m breaststroke and 800m freestyle, the Unexpected was not anticipated by the pool swimming insiders or the world’s media.
No way was Ryan Lochte going to lose the 200 backstroke and no way did Florent Manaudou have a reasonable chance to win gold in the 50 freestyle – or so common wisdom reigned before their rivals climbed on the starting blocks. But like open water swimming races everywhere, the unexpected occurred and the Olympic dreams of dark horses were realized.
It was especially disheartening to fans of Rebecca Adlington. The 2-time Olympic gold medalist and world record holder was a deserving media darling, a well-spoken ambassador of the sport. She was a highly sponsored Olympic champion who was swimming well while facing sky-high expectations for gold. The Aquatic Centre crowd pulled and cheered and supported their favored heroine during and after the 800m race, but she found herself unexpectedly on the bronze step of the Olympic podium.
And also arguably even more unexpectedly, a young 15-year-old American upstart Katie Ledecky dropped 15 seconds from her best time – equivalent to nearly half a lap in a 50m pool and light years in the elite swimming world – over the last six months. Ledecky dropped in with a frightening fast swim on Adlington’s expected parade.
In the annals of pool swimming, Ledecky‘s improvement calls to mind Beamonesque swims like Mary T. Meagher‘s 200m butterfly world record of 1981 (2:05.96) or Janet Evans‘ 800m freestyle in 1989 (8:16.22).
The potential parallels to the upcoming women’s Olympic marathon swimming 10km on August 9th are there with imaginative thinking.
Both Adlington and Keri-Anne Payne are media darlings, personable ambassadors of their respective sports who are highly sponsored and even more highly promoted as strong gold medal favorites. Like Adlington, Payne faces sky-high expectations from the British media and fans. The 2-time world champion is swimming well and her confidence is completely justified.
But the parallels between Ledecky in the pool and Haley Anderson in the open water are almost scary to contemplate. While Ledecky was respected for her youth and potential, she was really on few media’s radars as a gold medalist. Similarly, Anderson is American and improving leaps and bounds. Not only has no media outlet identified Anderson as a gold medal favorite, no major swimming publication has called her a medal threat. Outside the radar even within the sport, Anderson lies quietly ripping off the fastest workouts of her life with her Olympic dreams burning brightly.
Like the pool, fans can only Expect The Unexpected in the open water.
Watch the women’s Olympic marathon swim on August 9th 12 noon GMT.
Photo of Katie Ledecky by Andrew Weber, US Presswire.
Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source