Chasing the Ambulance

Outside magazine publishes a deep dive into swimming's sexual abuse scandal... Lawyers rejoice. Somewhere, the devil is smiling. Or to quote Al Pacino playing the personified Dark One in the Devil's Advocate: "Lawyers are the devil's ministry."

Oh yes, the lawyers are tossing back shots of whiskey and beaming with the news. Outside magazine just gave them the bully's pulpit. Then, Slate Magazine picked up the story, and quoted yours truly. Imagine my surprise. I haven't been posting much lately, but suddenly traffic to this site was spiking. Curious, says I, let's take a look at the old Word Press Dashboard, figure out where all these hits are coming from. Ah, but of course, the story that wouldn't die: "The Worst Kept Secret in Washington", published the day the Rick Curl scandal broke, back in the summer of 2012.

Since then, that story, about Curl's criminal relationship with a teenage swimmer named Kelley Currin back in the 80s, has been read twice as many times as any other piece ever published on Cap & Goggles. For good reason, I suppose. It addressed not only the horror of sex abuse between too many coaches and young swimmers, but the sport's dirtiest little secret: it's never been much of a secret. Since the time I was twelve years old, I've heard the rumors. Many of which weren't rumors at all. Somewhere along the line, beneath the unseemly surface, it became part of the culture.

It wasn't just swimming, of course. Inappropriate relations between coaches and young athletes are legion. They happen in every sport. Yet, swimming seemed to take it to another level of misconduct. Why? Well, you don't have to look too far. This is a sport where the athletes are mostly naked, wet, breathing heavy, and quite literally, staring up in positions of subservience at their coaches above them on deck. The sexualized nature of the sport is impossible to miss. Plenty of unscrupulous coaches have taken advantage of it in unconscionable, downright evil ways.

But let's hit pause on the pile-on for a second. Outside magazine has already piled on plenty, as well meaning and outraged as the story was. When I say 'plenty', I mean too many. Hell, one is too many. But let's make no mistake: 'plenty' remains the minuscule minority of a proud and noble profession. And while we're at it, let's make something else clear: no other national governing body has reacted with more vigilance and commitment to change than USA Swimming, ever since this story took on a life of its own four years ago.

You can say that's overdue, and perhaps you're right. You can say you don't trust swim coaches, as a profession, and you'd be guilty of gross generalization, but if you were ever touched by abuse, I wouldn't blame you.

Still, there is another side to this dark story that has yet to be called out of the shadows. The lawyers so passionately, and publicly, defending the victims. Robert Allard, here's looking at you. I have full respect for those who represent the law, and even more for those who stand alongside victims and demand justice for the sins committed upon them. What is unworthy of respect is the eager shamelessness in disparaging an entire profession and an entire governing body. Men and women overflowing with integrity, who devote their lives to helping young athletes achieve their dreams.

In a video link alongside that Outside story, here's what Robert Allard had to say about swim coaches: "Frankly there may be coaches out there who disagree, but I don't think it takes a whole heck of a lot to be a swim coach. You're out there on the pool deck and you're saying, 'swim some laps back and forth, I know something about swim technique, and here you go.' It's relatively easy for someone to come into the world and say 'I'm a swim coach and I'm going to be watching over swim activities.' Unlike a football coach who's calling plays and intimately involved and so forth and so on."

And so forth and so on, Allard makes clear that he lacks even the most basic knowledge or respect for a profession he appears to be intent on destroying. His fellow attorney, Jonathan Little, who is also active in these litigations, had this to say: "It's widely accepted in USA Swimming. You're a 15-year-old kid... you like the sport, maybe you want to coach someday, and your coach or a coach at a nearby club is having relationships with his teenage swimmers. So, when you turn 30 or 40 and you're coaching, it's not abnormal that you have relationships with your teenage swimmers."

Come again? To cross examine Mr. Little a little: So, what you're saying is that pedophilia is passed down based on observation? That it's learned behavior, and that an otherwise noble young man could be so poisoned by evil witnessed that he will go on to take advantage of young teenage athletes - because that's what he saw his coach do growing up? Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Instead, this sounds to me like an attempt to demonize an entire profession - and the organization that represents it - rather than go after the real bad guys, those evil fuckers who actually prey upon their underage athletes. Why cast such a large and ill-informed net? Well, because lawyers follow the money. The sick and twisted fuck, Andy King, who raped dozens of young swimmers over the course of decades - it's not enough to see him rot in prison, hopefully for eternity. There needs to be financial retribution, to make it worth the lawyers' time.

Of course, the pot always loves to call the kettle black. To hear Jonathan Little tell it: "They have unlimited streams of money. The athletes live in poverty. And nobody cares. That's the problem with the Olympics - nobody cares." Adds Allard: "We're talking a tremendous, tremendous amount of money, and people who are getting rich. Many, many, many people... So, I'm gonna sacrifice this little girl for the good of the sport. And all the while their pockets are being lined with money, and they're being flown to the Olympic Games for weeks at a time with their families, and they're eating at these lavish restaurants and they're staying at five-star hotels. They're living like kings basically."

Um, actually, no. Facts are rather important in the law profession, and there is almost nothing factual in those statements. Libelous and clueless maybe, but not factual. However, their sentiments do go a long ways in explaining why they've put a bull's eye on the back of not just the entire coaching profession, not just on USA Swimming, but on all national governing bodies in America. Because tapping into any unlimited stream of money sure sounds nice, doesn't it?

I've been contacted personally by representatives of some of these attorneys in the past. My stories seem to indicate that we share a common mission. And we do, in the most basic sense. A pedophile coach who preys on young athletes deserves to be exposed and shamed and treated with the harshest punishments available. There is no place for these folks in society, full stop. But funny things happen on the righteous road, don't they? It's unacceptable to look the other way, and that goes for the parents of athletes who hear these same rumors and choose to do nothing, because their kids are getting results in the water.

At very least, the lawyers involved in this mess must be applauded for helping to shine a light on a horrendous problem. The victims need help, and they deserve to see justice done.

But when the lawyers climb up on their pulpits, and national magazines start publishing their words as gospel, keep your antenna up for motive. And don't believe everything you read.

The Boy Behind the Wheel

After a second DUI arrest, a hard look at Michael Phelps on dry land...  This time it's different. It's already being lumped in with his past two public transgressions, but those two past offenses belong in a separate category. A dumb decision at 19-years-old, getting behind the wheel after a few too many? Not okay, but not the end of the world either. You and a million other dumb-ass teens have done the same thing, and you hope it's lesson learned. You hope you recognize how lucky you were that no one got hurt. Transgression number two: getting caught smoking from a bong at age 23. It's hard even to dignify this with an ounce of judgement. If you have a problem with a kid in his early twenties smoking weed at a party, well then, less power to you.

But this time, for Michael Phelps, it's a different story. He didn't get caught making a teenager's mistake, and he didn't get caught puffing on something that's soon to be legal in every state any way. This time, Michael Phelps did something deserving of judgement and the harshest of words. He got shit-faced, climbed into his Land Rover, and sped almost 40 miles per hour over the speed limit, charging through the Fort McHenry Tunnel, going 84mph in a 45mph zone, swerving over the double lines as he did it. Then, when stopped, the officer immediately noticed Phelps was plastered. A sobriety test proved it: it's been reported that his blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit.

Then he was arrested, charged, released, and sent sulking home in shame and fear, as Michael Phelps, Inc. spun into Code Red.

Before making clear why this time it's so different, a note to the moralizing masses: I don't think Michael Phelps has a drinking problem. I don't think he's off the rails or out of control in any get-this-kid-to-rehab sense. I don't judge him for getting a DUI at 19, nor for unwinding with a bit of weed. And I certainly don't judge him for enjoying a few drinks. Lord knows I enjoy bending an elbow too. I'll be as permissive as you like when it comes to recreational drug use, as well. You can judge me for that, I'll accept my choices, and others' too. But here's where unflinching judgement is due:

When you get into your car, blitzed, and blaze down the highway going so far over the speed limit that it qualifies as reckless endangerment. What does that term mean? Well, according to Maryland state law, "this behavior is seen as reckless because it unnecessarily endangers not only your life and the lives of your passengers, but also the lives of other innocent people on the road around you."

Basically, you're not just risking your own life due to your own reckless choices, but you're risking the lives of everyone around you. This is something that they tend to remind you of a lot after one's first DUI arrest, when you get the old slap on the wrist, with probation and plenty of scared-straight classes.

Speaking of scared straight, back in high school, when I was swimming for NBAC at Meadowbrook just like Phelps, I lost a friend in a drunk driving accident. The kid was 17. He left a party plenty drunk, and flipped his car over a bridge. I'll never forget talking to his devastated father at the wake, as he made the rounds through a bunch of dazed teary teenagers, doing his best to keep it together. You probably have a similar story. Sadly, most of us do. Did that keep us from drinking when we got to college? Hell no. But did we think twice before we hopped behind a wheel and sped off into the night with a head full of booze? Damn right.

That's not to say we always made the right choices. No one does. But when you've already been busted and shamed once, and then reminded in excruciating detail how bad those decisions can turn out, then one starts to lose sympathy for your mistakes in a hurry. Going 39mph over the speed limit when you're hammered does not make you an alcoholic or an evil person. It makes you a selfish little shit without regard for the lives around you.

That's why this time is different. Phelps is well aware of the stakes. He's made high stakes his career. But outside of the pool, he's proven, in public transgressions and private ones, that he's not very good at handling himself on dry land.

The phrase "role model" is always tossed around when star athletes screw up. Like you, I tend to roll my eyes when I hear it. It's a joke, to label the athletically gifted as role models. Because Michael Phelps is the greatest who ever lived at swimming across a swimming pool does not make him a role model in any sense of the word. In fact, on dry land, he's done a pretty good job at proving he's not worthy of the label. Do you remember that great "I Am Not a Role Model" Charles Barkley commercial from back in the 90s? Barkley, like Phelps, has been arrested for a DUI. It didn't make him a worse athlete, or a less colorful commentator. It just proved that he made a selfish, dumb-ass choice, and he should face the consequences like anyone else.

Before this script is hijacked by Michael "needing help" or "recovering" as he tries to sorry and spin away this event, let's put it in the wider context of the superstar and his circle. These are men, man-childs, really, who are used to controlling their environments. They impose their prodigious will, and they get the results they want. They do not hear the word 'no' very often, and the ones who dare to utter any criticism are soon excommunicated from the flock. They would never believe the phrase "you can't." Their response, the one that makes them so damn good on the field of play, is: I'll show you.

A lovely quality when you're a master of your environment, the best ever, with a will and a talent that has inspired billions. But it's a very ugly quality indeed when you step away from the play, get hammered, hop in your fancy car, and charge down the highway putting every life in your wake at risk.

The Russians Are Dirty

And they're not alone... Doping is rife these days. Is swimming becoming "the new track & field"?  How many positive tests does it take to convince you of a country's guilt? According to the official stance from FINA, it's not many. The letter of its law states that it's four strikes and the country is out. If four athletes are caught cheating, then the whole damn federation faces a two-year ban. Except that's not really true. See, they have to be FINA-sanctioned tests. If you're caught with a positive test by your own federation, then that doesn't count.

Which is how Russian swimmers are still allowed at international competitions, despite overwhelming evidence of doping on a widespread scale. Over the last four years, sixteen Russian swimmers have tested positive. Five tested positive last year at domestic meets in Russia, and are currently serving suspensions. This year, three more are serving drug bans for positive tests - including world record-holder and reigning world champion in the 200 breaststroke, Yuliya Efimova. And last week, the latest positive was revealed: open water stud Vladimir Dyatchin, a multiple world champion and the Open Water Swimmer of the Year back in 2007.

This wave of dirty results has placed Russia "at the brink" of being suspended from international swimming competition. Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko recently told Russian media that "one or two more breaches" and all of Russian Swimming could face an unprecedented suspension. This would be particularly humiliating for them, as they're set to host next year's World Championships in Kazan.

But FINA's Grand Poobah, Cornel Marculescu, isn't worried. He expressed full confidence in his comrades to host Worlds, saying that "the facilities are amazing and FINA is receiving a great support from the authorities of the Russian Federation." I'm sure Cornel would also have been impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities in Leipzig and Berlin in the former East Germany a few decades back. But that's not really the point. The Russians are dirty, and it's starting to look a lot like back to the future.

Craig Lord, over at Swim Vortex, has always been on top of these doping matters, and speaking of the former DDR, he's reported on something particularly troubling with this fresh batch of Russian positive tests. It appears that we're not always talking about the proverbial tainted supplement, or some new juice that's one step ahead of the testers. Last summer, one of those Russian positives was a swimmer named Nikita Maksimov. Her drug of choice? The old classic: Oral Turniabol, the go-to dope of the former East Germany, in the darkest early days of international doping.

This notorious little blue pill produced astonishing results for East German women throughout the 70s and 80s. Since then, it's led to gruesome side effects and severe health problems; some of these women went on to give birth to children with birth defects as a result of their teenaged drug regime.

Athletes get older and drift away in the stream of forgotten results, but doctors and coaches, they tend to stick around a lot longer. There's a dark undercurrent that flows throughout international sport, swimming included. It's a black market of performance enhancement for sale, and it knows no borders. At the moment it appears to have infiltrated Russian swimming more than other federations, but that does not mean Russia is a rogue state of isolated cheaters.

Indeed, it's most high profile case, world record holder Yuliva Efimova, was not training inside some locked forbidden pool in Siberia. She was a member of the Trojan Swim Club, part of Dave Salo's high profile gang of breaststroke superstars out at USC. She tested positive for DHEA, and said it came from a supplement she bought at a GNC in Los Angeles. Efimova got 16-months, leaving her enough time to get legal in time for the World Champs on her native soil. Her tried and (possibly) true defense was one of ignorance. She admitted buying the supplement, said the salesperson told her it was fine, and said she'd never even heard of DHEA. Maybe that's what happened, but if you're a world record holder, a defending world champ, the face of a swimming federation under increased scrutiny for its doping violations, would you take the word of a random GNC salesperson before you ingested something that could destroy your reputation?

Of course, this is the same defense that her USC breaststroking counterpart used some years back. Jessica Hardy said the same thing - and lost a lot more for her doping offense, an Olympic berth back in 2008.

I'd like to believe that the Trojans are doing everything above board under coach Salo, however, there's sure been some smoke around certain SC swimmers in recent years. At very least, swimmers like Hardy and Efimova appear to have been woefully naive and under prepared for the responsibilities they face as elite, heavily tested athletes. At worst, well... There's no evidence of anything more than cluelessness out there, though that has to be a sin in another category.

Curiously, you don't hear many swimmers speaking up about doping these days. It's somehow become verboten. Into the grey matter of alleged doping and positive tests, a stiff upper lip of silence prevails. Swimmers are reluctant to point fingers, and fair enough; no one wants to be seen as the poor loser. But as they say about evil, all it takes is for good men to do nothing. Back in 1996, swimmers were literally pointing and laughing at Ireland's Michelle Smith, so shameless was her cheating. In 2000, there was a loud chorus surrounding Holland's Igne de Bruijn, and a collective eye roll surrounding the Italian team in Sydney, dismissively referred to as "Team EPO" after some credibility-defying swims. Now, neither de Bruijn nor the Italians ever failed any tests, and the only test Smith failed was for spiking her sample with lethal amounts of whiskey. 

It all seems like an obvious joke in retrospect. But in the present tense, sport is being cheated and gold is being stolen. Here's one swimmer who's been unafraid of speaking up: Scotland's Michael Jamieson, the Olympic silver medalist in the 200 breast back in London. These days he's taken to Twitter and spoken the dirty truth about the Russians and the increase in doping that is clouding our sport. It's Jamieson who called swimming "the new track and field" and he's vowed "not to stop shouting for the rest of my career." 

Cheers to that. Maybe a few Americans or Canadians or Aussies will pick up that righteous chorus sometime soon.

Because it's not only the Russians.

The Big Lie

The agony of Ian Thorpe and what it says about his sport, and his nation...  We all knew. At least we thought we did. We added up all the usual cues and clues and we assumed as much, despite the years of denials from the man himself.

Even after his handlers insisted he was a fashion-conscious ladies man. Even as he claimed to have that long relationship with Amanda Beard. Even when he denied it in writing in his autobiography, perhaps ironically titled This is Me. It wasn't. Since he was old enough to have the first hints of his sexuality, Thorpe denied being a gay man to himself and to the world.

This weekend, after all those years of denying it, Ian Thorpe came out at the age of 31. In a sit-down interview with Sir Michael Parkinson, Thorpe called it his "big lie." Now that he's spoken the truth, the prevailing response seems to be: Finally. Followed by a shake of the head, as we think: Poor guy, I can't imagine what you've been going through all these years.

Consider the torturous life that Ian Thorpe chose to lead over this last decade and a half in the public eye. He was a world champion at 15, and he was told he was gay soon after. In public, in the press, by everyone who 'just knew'... Meanwhile, teenaged Thorpe didn't know what he liked. All he knew was that he liked to swim, and that he was very very good at it. Coming to terms with sexuality - straight or otherwise - is no easy journey for any teen. For a famous boy wonder sporting hero, in an Aussie culture not known for its tolerance, the question of his sexuality must have filled him with a fear that's hard to fathom.

So, he hid from it. He pretended he was something he wasn't, and slowly he came apart. There was the well documented depression, the drinking, the deep mistrust of any and all journalists. And there was the early retirement. It seems unfair to say, given the truckload of achievements, but Australia's most decorated Olympian of all time may have underachieved as an athlete. He won nine Olympic medals, five of them gold. He won thirteen World Championships medals; eleven of those were gold. He broke thirteen individual world records and was the World Swimmer of the Year four times. He was, and is, the greatest freestyler to ever live.

Throughout all that, he was miserable. By the time he retired, too young, in 2006, he was a 24-year-old too old and weary for his age. He knew his body was still capable of much more, but his psyche couldn't keep pace. How could it? By the time he attempted that comeback back in 2011-12, it was too late. Years of drinking and self-loathing had robbed the champion of a return to glory. Yet, still he denied his basic nature.

These are supposed to be times of unprecedented tolerance. The shame of the closet is supposed to be gone. Pro athletes feel free to come out now, and the thought of rejecting someone for his or her sexuality feels absurd. Like the movement to legalize marijuana, it can sometimes feel as if the battle is already won. Anyone with a few basic brain cells can grasp these things. Gay marriage, legal pot? Really, are we still talking about these things? Not any thinking person I know.

Yet Thorpe's struggles reveal that we're still ages away from those liberal assumptions. Particularly in his land down under, and in countless swimming pools across the world. Maybe if Ian Thorpe had grown up in San Francisco or New York or Amsterdam, or another urban bastion of freedoms, then he might never have gone through these agonies. Instead, he grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, in a country that still hasn't gotten around to legalizing same sex marriage. Indeed, the caricature of the Aussie sports fan is not a generous one. The image of macho, chest thumping blokes who used to call young Thorpe a "poofter" to his face is too easy to picture. Forget about all those Olympic medals and world records, these blokes are enough to torture any young athlete who can't quite relate to what he's supposed to be feeling.

Sure, Aussie culture is partly to blame, but so is swimming culture. This is a sport that pretends to be more tolerant than others, congratulates itself, in fact. Swimmers like to feel superior in many ways, for our work ethics, our physiques, our higher than average jock intelligence...and yes, for the heightened acceptance we think we have. But is any of that really as true as we like to think? Based on his reported agonies, it seems a safe bet that Ian Thorpe was subjected to the same rampant homophobias that exist in so many other locker rooms and fields of play, regardless of sport or nation. Athletes are athletes, and those same fiery qualities of competitiveness and camaraderie may not serve us so well when it comes to accepting teammates who might not be attracted to the same things.

So, if we all knew all along, why does Ian Thorpe's coming out even matter anymore? There've been plenty of smug shrugs in response. Who cares who he likes, the guy's still a king, right? Well, yes. But try telling that to the talented 14-year-old swimmer in the lane next to you. The one who's not quite like everybody else, but damn is that kid fast. Yesterday, he might have quit sports altogether, too shamed and confused and frustrated to continue.

Today, thanks to one long-coming admission by Ian Thorpe, that kid may keep at it.

The Primitive Genius

Thinking behind the blocks and paralysis by analysis... It can be hard to sleep on nights like this. A day away from the World Championships, many of the greatest swimmers on earth are tossing in their Barcelona beds right about now. They're visualizing races and willing the happy thoughts. They're hyper aware of every twitch and itch of their toned bodies. They're nervous. Whether they admit it or not.

Fair enough. Big meets mean big pressure, and for a sport with so few opportunities to perform on the few stages that really matter, these are times that can crack a lot of psyches. Thousands upon thousands of hours, distilled into a few seconds or minutes of competition. What are they thinking as they stand behind those blocks, moments away from their moments of truth? Well, hopefully nothing.

In a growing field perhaps best termed the Science of Excellence, the minds and bodies of elite athletes are becoming better understood by the day. Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein has just published the latest entry -- The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. SI published an excerpt in their latest issue. While the piece never addresses swimming, it's impossible not to apply his findings to our sport. Consider these lines:

"As an individual practices a skill... the mental processes involved in executing the skill move from the higher-conscious areas of the brain in the frontal lobe back to the more primitive areas that control automated processes, or skills that you can execute "without thinking." In sports, brain automation is hyper specific to a practiced skill..." 

Translation: After a certain massive amount of time spent training, hitting a 100 mph fastball or swimming 50 meters in 21 seconds becomes as thought-free as driving down the highway. That's not to say that every driver can also practice themselves into being world class competitors if only they spent as much time doing the skill as they do driving. It means that for the very best, those ultra talented souls we watch competing for gold medals, thinking is the enemy.

Easier said than done. Any coach can mutter to his athlete: don't think, just go out there and race, trust your training... We've all heard some variation of that at some point in our competitive careers. The last thing Coach Gregg Troy used to say to me before I walked off to the Ready Room at big meets was: "Who's your worst enemy?" The answer, of course, was myself. The implication being that if only I'd get out of my own way and stop thinking so damn much, then the race would take care of itself. Sometimes I'd listen and absorb that simple question and let my mind go blank. Other times the question would blow through my spinning brain, and I'd march off to the Ready Room obsessing over splits and stroke counts and goal times. Guess which races were a disaster?

I'm guessing Coach Troy never has to say that to Ryan Lochte. Because, say what you will about Lochte's intellect, and much has been unfairly said already, when the man stands behind the blocks, he is a genius. He's pure automation. His mind is clear, uncluttered and at peace, because it's operating on a frequency few athletes will ever approach. His mind and body have been so infinitely trained to execute that specific task that the frontal lobe has been utterly silenced.

Michael Phelps, of course, was the same way. Everyone remembers that blank thousand yard stare of his behind the blocks. The headphones were in, the jaw was slack, the eyes were unfocused and lost in some thought-free zone. As Epstein writes in SI, "thinking about an action is the sign of a novice."

It sounds like an oxymoron, the thoughtless, primitive genius. But there is nothing simple about it. To reach a state of transcendent performance, the first thing that must occur is the elimination of higher consciousness in the moment. And to reach that state, an athlete must think and train so much for so many years that thought ceases to exist when it matters most.

Think about that.

The Boy in the Bubble

Michael Andrew, child swim star... A "pro" at age 14...  I always followed the kid by the numbers, the times. Those cartoon crazy swims he posted when he was 10, 11, 12, 13, and now 14 - they've always been eye-popping. I didn't know anything else about him, but the numbers were enough. He was a swimmer on the rise. Perhaps the Next One. Maybe in our desperate, impatient search for the next Phelps, the kid was already upon us. Maybe Michael Andrew will go on to win nine gold medals at some far off Games and make Michael the official sacred name of swimming royalty. Maybe he will... but let's hold up for a second: He hasn't done anything yet.

By anything, I mean a World Record, I mean an Olympic berth, I mean a top world ranking. I mean the things that lead a young phenom to turn pro because he is so good, so young that he feels it's impossible to resist the opportunities on the table. Phelps was a World Record holder and already a seasoned Olympian when he turned pro at 16. Missy Franklin collected five Olympic gold medals in high school, and she decided not to turn pro. Michael Andrew has set eleven National Age Group records in his short career, and yesterday his parents decided that this was promising enough for their son to turn pro.

Let me now say what the rest of the swimming community is apparently unable to utter publicly: This is a wildly premature and inappropriate decision. It's deeply messed up. It reveals so many layers of American madness that one hardly knows where to begin. But before we do, let's get one thing clear up front: Michael Andrew, the 14 year old boy, is in no way being judged or criticized for this decision. The kid is 14. He lives at home in Kansas. He goes to school at home. He goes to practice at home, in his backyard, two-lane swimming pool. His father is his coach. His mother, his teacher. He is a fantastically talented boy trapped in a bubble of his parents' ambition. I used to be in awe of his age group times. Now that awe remains, along with a heavy dose of sympathy for the position this kid's parents have put him in.

Let's get to the layers of madness:

First, that this is even a decision at all. The fact that a brilliantly talented young athlete should even have to choose between an education and an endorsement is beyond absurd. Does anyone care if Michael Andrew, or anyone else, makes a few bucks from a random supplement company as he trains for greatness? Would that be so against the ideals of the holy NCAA? This is so marco mad that it hardly warrants further ranting. We shouldn't even be having this discussion.

But since we are, let's dig a little further into the company at the heart of all this. Michael Andrew is now a "pro" swimmer because he accepted an endorsement deal from a company called P2 Life, a "performance nutrition" company founded less than two years ago. Its founder and CEO is a guy named Tim Shead. He's a Masters superstar, with 43 Masters world records to his name; his corporate bio also states that he's a "past US National Head Coach", but I can't seem to find where or when this occurred. That corporate website also states that "40% of the U.S. Men's Olympic Swimming Team were active users of P2 products." If this is the case, I'd love to know who they are, and why they aren't signed up for lucrative endorsement deals with Mr. Shead.

In the absence of those actual Olympians, P2 signed a 14-year-old age group record holder instead. Presumably because the upside was so great, and they were getting in on the ground floor... which in start-up language means cheap. Whatever they paid the Andrew family, one can be fairly certain it does not add up to the price of a four-year college scholarship. Though that's clearly not a priority for young Michael. In his webcast interview with Garrett McCaffrey today, Andrew appeared to brush off the issue of higher education. He's being home-schooled after all, so high school competition isn't even a thought, and on the subject of college, he indicated that his mom was just finishing up some online courses, and that path sounded just fine to him right now. (Again, no judgement on young Andrew, he's only doing what he's being told, what he knows...)

How about another layer of American madness? If you're great at something, all bets are off. Everything is permitted. When I first read this news this morning, I tried to find some relatable analogy in other sports. The comparison with Todd Marinovich, the boy in the bubble USC quarterback, is too easy and dated. It was twenty-five years ago, and sure the kid had some similarities - ie boundary-less fathers intent on building their sons into the perfect athletic specimens in their favorite sports. But at least Marinovch had the chance to go to college -and win the Rose Bowl - before he unraveled with too much freedom and blow and weed and punk rock.

A better analogy is what's going on in surf and skating. Friends who follow these sports quickly pointed out that signing young groms and skate rats is standard practice these days. I was fed names like Kolohe Andino and Kanoa Igarashi and Jack Robinson and John John Florence -- young rippers who were sponsored and successful in their early teens. Maybe Michael Andrew fits in that mold, I thought. Maybe swimming's just far behind the cooler 'action' sports, where young studs aren't bothered by silly things like NCAA eligibility. This would be nice. I wish I could believe it. But here's the difference - there is visual value in watching young surfers and skaters do their thing. It's exciting to see, and companies like Billabong and Quiksilver righty recognize the value in getting their gear on these kids. But is that true with young swimmers? I watched Michael Andrew's latest NAG record on SwimSwam - a blistering 23.4 in the 50 free at some meet in Iowa - and it was impressive enough, but would I watch it again? Probably not. Would I rather watch a 14-year-old rip up a high blue wave? No question. And this is coming from a confirmed swim geek who doesn't surf without getting pinned to the ocean bottom after two wobbling seconds atop the board.

I'd love to know P2's business plan when it comes to their newest sponsor, young Andrew. I'd also love to know of any other companies lining up with potential deals in the works. Because if Michael Andrew is as insanely talented as it seems, here's the best case scenario three years from now: He makes the 4x100 free relay in Rio. He places 4th or 5th or 6th in the 100 free at 2016 Trials in Omaha. That's about as good as I can see for the kid who'll be 17 by that time. It would be an incredible accomplishment. I'm fairly confident in stating that he'd be the youngest member of that prestigious relay in history. It would set him up for a huge Games four years later in 2020, in a city yet to be named. If he manages to do that, then that might be a fine time to roll the dice and turn pro. But to do it now? Three years before that big maybe? It defies reason.

Of course, this isn't about reason, is it? It's about parents smelling greatness in the bedroom across the hall. The kind of greatness that means a free ticket to travel the world. The kind of talent that forces you to believe the hype and sign on the dotted line...

Here's hoping that it all works out for the amazing Michael Andrew. Here's hoping that he hasn't been sabotaged before he's even begun.

Pride or Prejudice?

Why aren't there more out swimmers?  Blame it on the big city. The buried journalist inside of me knew that Jason Collins's coming out party was big news. The first out gay athlete in a major professional sport... a guy still immersed in a proud 12-year NBA career. That's pretty major. Big enough for Sports Illustrated to stop the presses and splash Collins on its cover. So then why did it feel like it shouldn't have been any news at all?

Maybe because living in a place like New York, and having plenty of gay friends and colleagues, makes this "announcement" sound like a quaint little Victorian era scandal. If you have a problem with an athlete's sexuality, or anyone's sexuality for that matter, I feel sorry for you. No, really.

I don't care who Jason Collins goes to bed with any more than who Kobe Bryant cheats with. Or Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or any of the other fine moral-free manly role models we know and love. Those three heterosexual gentlemen above are, by virtually every account I've heard, horrible human beings. Spiteful egomaniacs incapable of fidelity or humility. Yet, when any one of them is on the court or the links, I can't take my eyes off of them. They're geniuses at what they do, and it's a beautiful thing to behold. Jason Collins, on the other hand, sounds like a damn good guy, but I can't say I've ever watched a single minute of him playing basketball.

Why can't we separate the two? Well, because this is sex we're talking about, and there's nothing simple about that. Especially not when God gets involved...

But enough about God. I'm pretty sure he's cool with Jason Collins. No, that's not true. I'm quite positive He couldn't give two shits about Jason Collins and his attraction to men. In that, at least, the Big Man and I are on the same page. I don't care either.

It would just be nice if athletes in our sport could be carelessly open about their preferences too. After all, this is a sport with more than its share of past gay champions. Canada's Mark Tewksbury and Australia's Daniel Kowalski, to name two terrific role models. And of course, Bruce Hayes, of '84 Olympic fame. All due respect to Jason Lezak, but Hayes still might have you beat for the greatest relay leg ever swum. If it's before your era, take a look.

Unfortunately, all those guys came out a few years after they hung up their goggles. That's the way it usually goes. Just stay back in that closet until the cameras go away, then it will be a little safer. Problem is, that's when no one's paying attention. No one, like say, a teenage kid struggling with suicidal thoughts, adrift and depressed in some small God-fearing close-minded town.

I wish I could send my younger self this message of tolerance. That 16-year-old self trapped in an all-boys Catholic school, longing to get out of there, hormones raging, wanting to hook up with girls more than anything else on earth - and being fearful and distrustful of any guy who didn't feel the same way. That's called homophobia. Fearing what you can't understand. Treating someone as different, as lesser, because they don't have the same "natural" urges as you do.

It's easy to act tolerant and holier-than-thou when you're fully formed and comfortable in your own skin, but it's easy to forget how hard it was as a kid. When everyone's just trying to figure their shit out... I can only imagine how hard it is for the guys and girls who, through no fault of their own, want something different with their sex lives.

With swimmers, it might be even more difficult. This is a sport where every athlete is mostly naked, invariably ripped, wet, and usually panting. The sexuality of it is impossible to ignore. That can be troublesome. Especially for those struggling with attractions that aren't exactly embraced inside every locker room.

Maybe Jason Collins has opened the door for countless other closeted pro athletes to come forward now without fear. It would be nice if some brave Olympic swimmers decide to join him in proud solidarity.

But it will be really nice when no one cares at all.

The Church and the State

How do you judge a nation's swimming success? By Olympic medals or by broader measures like membership and revenue? With Swimming Canada at a crossroads, a case study for every nation...  When the CEO came to power spirits were low. So were revenues. At meets across the country, there was a heavy mood of doom and gloom. Leadership was being questioned and medal counts were anemic. There was the palpable sense of losing ground, of being passed by competing countries that seemed to be getting more out of their talent and resources.

In 2005, Pierre Lafontaine arrived to a hell of a task. Swimming Canada needed not only a turnaround artist, it needed an attitude adjustment. They got it in Lafontaine. With an infectious energy of relentless positivity, he began to lift Canada's sagging swim spirits. He also started generating a lot more dollars, and brought a lot more Canadians into the sport. He did what a CEO is supposed to do: He improved the business.

After eight years at the helm of Canadian swimming, Pierre Lafontaine resigned this week. He's moving on to become the CEO of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), starting next month. He leaves Swimming Canada in far better shape than he found it. Yet, he also leaves it at a crossroads - one shared by other swimming nations across the world, as they look to regroup and chart new courses in the next Olympiad ahead.

During Lafontaine's tenure as the top aquatic man in Canada, he held two powerful, though inherently divergent, positions at once. He was the CEO - where success is largely tallied by dollars - and he was also the National Team Director - where success is mostly about medals. He was the head of the church and the state. It's a lovely state of affairs when these two entities sail along together in happy unison, but as you might imagine, that's not always the case. The needs of the organization, the state, are not always in line with the church of competition, and its sometimes holier-than-thou pursuit of the podium.

To Lafontaine's credit, he was able to juggle these two roles with impressive dexterity throughout his eight years. On the state side, as CEO, he crushed it. In the year before he took over, in 2004, revenues at Swimming Canada were $3.5 million. In 2012, they were $8.4 million. That's a 234% increase in those eight years. If this were a publicly traded company, the shareholders would approve. Though, we're talking about a national governing body of sport, where membership might be a more important number than dollars. On that end, Swimming Canada also made big strides. In 2004, membership was around 35,000. In 2012, it was over 45,000.

Some context: There are roughly 300,000 members of USA Swimming, in a country of 300 million -- or 1% of the total population. According to the latest census, Canada is a country of 33 million - meaning that a higher percentage of Canadians are members of Swimming Canada than Americans are members of USA Swimming. (In a land that's less than hospitable to year-round outdoor pools...)

Now, across the aisle on the church side of things, let's take a look at those all-important medal counts. As National Team Director, Lafontaine inherited a 2004 Olympic squad that won a grand total of zero medals in Athens. There was nowhere to go but up. In 2008, Ryan Cochrane grabbed Canada's sole spot on the podium with a bronze in the 1500 free. In 2012, Team Canada climbed the podium three times - with Brent Hayden's bronze in the 100 free; Cochrane's silver in the 1500; and Richard Weinberger's bronze in the 10k open water. We can admit that all involved hoped and planned for more, but the progression is there. And so is the talent. Indeed, Canada's Junior Team has been ranked the 2nd best in the world, based on its performance at the Junior Worlds in 2011.

Still, just three swimmers standing on an Olympic podium in eight years, just two in the pool, and no women - this isn't the stuff of High Performance dreams. Canada knows it can do better, and it will. Thus, it seems fair to say that while Lafontaine earned glowing marks across the board as CEO, the job of National Team Director still has room for improvement. Which is why these two roles are now being split between two men. The new High Performance Director at Swimming Canada is a Brit named John Atkinson, who comes across the pond after leading Great Britain's Paralympic program. The position of CEO is yet unfilled, with Swimming Canada's longtime Director of Operations, Ken Radford, taking the reins until the new chief is hired.

Whoever it is would be wise to gaze across the border and take a look at both the model of success and the cautionary tales that have come out of USA Swimming in recent years. It goes without saying that, both on the podium and on the bottom line, USA Swimming remains the gold standard in world swimming. It continues to win the most medals, by a mile, and continues to have the richest coffers. Its church and state have been clearly divided forever. Its CEO (officially titled "Executive Director") Chuck Wielgus focuses on the big picture stuff like membership and revenues. While its National Team Director (Frank Busch) can pour his energies into those heavy medal counts without overly concerning himself with budgets. That's not to say these two roles don't intersect constantly; of course they do. But it's a matter of energies and priorities. They are two distinctly different job descriptions.

When it works, it works. The proof is everywhere you look. But when it doesn't... Well, just take a look at the festering mess left by the former 'wet side' head of Team USA, a guy named Mark Schubert. As Swimming World reported a few days ago, it appears Schubert left a scorched earth trail of irresponsibility in his wake, on his way out of USA Swimming. Before he was fired in 2010, it appears Schubert over promised the moon to rising stars like Dagny Knutson and Kate Ziegler. Then, surprise surprise, he left his former employers holding the bag to make good on his empty promises after he was sacked. It clearly didn't hurt the medal count in London for Team USA, but it left lasting harm on a few world class ladies whose careers were derailed as a result.

In a nation with such bottomless Olympic riches, this might be a blip on an otherwise successful march to another Games domination, but for virtually every other nation, this is the sort of thing that can shatter all the good work that's been planned by the State. Indeed, for this arrangement to work, the most important element is an implicit trust and appreciation for the other side.

For the rest of the world, in countries not called the US or, perhaps now, China, the margin for error is razor thin. To succeed, on both the church and state sides of the equation, you need leaders of talent and integrity in place. In Canada, Pierre Lafontaine had both. But a crossroads awaits...

Tearing Down a Temple

Greedheads, land grabs, and the sad demise of the Phoenix Swim Club...  May, 1996. This place was the center of the swimming universe. It felt like every country's Olympic team was there. Every team that mattered, in any case. It was an unshaved showcase for the Atlanta Games on the horizon. It was the Phoenix Grand Prix, hosted by folks who cared about the sport more than anything else. It was swimming at its very best, and it's the most fun I've ever had at a swim meet. The stands were packed, the deck buzzing, gold watches for the winners, hell, the finalists in the 50 free didn't march out, they rode out in eight Go-carts.

That's the first thing I thought of when I heard the news. Oh boy. That temple of swimming, the home of the Phoenix Swim Club, is about to be no more. This fall, right after the high school championship season, the entire complex will be demolished.

In a desert city lacking in soul, this place had swimmer soul deep in its chlorinated bones. And what will soon stand in its place? The very definition of American soullessness: another cookie-cutter housing development. 

It seems to be a story of good old clueless greed and mismanagement. When the story was first published by Swimming World three weeks ago, it produced a hysterical thread of 88 comments. Read through them and you will find an ugly display of disgruntled finger pointing. Many appear to think the Board of the club deserves to be drowned in the deep end. Others rally to the defense of the coaches. Still others point to the property's owners, Brophy College Prep, the Jesuit boys school that bought the complex a decade ago.

The whole ugly saga seems to follow the plot of Caddyshack II. Housing developments are more valuable than golf courses. And as it happens, much more valuable than swimming pools.

This much is clear: All involved failed to run a sustainable swimming business on a site that is tailor made for swimming success - both financial and competitive. In addition to the world-class 50-meter competition pool, there is a warm, shallow teaching pool, perfect for a profitable lesson program. (One of the world's greatest learn-to-swim programs, The Hubbard Family Swim School, started there...) There is also a weight room, a track, and a basketball court, all spread across 10 acres in a perfect suburban location. The club itself has about 500 swimmers, almost 300 of which are young age group and high school age kids. The other 200 are Masters swimmers, who as we all know tend to be both passionate about their pool time, and come loaded with a bit of disposable income.

All of the above adds up to a private equity dream scenario: A mismanaged asset with all the ingredients for a big time turnaround. This site doesn't need to be razed and replaced with a housing development. It just needs a bit of business sense, and a management team that cares deeply about sustaining a shining example of the sport.

Anyone who's been to any high level meet over the last two decades is familiar with the Phoenix Swim Club. Just look at the list of A-list coaches who have graced the deck: Dennis Pursely, Pierre La Fontaine, Mike Bottom, Eric Hansen... The list goes on. In the pool, Gary Hall, Jr. is the most prominent swimmer to emerge from these waters, but he's also joined by Klete and Kalyn Keller, a long list of Olympic Trials Qualifiers and a host of international Olympians who made the club their home base at various times through the years. Indeed, this was the original home of the Hall family's Race Club, before relocating to South Florida.

Through the Halls and Pursely and Pierre and Bottom and many others, this facility and this club showed the sport how it was done in so many ways, for so many years. I'm not alone in my affection for those Phoenix Grand Prix meets in the late 90's. I've heard Misty Hyman and many other former swimmers share the same fond memories.

When another soulless housing complex goes up on the ashes of this swimming temple, here's hoping a chlorine-fumed poltergeist haunts its homes.

Seeing Other People

USA Swimming breaks up with Speedo, hooks up with Arena... And what that means for the sport... They see themselves in iconic company with Xerox and Kleenex and Coke. Companies whose names became synonymous with the products they sold. It's not a photo copy or a tissue or a soda, it's the brand itself. For swimmers, for decades, you wore a Speedo, as in a tight-fitting racing suit. For a very long time, they were one of the ultimate examples of this name-branded success. No longer.

It's time to remove Speedo from that list of brand behemoths that own their categories with ubiquitous dominance. They've lost a stroke and the biggest evidence of all just presented itself. After 27 years, they are no longer the exclusive sponsor of the greatest swim team on earth - USA Swimming. Days ago, the folks at USA Swimming announced that it was now pursuing an open marriage, opening themselves to non-exclusive deals with other swimwear sponsors. Its new suitor and the new title sponsor of the U.S. National Team? Speedo's biggest rival, Arena.

Now this is a bit like being married to Michael Phelps for many years, and then one day the wife says to Michael - You know, honey, I think it's time we saw other people... And then she jumps into bed with Ryan Lochte. But, you know, she still stays with Michael, sort of, when it's convenient.

That's one way to describe what happened to Speedo. After three decades with a virtual monopoly over Team USA, it's a fair bet that they were blindsided when Arena made a move on their trophy wife. They used to own the sport - almost literally. What do swimmers wear? Speedos. You don't get more entrenched in a sport than that. And because of that broad dominance, it only makes sense that they also owned the world's best swimmers.

Except over the last few years, when it comes to swimwear, they really haven't been the state of the art. They haven't had the best suit on the market in almost five years - not since the game-changing LZR Racer, back in 2008. Competitors, from fellow apparel giants like Arena to scrappy upstarts like Jaked, were able to steal much of Speedo's world beating thunder over the last Olympiad.

The prospect of Arena becoming the lead sponsor of USA Swimming was no small consideration out in Colorado Springs. You're talking about a long-standing, at times incestuous relationship with deep roots. Not long ago, this break would have been unthinkable. If Phelps were still swimming, it's unlikely it would have happened at all. Michael was the 800-pound gorilla in the pool. In many senses, he was the sport for many years. If Speedo had his loyalty locked up in contract, then it could be sure it would keep Phelps's Team USA in line too.

Do you remember the 2009 World Championships in Rome? The meet where the saga of the supersuits climaxed with an unfortunate orgy of absurd world records... Remember the 100 fly, when Phelps smoked Mike Cavic in a bitter coda to Beijing? Do you recall his defiant post-race celebration, when he held up the Speedo logo on his suit for the cameras and slapped his chest? At the time, it seemed he was saying: "See, motherfuckers? Speedo's still the best!" Yet, in retrospect, this is what he was actually saying: "See, motherfuckers? I'm so good, I can still win despite wearing an inferior product."

Because let's be honest, by that point Phelps was swimming at a disadvantage in his LZR Racer. He was just that much better - than Cavic, and everyone else.

The same can be said of Ryan Lochte these days. He's the new face of the sport - and the biggest thoroughbred in Speedo's stable. If his latest Speedo suit happens to be a few tenths slower than the gear from Arena or others, well, you'll need more than that to close the gap on Lochte. But having the best swimmer doesn't mean you have the best product.

Indeed, when top American coaches and swimmers were approached about this impending Arena game-change, the news was met mostly with shrugs. But that's what I already want to wear, many seemed to say. This is not to say the current status quo of swimsuits will remain. These things are ever changing and Speedo may very well reclaim its technological superiority in the near future.

However, it's not all product that led to the split with USA Swimming. It was more about marketing. When you have an exclusive deal, it really is a marriage. Have a great new promotional idea for U.S. Nationals? Gotta get Speedo's approval first. Want to sell some slick advertising when NBC airs Pan Pacs? Sorry, Speedo doesn't do commercials. USA Swimming's hands were tied. And there were plenty of others out there eager to untie them. Which is why some ears perked up when Arena came knocking...

It will be very interesting to witness how all of this washes out. Both Arena and Speedo just signed eight-year deals with USA Swimming. Speedo will keep the "title rights" to Juniors and Sectionals and its presence on deck at every meet will still be impossible to miss. It will also continue to sponsor many of the greatest swimmers on earth, first and foremost being Mr. Lochte. Yet, it has now been relegated to second wife status. It's unlikely that Speedo will appreciate this clear demotion.

What will that mean when Ryan Lochte is handed a pair of Arena Team USA warm-ups next summer at World Championships? His attention-grabbing shoes and the suit he wears will still be made by Speedo, but the logo of their biggest competitor will be splashed across his warm-ups behind the blocks. For many years, Arena and TYR and others were forced to sit on their hands and suck it up on the other side of the fence. Athletes like Rebecca Soni and Matt Grevers might make most of their living from Arena and TYR, but they were wearing Speedo behind the blocks in London this summer. Now the shoe's on the other foot.

Unless you happen to work for Speedo or have a contract with them, this is good news for the entire sport. Open markets mean more competition. Speedo has been told - publicly and without subtlety - to step up its game. The preeminent swim team on earth is no longer assuming that its long marriage is working.

For the good of swimmers everywhere, they decided to see other people.

Dark Places, New Life

The courageous return of Dagny Knutson...  She was said to be the next great one. She was Missy Franklin, before anyone had heard of Missy Franklin. One of the greatest high school swimmers in history, Dagny Knutson was as sought after as a college recruit could possibly be. At 17, she was swimming times worthy of gold medal goals.

She had her pick of anywhere she wanted to go, and she chose Auburn. Then, after a coaching change, she didn't. She turned pro instead, moved out to Southern California, joined FAST, and entered an alien world of post-grad girls and a training environment a galaxy away from her native North Dakota. She moved to the other side of the country and joined Coach Gregg Troy and his Gators crew in Gainesville. This steadied her reeling psyche, for a short time, but it wasn't enough.

Then the wheels came off. An eating disorder spiraled dangerously out of control. By last January, when her competitors were preparing for peak performances at the fast approaching Olympic Trials, Knutson found herself in a dark place. Most would have covered it up, swam lap after lap through the motions, and arrived in Omaha with false hopes of her faltering Olympic dream.

Instead, Knutson made the harder, and more honest choice. She walked away - at a time when that is utterly unthinkable for virtually any athlete with Olympic potential. She decided instead to help herself.

Last weekend, at the Minneapolis Grand Prix, she made her return. Her times were fast, not Dagny at her stunning peak fast, but damn fast nonetheless. Good enough to win the 200 IM, good enough for a strong second behind none other than Ms. Franklin in the 200 free. But of course, the times and the places were really beside the point. After all, Knutson had just spent the last seven months doing zero exercise at all. She had more important things to worry about. Like getting better.

Since Knutson left the sport last January, she has gone through two rounds of treatment for her eating disorder. She has not made this a secret. She's spoken publicly to plenty of journalists about why she left and what she's been going through. Don't take these confessions lightly.

If you swam through your high school and college years, and if you're reading this blog, it's a good bet you did, consider how many of your female teammates likely suffered from some form of eating disorder. Some cynics might even say most. It's that prevalent, and it's that bad.

By coming forward in the way she did, and walking away from the sport at the moment she did, Knutson may have helped more fellow swimmers than she knows. Because there is no question at all that on every single pool deck at every high school, national, or college meet in the country, there are more than a few swimmers wrestling darkly with issues like Knutson's.

If her story had ended in early retirement, at age 20, with national records to her name, with a World Championships gold medal from the 4 x 200 free relay back in 2011, that would have been a career filled with far more accolades than the rest of us. It would have been enough.

The ghosts of Olympic Maybes really aren't all that scary in the end. Yet the fact that Knutson has found her way back to the pool now is a story worth celebrating. I'm sure she still thinks about London and what might have been, who wouldn't? But what's more worthy of admiration? A swimmer who could have hidden it all from the world, and perhaps found her way onto a relay in a struggling state...

Or a swimmer who showed the courage to be honest with herself, to get the help she needed, and then, after all of that, to return to the pool once more...

Pools of Death and Invention

The perils and the powers of breath-holding: The troubling case of Shallow Water Blackout and the underwater brilliance of the world's greatest inventor...

It's peaceful down there, quiet and still. The dry land world washes by in abstract shapes above and you may as well be on the moon. The bottom of a swimming pool is an alternate weightless reality. There's nowhere else I'd rather be. This might be a problem. A life threatening one. Or it might be the ultimate oxygen-deprived source of inspiration.

This is a dangerous game, and a fascinating one.

If you're a coach or swimmer and you're not familiar with the grim realities of Shallow Water Blackout, you might want to listen up. Hypoxic sets are a part of any team, breath holding contests a part of any summer league fun, but pushed too far,  it can turn serious in a silent instant. Yesterday, Swimming World published an eye-opening piece on these "swimmer blackouts". It told the story of former Arizona State swimmer James Rigg. A breath-holding pro who died a year ago yesterday, after jumping into the ASU diving well late one Sunday night. The cause was "accidental drowning" - not exactly a cause of death you'd expect from a Division I swimmer.

We've all played this game. I remember the time my friend and former SMU teammate Blaine Morgan swam 100 yards without a breath. When he touched the fourth wall, he gave a woozy smile, wagged his finger in triumph, then blacked out and sunk straight to the bottom. He was retrieved and revived by his teammates without incident, thankfully, but the breath-holding challenge ended there. You probably have a similar story. Most teams do. It's plenty dangerous with a group watching over your head. Done for fun, late night, maybe after a few drinks - you're taking a peak into the abyss.

Fact is, a big-lunged well-trained swimmer might be more at risk of this sort of drowning than a dry lander just playing in the deep end. A swimmer knows how to hyperventilate and get rid of all the CO2 before he goes under. A swimmer knows how to suppress that gagging sensation as the throat constricts and the lungs tighten. In a sick sort of way, it's actually a pleasurable feeling. As oxygen leaves your body, the mind grows clear.

This is more than mere metaphor. This is fact. There is scientific evidence that prolonged breath-holding can heighten ideas and intelligence. Just ask the most prolific inventor in the history of the world. One of my all-time favorite characters, a Japanese gentleman by the name of Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats. The man holds the patent to some 4,000 inventions. By comparison, some guy named Thomas Edison has a bit over 1,000. A few of Nakamats's greatest hits? The floppy disk, the digital watch, fuel cells, and of course... karaoke.

How does Dr. Nakamats do it? Through his Underwater Invention Method. Please click that link and watch the video. Hold your breath and prepare for mind to be blown. "Too much oxygen is bad for the brain," he says. "On the other hand, if the brain feels a shortage of oxygen, the brain reaches maximum activity." When does this happen? Well, there's the dark line in the sand... According to Dr. Nakamats, that happens "0.5 seconds before death."

The muse, it seems, arrives right at death's door. And she doesn't stay long. That's why Nakamats invented the world's only underwater notebook - so he can scribble down his ideas in those oxygen-free moments of maximum inspiration.

"As close to death as possible," he says. "I do my inventing balancing death and invention."

File this one under Do Not Try This at Home. An eccentric death-baiting 84-year-old Japanese inventor might not be the sort of man you want to model yourself after, yet his achievements are indisputable. His Underwater Method is hard to reconcile with the scary realities of Shallow Water Blackout. You may not surface with an idea for world changing technology, but anyone who's ever spent some long minutes on the bottom is familiar with that heady rush of clarity the moment you surface.

Of course, hypoxic training has been known to improve more than just intellectual pursuits. Safe to say Mr. Phelps and Mr. Lochte won't become inventors in their next careers, yet you can be sure they spent loads of time under the surface with bursting lungs, preparing their minds and bodies for those devastating final walls when they stay under longer than anyone else.

There are secrets of excellence down there, we know it's true. Just don't forget the stakes...

The Altered States of Swimming

As we enter the post-Phelps era, the sport finds itself reeling between robust health and on-going sickness... A new Olympiad has begun. Michael Phelps is gone. Ryan Lochte is becoming Derek Zoolander. Missy Franklin continues to resist millions so she can swim in college. That's the narrative of the big three, anyway. The three short hand stories of the sport that have spread into the mainstream. That's what your friends in the dry land world know about swimming. They might have also heard about some dark sex scandals, involving coaches and teenage swimmers, but we'll get to that in a bit...

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. It was started last September with a piece entitled The Phelps Effect. It detailed the ways that Michael Phelps's dominance may have killed off the depth and ambition in American swimming. There was evidence of that back at the World Championships in 2011. At the Games in London, the symptoms of this 'Phelps Effect' appear to have been killed off. Just ask Tyler Clary, Matt Grevers, and Nathan Adrian - three American guys not named Phelps or Lochte who raced to individual Olympic gold this summer.

Seventy-five stories later, this site has managed to piss off, provoke, and hopefully entertain and enlighten many in the swimming community. Just what I'd hoped for... And so it seems like a fine time to take a step back and examine the sport in its many altered states.

The contrasts are dizzying, like a too-heavy trip that throws your mind from transcendence to terror and back again. At the peak, an Olympics with grace and greatness on display at every turn. At the depths, scandal that threatens the foundation of the sport itself and delivers crushing blows to the reputation of coaches everywhere. So much to love, so much to hate.

First, the health... By damn near every standard, the sport of swimming has never been in better shape. Sure, Micheal the Meal Ticket has left the table, but he has left a feast of riches. The competition in London was as good as any Olympic swimming in history. Across the board. Thrilling upsets, epic relays, all-time moments every night. And despite the unfortunate tape delay by NBC, more viewers tuned in to watch swimmers than ever before.

At the age group level, there has never been more kids taking part in this sport. In the U.S., there are currently 362,700 registered competitive swimmers and almost 3,000 member clubs. That's a 17% increase from four years ago, and remember, four years ago was its own high water mark after Phelps's Beijing bonanza. Across the world, it's safe to say that the ranks of young swimmers in France and South Africa and Brazil are also swelling as we speak, thanks to overachieving performances in London and a Rio Games on the horizon. This is a sport on the rise, and not just within American borders.

The sport also appears to have finally turned a corner when it comes to diversity. Sure, it remains embarrassingly too-white at every meet. But that's changing - at the top, with the likes of Tony Ervin and Cullen Jones and Lia Neal - but also at the ground level, as grassroots programs like Make a Splash are reaching scores of young athletes who might never have been exposed to the pool.

Phelps did indeed change the sport, but he wasn't alone. The tide has been rising for a long time, well before he took the blocks as a teenager in Sydney, and it will continue to rise in the Olympiad ahead.

Now, the sickness... Swimming has an image problem. (And no, I don't mean Seth MacFarlane's mean-spirited mockery of Lochte on SNL last week.) Today, Rick Curl was banned for life from USA Swimming. Two decades too late, some might say. His namesake team, Curl-Burke, was renamed Nation's Capital Swim Club. Or NCAP for short. (One friend from the area quipped: "Does that stand for 'No Coitus After Practice'?")

On Monday, Mark Schubert was hauled into the ugliness, facing a lawsuit from a former assistant for unlawful firing. Basically, she accuses Schubert of Paterno'ing - that is, not doing anything after he was made aware of sexual abuse allegations against a close coaching colleague, Bill Jewell. Not doing anything except fire the whistle blower, that is. As wrote: "another embarrassing turn for a sport that has taken steps over the last two years to combat widespread claims of sexual misconduct."

Then the Schubert story gets crime novel crazy. The suit alleges that Schubert and Jewell were the less-than-masterminds behind Sean Hutchison's downfall at FAST. Word is that Schubert hired a private investigator to take pictures of Hutchison engaged in sexual activities with one of his swimmers. (An adult swimmer, it's worth noting...) Schubert then apparently took the pics from the P.I. and used them to blackmail USA Swimming to the tune of $625,000 to keep the compromising photos under wraps. If you believe all this, you're about as bright as the guy being sued. But the facts, whatever they are, are just part of the problem. Regardless of how this lawsuit ends, this is yet another blow to the image of our sport.

Think about it: Rick Curl and Mark Schubert. A pair of Hall of Famers. Their characters aside, these are two of the most successful and celebrated swim coaches in history. When parents looked for the very best programs for their children, when former swimmers chose to stay in the sport and become coaches, these two used to be the examples. The ones you turned to as pillars of the profession. Now they seem to exemplify an on-going sickness that still isn't cured.

Here's something else that remains deeply ill: the state of men's college swimming. How many Olympic medalists in London were the product of NCAA programs? 30, by my count, but feel free to fact check. Florida, Michigan, Cal, Northwestern, USC, and Georgia each produced individual Olympic champions in London. How many other international athletes were at the Games after developing their talents at U.S. universities?

Of course, that's all good and well, but Olympic medals don't pay for college athletic budgets and men's swimming remains at grave risk at dozens of schools. Gratefully, the women's programs appear to be well protected under Title IX provisions, but the growing ranks of young male swimmers are going to want some place to continue racing after they turn 18. Let's hope enough college teams can stick around to serve them.

It's easy to get wrapped up and warped in these extremes. Olympic triumphs, coaching sex scandals, college programs being cut... These are the Heavens and the Hells of a sport that continues to carry on day after day, lap after lap, in countless pools all over the world. Most of you will never experience any of this. The highs might inspire you and the lows might enrage you, but do they really change your own daily swimmer's reality? A reality that is drenched in chlorine and early mornings and worthy dreams.

When you're under water and on an interval, all this stuff ceases to matter. All that exists is that pure altered state of swimming.

Code of Misconduct

Roundtable idea for this year's ASCA conference: Turning a Blind Eye...  Welcome to Vegas, coaches. Another American Swimming Coaches Association conference due to start in Sin City tomorrow. Plenty of backslapping in store this year. After all, you lead the world's greatest swimmers. Something that was proven yet again in spectacular fashion at this summer's London Games. Team USA is the state of the art when it comes to swimming. This has always been so, and even with Phelps departing that dominance shows no sign of slowing.

So, belly on up to the blackjack table, knock back some whiskeys, hit on your cocktail waitress, and otherwise do what one comes to Vegas to do. You know the saying: What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas... Translation: Not to worry, in Las Vegas, your misbehavior will remain a secret. How appropriate. Given the current climate, whoever picked this year's host city sure has a sick sense of humor.

I'd really rather be writing about the success stories. There have been so many. From Todd Schmitz to Jon Urbanchek, from Gregg Troy to Teri McKeever. Young and old, coaching men and women, the coaches in America are second to none. They include folks that I respect as much as anyone on earth. The ones who bring honor and dignity to a proud profession...

Unfortunately, that proud profession continues to be tarnished by the misdeeds of a select sick few. But more than that, it has been tarnished by a culture that has too often turned a blind eye in the past. The sexual abuse of teenage swimmers at the hands of their swim coaches remains a serious issue. Every single member of ASCA knows this. You've known it a lot longer than the investigative journalists and the ambulance chasing lawyers who've come sniffing around and defaming your trade.

Not to worry, I'm not going to point fingers and rip characters, not going to reprint defensive emails, and wallow down in the muck of misinformed allegations. There's enough of that already out there. You've probably read all about it.

I'm just going to list three ASCA-related facts:

1. This is the ASCA "Code of Ethics", Section C., the Coach to Athlete section. I've simply copy and pasted it off of the ASCA website:

Section C. COACH TO ATHLETE Article #1. A coach member of the American Swimming Coaches Association will always make decisions based on the best interest of the athlete.

Article #2. A coach member of the American Swimming Coaches Association shall not engage in sexual relations with any minor.

Article #3. Sexual misconduct consists of any behavior that utilizes the influence of the coaching position to encourage inappropriate intimacy between coach and athlete.

Article #4. Coaches of Collegiate age athletes shall not engage in sexual relations with athletes that they coach, even of legal age.

2. In 2003, Rick Curl was elected President of ASCA.

3. At the time of his election, a large number of member coaches were well aware of his alleged relationship with Kelley Davies. (By "relationship", I mean his criminal interactions with his young teenage swimmer, in which he engaged in statutory rape for a number of years.) This scandal was plenty well known in swimming circles, as was the hush money Curl paid to the Davies family. It was so well known that many coaches feared they would be sued by Curl if they mentioned it; something he apparently indicated he was prepared to do.

Like I said, just three facts.

Please discuss.

The Scum Also Rises

The loathsome Lance Armstrong finally throws in the towel... Thereby acknowledging what the entire world already knew: that there is no one lower in all of sports...  It's late August, the Olympics are over, and unless you're off racing Prince Harry drunk in a Vegas hotel pool, you're probably enjoying some well earned time on dry land. So, let's set swimming aside for the moment and take a dip into some real pond scum.

On Thursday, Lance Armstrong officially ended his doomed fight against charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs. He refused to fight another day for his "innocence." So, he finally admitted it? Ha. Of course not. This is Lance you're talking about, the most arrogant sociopath ever to peddle a bicycle. While it's clear that his lawyers finally informed him that the game was up, he's still denying it to the end. Check out his self-righteous statement posted on his site. Actually, don't bother. You've heard those impotent raging denials enough.

Whether he likes it or not, here is the disgraced company that Lance Armstrong can now officially join: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Michelle Smith, the 1990's Chinese swim teams, the 1970's & 80's East German swim teams... Ok, too exhausting to continue.

Just look at the records set by that distinguished crew! He must be so proud. I mean, he insists that winning those seven Tours is enough. That's what people will always remember, right Lance? The performance will transcend the fraud, won't it? When I think of Barry and Mark and Sammy, all I remember is those towering homers. When I think of Ben and Marion, all I remember is super fast gold medal sprinting. And when I think of those ladies in the pool, all I recall is their world record shattering swims. And how hot they were. Who can forget that?

That's known as sarcasm, Lance. A humorless hateful fellow like yourself might have trouble with that concept. It takes a bit of self-awareness to get the joke, and we all know that's something you've always lacked.

Am I being too hard on the poor little yellow-shirted Texan? After all, he's inspired so many with his Live Strong foundation. A foundation that's said to have raised almost half a billion dollars in the fight against cancer. At what point does his essential soullessness cease to matter? After a billion dollars raised? After Live Strong funds the creation of a magic cancer-killing pill?

If you've been touched by the death rattle of cancer, and who hasn't, this is what makes Lance so impossible to reconcile. He is the Bernie Madoff of sports. He built it all on a lie. Yet, unlike Madoff's victims, those who bought into Lance's Live Strong rhetoric were often profoundly inspired and strengthened. The inspiration he offered was spun from a load of shit, but does that diminish the collective power of those yellow bracelets?

To be honest, I've been a card-carrying member of the Lance Hating Brigade for many years. It always seemed so obvious. He always seemed like such a fundamentally bad human. Just ask any members of the press who've ever worked a Tour de France. All doping aside, the guy has always been a dick. But whatever, so are plenty of other sporting icons, from Joe DiMaggio to Michael Jordan. An ugly personality does not diminish those achievements for one second.

But cheating to get there? Cheating and then lying and lying and lying and lying, and then lying some more. And then tearing apart the characters of all those sad sacks who once cheated with you, and then came forward to clear their consciences?

Loathsome Lance, you took this whole dirty business to a new level. Even Barry and Roger must step aside in their quiet moments and think - Dude, I'd sue my own son, but at least I'm not Lance... 

He Was God to Me

Kelley Currin speaks to NPR about Rick Curl's sexual abuse - and the many coaches and swimmers who knew and said nothing... After all this time, why is she speaking out now? How did it start? How could so many have known and not one have come forward?

Kelley Currin spoke to NPR this week and in a searingly honest interview, she answered those and many other troubling questions. One thing she could not answer for: the conscience of all those coaches and swimmers who knew about about it and never did a thing. Some of these folks kept right on working for the man, kept collecting their paychecks and moving up in the world of swimming, because that statutory rapist also happened to be a brilliant swim coach.

So, why now? Let's just say it's been building for years. Finally it seems that to keep her sanity, her silence had to be broken. Currin cites the Penn State scandal, the Catholic church, and that infamous 20/20 investigation that shined a dark spotlight on swimming's own problem with this pervasive societal sickness. There's only so much you can hear and keep quiet, only so many instances of unconscionable cover-ups that a person can confront before she stands up and says: Guess what, that happened to me too, and plenty of you know all about it.

Turns out that right after that 20/20 piece aired, Currin was flooded with apologies from past teammates. A procession of hat-in-hand peers from the past, seeking her out across social media to send their long overdue apologies... But Currin notes: "I have never received a message like that from a coach or anything, but they knew."

That was two years ago. The Penn State scandal would send her simmering some more. But the real reason it seems Currin chose this time to come forward? Her daughter is now 12 and a half. Almost the same age as Currin when Rick Curl first made his move. When Kelley was in middle school. "Those middle school kids, you know what" she says. "Some of them may look like an adult but they have the brain of a 5-year-old. I mean, they're babies."

That's her goal in this. To protect kids like her from men like Curl. More than that, to protect the cover-ups that seem to come with the territory.

The silence that surrounded it, it's almost impossible to digest all these years later. Currin understands the root of it very well. "He was God to me," she says. "I would have done anything that he told me to do."

She describes the coach-swimmer relationship as "sacred", which it is. Which is also why it can be so easy for certain coaches to manipulate their swimmers. That trust is so implicit, so unshakeable at that age, it would have been impossible for Currin to do anything but listen to her coach.

She was not alone in that. She may have been the only one being abused by her coach, but every swimmer longs for the attention and the praise of the one on deck. It's what keeps you going, often the only thing. So the instinct, awful as it sounds, is to protect the Father figure looming over you. The one who controls your future to a warped degree.

Look, you're not going to change the culture of youth sports. Coaches will always exert a scary degree of influence over these kids' lives. Most of the time, the great majority of the time, in fact, that influence will be a wholly positive one. The coach will be a worthy sacred figure who leaves a lifetime of positive influence on those they lead. Yet there will always be the dark ones. The very structure of this world will draw them to it.

The only way to break a sport free from that evil is by talking about it. Speaking up when suspicions arise, when you hear things. Speaking to kids and letting them know they have somewhere to turn.

And listening when someone like Kelley Currin has the courage to step forward and speak.

Judging a Champion By Race

Rampant xenophobia fuels cheating allegations against China's medley champion, Xe Shiwen...  We can't be sure. This should go without saying. Declaring total conviction on either side of a cheating debate is foolish. To paraphrase the mighty Doc Counsilman: The only thing I know is that I don't know.

Here's what I do know: There is a very ugly undercurrent beneath the cheating allegations against China's Xe Shiwen. Certain coaches and commentators can go red-faced and deny it all they like, but there is a big dose of xenophobia behind all this. Because if Stephanie Rice or Hannah Miley or Elizabeth Beisel had gone 4:28 in the 400 IM, with an eye-popping final split, no one would be saying a damn thing. All three of those women are fully capable of going 4:28 - that is the final time to remember, not the freestyle split.

Xe Shiwen's gold medal winning times this week in both the 400 and 200 IMs are totally realistic improvements for this 16-year-old phenom. As Bob Costas pointed out last night in NBC's broadcast, these drops are consistent with Michael Phelps's drops at the same age. They're consistent with every fast improving 16-year-old. Hell, when I was 16, I dropped from 4:41 to 4:32 in the 400 IM. (Yes, Ye Shiwen kicks my has-been ass...)

It's not her times or her splits that have sparked this debate, it's the fact that she is Chinese. You can say it's not about race, it's about her country's dubious cheating history, so let's take a look at that. China brought shame on itself back in 1994 when it became overwhelmingly and disgracefully clear that they were doping their athletes in a state-run systematic way. Ye was born in 1996. The China of the 90's and the doped national team it presented to the world back then does not apply to her. Those were different times and a very different still mostly closed China.

The China of 2012 is infinitely more self aware of itself and the way it is perceived by the Western world. It has more to lose now, and it is much more willing to play the game - presumably by the rules.

No, I'm not an apologist or a denier of China's continued lack of human rights. It continues to devalue basic humanity in all sorts of myriad ways - including the way it chooses its future sports stars, identifying them as young as age 6 and removing kids from their families almost completely. This isn't ok, but neither is it for you to judge another culture's choices.

The Chinese swimmers making a major splash in London - Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen - have both spent much of their training time in Australia, working with the legendary Denis Cotterell, aka Grant Hackett's coach. Understandably, Cotterell does not appreciate these allegations against his swimmers. He's defending them all out, claiming he is 100% certain of their innocence. While this 100% claim is unfortunate (see opening lines of this column), it is also what any coach would say about his swimmers. No coach - and I mean not a one, anywhere - can be 100% certain that his superstar swimmer is clean. You don't need to come from a foreign land with a dark past to sneak away and dope for a bit when no one is looking.

When all drug tests are passed, you can only judge the results and the circumstances around it. Ye's homeland might have a shady cheating past, but her accomplishments in London pass the smell test, despite what certain folks are saying. Yes, she out-split Ryan Lochte on the last lap of the 400 IM, but Lochte finished with a time 23 seconds faster - about the same gap as always between women and men. Lochte was also fading (admittedly, after over swimming the first lap of butterfly) and probably subconsciously shutting it down once he realized the gold was in the bag.

Maybe Ye is the product of something dark and dishonest back home. There is no way of knowing for sure, and there is nothing wrong with asking these hard questions in light of her country's misdeeds a generation ago.

However, the rush to judgement reeks of xenophobia. And there is a lot wrong with that.

The Lost Peacock

An inside out account of NBC's doomed broadcast model... Guess what? The ones producing these Games can't stand tape delay either...   It's 9pm London time, 4pm on the east coast of the U.S. The swimming finals have just ended and the NBC production crew has just produced another session of Olympic action. Now it's time to get to work. That is, chopping up the footage, re-calling some races, cutting some features, and otherwise tweaking their coverage until it's just right and ready to air four hours later. Or five or six or seven hours later, depending on when it finally makes it into NBC's primetime broadcast.

The talented folks doing this insane amount of work, they get it. They know - even more than you do - that these events should be airing live. They know it's infinitely better that way, despite the inevitable in-the-moment imperfections. They know this because most of them spend the rest of their days producing other sporting events. Ones that air live. Like the NFL and Wimbledon and, say, the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha.

Ask the Olympic veterans around the International Broadcast Center about their favorite Games past. Their answers may surprise you. They have almost nothing to do with whatever world capital was the host, or what American superstar delivered transcendent performances. These things are memorable, no question. Sydney was the single best host for an Olympics in anyone's memory, just the perfect Olympic city. And Beijing will always be unforgettable thanks to Phelps's eight gold perfection. But if you're asking about favorites, the answer is simple: The ones that were live. Like Salt Lake City in 2002 and Atlanta in 1996. (Two towns that are on no one's list of favorite world cities...)

For those who work in sports television, live means two things: A better product and sane working conditions. (Is sane the wrong word? Nothing in TV is sane, but at least bearable...) You produce a terrific event with that incomparable live drama, and when it ends it's over. No do-overs, no re-voicing, no re-touching the features. Game over, for both the athletes and the ones bringing it to you.

I was a part of this Olympic road show for some time. These London Games are the first Summer Olympics I've missed since 1992. I was there with NBC in Sydney and Athens and Torino and Beijing... All on tape, with one exception -- the swimming in Beijing. Saw the light during those eight days. It was like arriving in the land of Oz, suddenly alive in technicolor, after three Games in taped black and white. Unfortunately, it went right back to gray old Kansas as soon as the swimming ended and the rest of the events aired per usual on tape.

I know we all want to believe that it's ultimately all about the athletes, but the production and the programming behind them has a profound impact on how those athletic feats are perceived. Phelps mania would never have taken hold the way it did in Beijing if you hadn't been watching it live back home in the States.

So, if the viewers and the ones making it for those viewers know that these events should all be aired live - for the good of all involved - then why aren't they? Two words: bad business.

You can listen to television executives moan about how complicated this all is, how you just don't understand the light speed shifts in the media landscape, how the basic brutal realities make it impossible for a network to air the Olympics live. It must be on tape in primetime if the events are going down in the wrong time zone. This is because the lion's share of advertising dollars are made during primetime, and those ads prop up everything else. Expensive ads need a big audience, and a big majority of the audience is at work when most of these Olympic finals are taking place during the week.

However, this avoids the basic truth, the flaw in the whole design. The Olympics have become a bad business for NBC because bad businessmen have run it into the ground. And they've done it in the exact same manner that every other business gets run into the ground. Follow along with these three fatal steps: 1. Overspend on the product. 2. Misunderstand the market. 3. Try to dig your way out by offering a compromised outdated product in a way that can pay off your debts.

1. Overspend on product: NBC paid $2.2 billion on the rights to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and the Games in London. The network lost $220 million on Vancouver. They won't earn $220 million on London to break even for this multi-billion two Games investment. The network has said it will likely lose money on these Games too, blaming the high cost of working in London, but it's a lot more than that.

NBC has also paid $4.38 billion for the rights to the next four Olympics. A billion and change each. That's a hell of a gamble for an old media model that they've already proven doesn't work financially.

2. Misunderstand the market: The online vitriol surrounding the London broadcasts has been overwhelming. Complete with the ranting Twitter hashtag #nbcfail. This is because the market understands what NBC doesn't - that this live freezing feed online followed by taped events in primetime is an insulting way to watch the Olympics.

Do not expect them to understand this any time soon. This is because, thus far, the ratings have been great. So much so, that the network is saying they might get a little closer to breaking even, now that they can charge more for the remaining advertising through week two of London. Hiding behind these short term high ratings is like hiding behind the price of your new home in Vegas in 2005. Good luck with that equity.

3. Offer a compromised outdated product. That's what you're watching right now. You're watching Olympic production wisdom from the 60's and 70's. The scripture of Roone Arledge, the gospel of Dick Ebersol. It is difficult to overstate how worshipped this gospel is inside the walls of NBC's upper echelons. Dissent is NOT permitted. That's not to say that all those producers, writers, editors, and talent don't fully see the fallacy in all this. It's just that they're being held hostage as much as you are.

Actually, more so. When you get fed up, you can get up and walk away. Grab a beer from the fridge and rant a little on Twitter. When the folks producing these Games feel that way, all they can do is suck it up, have their eighth coffee of the day, and get back to work.

They deserve better. They deserve live. And so do you.

"The Worst Kept Secret in Washington"

Long ago underage sex allegations against Curl-Burke founder Rick Curl...  On the eve of the Olympics, a buzz kill bombshell out of the Washington, D.C. swimming community... In an exclusive front page story by none other than the Washington Post, allegations that A-list coaching legend Rick Curl had a long term relationship with a teenage swimmer. Let's cut right to the heart of this: When it started, she was 13, he was 33. It apparently lasted for four years. That is, through her middle school and high school years.

This was long ago, in the 80's. 23 years of silence for the girl, now the woman. Her name is Kelley Currin. As a swimmer, before she was married, older swimmers and coaches will remember her as Kelley Davies. She was a bad ass. She was the Pan Pacific Games champion in the 200 fly back in 1987. During those years training to become a champion, it seems her coach was having a criminal sexual relationship with the young teenager.

To recap the facts as presented by the Post: Davies considered it a "love affair." There was sex at swim meets, in hotel stairways, sex at her high school. The man was twenty years older and she was a minor, but she truly believed in their "relationship." Her parents learned of this relationship after reading her diary. When that happened, Curl ended all contact. Then, Davies went off to college - on a full scholarship to the University of Texas. The psychological damage clearly had an immediate impact: Davies was a Pan Pac champion her first year at Texas. A year later she finished 7th at the 1988 Olympic Trials in the 200 fly. Then she was checked into a treatment facility for an eating disorder.

When she emerged, her family negotiated a settlement with Rick Curl: $150,000 over 11 years, with a non-disclosure agreement signed by all involved. Now those long past crimes have been disclosed.

Rick Curl is, by far, the most prominent coach ever to be implicated in this on-going underage sex scandal among swim coaches. To say Curl-Burke is a respected club team is a ridiculous understatement. It is one of the most respected and successful American club teams of all time. In the two decades since Curl's alleged relationship with Davies, the club grew into a juggernaut in the D.C. / Northern Virginia area. There are currently almost 1,000 swimmers with Curl-Burke, swimming at 10 pools throughout the Potomac Valley region.

This is all plenty scandalous and distasteful, but that's not the worst of it. Here's the part to make you gag: EVERYONE ALREADY KNEW. The worst part about this breaking news is that it's not news at all - not to the swimmers and coaches and parents who grew up swimming in this area. This has been an open secret for ages. That headline above? That's a line from an email sent from one former swimmer to another, who both swam in Northern Virginia in the late 80's.

This might be the darkest and most telling detail surrounding the institutional scandal of coaches having sex with their swimmers. It happens. A lot. At least it used to. Let's hope those days are gone, but let's not forget how prevalent it's been. Before continuing, an essential distinction: A coach hooking up with a swimmer 18-years-old or older might be highly inappropriate, might be very bad for the career, but this is not a crime. It is, by definition, a relationship between two consenting adults, with a big age gap. On the other hand, a 33-year-old coach hooking up with a 13-year-old? That's a crime. It's statutory rape.

The statute of limitations may have expired on this particular case, the settlement may have taken care of everything legally way back when, but the prosecution on a reputation never expires. Nor does the complicity of an entire community who heard things, who accepted that darkness and kept it collectively private, who continued to swim for Rick Curl's team because it was the best damn program out there.

I am in no way comparing Rick Curl's alleged crimes with the horrors committed by Jerry Sandusky. There is no comparison there. However, the cultural silence must be compared. This is a widespread failure of integrity. Just as at Penn State, good well-meaning men and women heard things, they processed those things, and then they made the conscious decision that the sport, the athletic careers of those immersed, was more important than something that should have halted everything else in its tracks.

When I read about this horrible story earlier this afternoon, here was my first reaction: That's awful, but I can't write about it right before the Olympics. What a buzz kill that would be. Maybe I'll address it after all the fun of the Games.

Maybe then it will be the right time to say something.

New York City Splash

Lia Neal: Olympian, New Yorker, Young Ambassador... Forget the stars for a moment. Take a look over at lane eight. You'll find a young Olympian from somewhere different - the greatest city on earth. About time Gotham got on the map. Lia Neal, lives in Brooklyn, trains in Manhattan, is now an Olympian.

Are you familiar with her story? You can be forgiven if not. Last night in Omaha was one of the all time great nights of swimming. Every superstar delivered. Lochte, Phelps, Franklin, Soni, Coughlin, every last A-lister was in action Saturday night, and every one of them made the Team. Nights like that, it's easy to miss something special happening over in those end lanes...

A brief history of 17-year-old Lia Neal: She's been a record-setting phenom forever. She broke National Age Group records in the sprints at age 10 and 12. Four years ago, she made Trials at age 12. The New York Times ran a feature on her at 13. They wrote about more than her precocious talent. See, Lia Neal could also be the poster child for the Make a Splash campaign. She's a biracial barrier breaker. Her dad is African-American and her mom is Asian. (As my wife and I affectionately refer to our daughter - she's a "halfsie.")

Last night she became just the second African-American woman to make a U.S. Olympic swim team. (Maritza Correia was the first, back in 2004...) I'd like to add that she's also the second halfise to make the Team in 2012. Nathan Adrian is also half Asian. Must be something to those Chinese moms with the sprinters!

This diversity will generate plenty of press, and rightly so. It's the best possible thing that could happen to this sport. Swimming needs more color. And I mean that in more than just the literal black and white sense. We need more melting in the pot. That also extends to where these Olympians come from. Cities, not just roots.

The procession of California, Florida, and Texas gets a little old sometimes. Swimmers come from the other 47 states too. But how many come from New York City? Has there ever been another U.S. Olympic swimmer born and bred from NYC? Not to my knowledge. At least not since World War II.

New Yorkers have pride in excess. Actually, we have pretty much everything in excess. The best and the brightest come here. You either make it, or your spirits are broken and you limp away to more relaxed pastures. (As Sinatra crooned: "If I can make it here...") But for all that we-can-do-anything ambition, Gotham has never produced many great swimmers. This is understandable, I suppose. It's a tough place to be an athlete. Temptation is ubiquitous. Distractions are endless. Not an easy town for a teenager to wake before dawn and take the subway over to morning workout.

But Lia Neal just did it. From way out in lane eight, she charged onto the Olympic team with a tough 4th place finish in the 100 free. There won't be small town parades in her honor; her local paper won't put her on the front page; her school probably won't treat her like an OMG deity. Those sorts of reactions are nice, but they're for smaller towns. That is, everywhere else. Back home, there is sure to be plenty of praise for Lia. But it will be New York style. No bullshit, totally genuine props, followed by the impatient and hard to impress 'what's next?'

For Lia Neal, that could mean relay gold in London. She's an Olympian from New York City.

Strike up the Sinatra. She won't be the last.