Archive for Sunday, August 17, 2008

Swim sports push off: Clubs note ripples of interest after Phelps

Adriane Black, 16, an Aquahawk swimmer and Free State High junior, practices her push-offs Friday from the Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center's wall. The success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has many sports aficionados predicting a surge in the participation of swimming among youths.

Adriane Black, 16, an Aquahawk swimmer and Free State High junior, practices her push-offs Friday from the Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center's wall. The success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has many sports aficionados predicting a surge in the participation of swimming among youths.

August 17, 2008

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Swimmers talk about the Phelps effect on their sport

Molly Albrecht and Cameron Case, who swim for the Lawrence Aquahawks and Free State High School, talk about the popularity of their sport as Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. Enlarge video

Clubs note ripples of interest after Phelps

As the American swimmers haul in medals during the Olympics, local swim clubs are being flooded with calls from parents who believe their children can be the next star to wear the goggles. Enlarge video

Clark Campbell has seen it every four years.

As the American swimmers haul in medals during the first week of the Olympics, local swim clubs get flooded with calls from parents who believe their children can be the next star to wear the goggles.

Then things die down, only to ramp up for the next Olympics.

"It's very cyclical. Whenever the world's attention is on something, you're going to get a lot of new interest," said Campbell, Kansas University's head swimming coach.

This time, Campbell says, things could be different because of one man, Michael Phelps, the 23-year-old who has become the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Phelps might just keep the sport charging into the mainstream like his flailing arms down the stretch of his thrilling 100-meter butterfly race - where he pulled out another gold by 0.01 second.

"We're getting to witness our Michael Jordan of swimming," said Campbell, who became a swimmer when, as a 6-year-old, he watched Mark Spitz earn seven Olympic gold medals in 1972.

Inspiring swimmers

Swimming enthusiasts say Phelps' accomplishments have already given the sport a major boost.

Mike Soderling, head coach for the Lawrence Aquahawks, said the team has been swamped with calls even though it won't enroll new swimmers until Sept. 8. Soderling has 175 swimmers on the team, and he hopes to get back up to 200.

The team typically takes new members ages 7 to 11 who have had lessons and can swim freestyle and the back stroke.

While the sport's popularity has ebbed and flowed in the past, usually with the Olympics, Soderling said Phelps' popularity is sparking more interest.

"What he's doing is bringing a lot more understanding of how difficult it is to be a great swimmer," he said. "Having an American who is that dominant really inspires people."

Soderling has coached some excellent Lawrence swimmers and even watched Phelps at national meets for about eight years. But the national interest seems to be taking hold for the sport, especially with the crowds who watched the Olympic trials earlier this year in Omaha, Neb.

"The key for us is getting people excited about the sport and keeping them in there," Soderling said.

'Really cool'

One of Soderling's top swimmers, Aquahawk Molly Albrecht, a Free State High School senior, said Phelps and the other U.S. stars have made a splash with many of her classmates, who buzzed about them last week at school.

"Michael Phelps is amazing, obviously, and it's really cool. He's kind of broadened people's interests in swimming," she said.

KU swimmer Ashley Leidigh, a senior and Shawnee Mission North High School graduate, said Phelps also serves as a role model for younger swimmers.

He's owned up to his past mistakes, like being placed on probation for a 2004 DUI, but he's also moved forward and worked hard to carry the sport, said Leidigh, who swims the butterfly.

Several KU swimmers met Phelps in 2007 in Mexico when they were at the same training site.

"If anything, I think, people always say that swimming is only a big sport and well known for the Olympics, but I think as years go by, it will become more well known year-round just because of what's been done by Michael," Leidigh said.

Her coach, Campbell, said the sport should get more popular, and those involved in scouting the next generation of swimmers will be looking for young athletes who have the drive to stick with it long-term.

"Hopefully you find that next Michael Phelps out of the 6-year-old boy who comes to the pool," Campbell said.

Staff photographer Nick Krug contributed information to this story.

Comments

Nikki May 6 years, 10 months ago

Interestingly, my son doesn't watch swimming and wants to be on swim team. He's trying to get himself across the pool so he can try out. He's 6. I also was on swim teams as a kid, and I watched swimming a lot. My favorite was Matt Biondi. That announcer Rowdy, he was a swimmer too. See people don't forget swimming. I do believe it spikes though based on the olympics, I'm just saying some people like it other than that.

pomegranate 6 years, 10 months ago

I guess not all have been forgotten. I remember Rafer Johnson, Scott Hamilton, and Mark Spitz, just to name 3. And many a year ago, in Los Angeles, I actually had my hands in Rafer Johnson's mouth!!

devobrun 6 years, 10 months ago

The ESPN commentator also went on to evaluate Phelps, swimming, and other sports in pop culture terms. He talked about American Idol for example.His criteria was popularity. I felt like I was listening to a 14 year old girl talking to her friends on the cell phone. Mike Phelps is a man. Hard work, dedication, talent. These things are not valued by pop culture and so Phelps will fade.Replaced by pretty people who create a public image that sets trends for the teenagers of America.

Mike Blur 6 years, 10 months ago

Rafer Johnson and Scott Hamilton were swimmers? That's news to me.

Steve Jacob 6 years, 10 months ago

Like they said on ESPN Radio last night, the guy won 6 golds in 2004, and we forgot about him until two weeks ago. After he does a lot of commercials this year, it will be the same again.

pomegranate 6 years, 10 months ago

I did not say, or even hint, that they were swimmers. Just that they were olympic stars that I especially remember.

KS 6 years, 10 months ago

I saw this on FOX News Channel last week. LJW is a little late.

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