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Singapore Swim Stars

Sep 5, 2014  - James Parrack

It's almost a lesson in how not to do it.  Get a bunch of former swimmers together and 'guys, let's put on a swim show, it'll be awesome!  We KNOW how to do this.  We KNOW how to make it great!'

The Singapore Swim Stars is a noble idea and maybe it'll work, but it didn't really work this year unless you're Nathan Adrian or Melanie Schlanger, who made the easiest $20k of their life.  I'll bet they feel almost embarrassed to take the free trip to Singapore and cash the cheque.  Almost. 

The idea is to bring a group of the world's best swimmers to a 'unique Swim Stars meet'. Fresh from high profile meets over the summer, the swim stars would race for cash prizes in a short, made-for-tv format.  10k US dollars for the winners of the 50m and 100m free men and women, both won by Adrian (USA) and Schlanger (AUS) and 5k US dollars for the winners of the other events.  The 100m events were straight finals and the 50m free was a skins format: round one of 8 people, where the top 4 gothrough to round two and the top 2 go through to the head to head final for the top cash prize.  Prize money ran down to the 5th or 6th place.   The athletes were flown into Singapore and put up for the weekend.  In return they do clinics  and visits and other promotional work on behalf of the sponsors.

The first problem is that the idea isn't new.  Boasting that this is unique to the swimming community is only going to go so far.  The Speedo Fast Water Meet in the late 1980s was followed by head to heads and eliminator races in Canada and elsewhere, then the Biondi vs Jaeger Dash for Cash in the early 90s and the skins meets in Australia and Great Britain on and off over the last 20 years.

Many have lamented the lack of a swimming calendar, of athletics's Golden League equivalent in swimming, of raising the profile of swimming outside the Olympics and er, well, the Olympics basically.  Phelps made it a stated goal to raise the swimming profile; the huge amount of money in the FINA World Cup, that will again go to Hosszu who will coin in the best part of a million dollars over 3 years; and perhaps the best of all, the Duel in the Pool, which itself has gone through a couple of trials before settling on a USA vs Europe format that might just have legs.

But the truth is, the Duel is pretty good and the rest of it still hasn't got a global buy-in.  Sadly, even the world championships, and certainly the European championships, have become 'stepping stones' on the way to somewhere else, rather than a destination, like the Grand Slams in golf and tennis.

No meet is going to attract the global stars; even the one race upon which the whole Singapore Swim Stars meet was hung: the Olympic Champion vs the World champion over 100m freestyle: Magnussen vs Adrian, didn't happen as Magnussen withdrew because of a back injury.  Even the head-to-head showdown for ten thousand dollars lacked the razzmatazz that Gary Hall Jr brough to the US nationals for a while.   Where was the pressure?  Where was the needle?  Where was the show?  There were a few lights, a ton of kids shoehorned into the arena and a bunch of rather nice swimmers being rather nice to each other and probably wondering why they were all there.

They were all there to promote a weekend of swimming, through money races among some of the world's best, through visits to local schools in widely diverse and international communty, to give clinics to the kids and to promote open water swimming to a new generation of sporting literate youngsters and the growing number now making swimming, in all its forms, their fitness sport of choice .

It's a great idea, but it didn't come off.  Maybe it met the goals of Prudential Singapore and the other sponsors who had used the event for tv exposure without buying advertising time, but the broadcasters weren't happy.  Or at least Eurosport wasn't.

The broadcasters want to sell advertising.  Swim stars fresh in the minds of regional audiences from the Commie Games, Pan Pacs and Europeans, might be attractive to audiences, which might be attractive to advertisers.  But when you have Rikke Moeller Pedersen listed as representing Lithuania, and Josh Schneider (USA), who took part in the head to head dash for cash final, not even listed in the 50m free at any point, you're going to lose people.  When you have graphics and results that aren't correct or timely, you are going to lose people.  When you have lights on the starting blocks that only go on for some lanes and not for others, you are going to lose the athletes, as happened in the women's 100m fly, leaving Jeannette Ottesen (DEN) on her own to take the 5k dollar first prize.   The graphics and production was a long way short of that expected of a major broadcaster.  Getting the swimmers there is hard enough, but putting the show together on every detail is difficult and costs money, and is one reason these events are not put on very often.  I was commentating the event for Eurosport, and can testify first hand to the shorcomings on the production and information service.  Anyone watching on tv will have been pretty lost as to who won what or in what time.

For the record, check out sportswim.com or swimvortex.com as my view is that the results, apart from the 50m freestyles, won by Schlanger and Adrian,  were laregely irrelevant.   The only notable results werethe women's 100m backstroke, where joint European champions  Mie Nielsen (DEN) and Hosszu (HUN) both swam faster than they did in Berlin (59.63), setting national records of 59.20 and 59.36 to  finish 2nd and 3rd respectively behind Australia's Olympic 100m backstroke silver medallist, Emily Seebohm, who won in 58.99 and leads the world rankings this year on 58.84 followed by Nielsen and Hosszu from their times in Sing Sing.  Ruta Meilutyte's win in the 100m breaststroke was also a very professional effort.

No one objects to the meet or the intention.  But the concept seems to be more attractive to regional markets and might need regional rounds before a global final.  Perhaps the same format in the Americas, then in Europe, then in Asia/Australia, then the Swim Stars final.   Who knows where this will go, but it is unlikely Eurosport will be interested after the meet they were given today.