What the Winter Olympics can Teach us about Swimming

What the Winter Olympics can Teach us about Swimming

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ah, the Winter Olympics: Frozen water, frozen humans, and two weeks of intense, live-by-the-blade-of-a-figure-skate competition. Also known as (outside of the Summer Olympics) the best two weeks in sports.

While there’s no swimming in the Winter Olympics (arctic water racing, I.O.C.?) there are plenty of lessons swimmers can learn by watching our ice-bound Olympic sport brethren.

Here are a few things we water-logged swimmers can learn from watching the Winter Olympics…


1. Slips happen.

While we athletes endlessly practice to avoid all slips, anyone watching figure skating, speed skating, or downhill skiing (or practically any other Winter Olympic sport) knows, slips happen. On the blocks. Off turns. On the pool deck (don’t run on the pool deck). When a slip happens, you must deal with it. You must get back out of the water and climb back on those blocks. Or kick harder off the wall. Or churn and spin those arms as fast as possible; and keep going. Slips are part of sport, no matter the amount of preparation.


2. Smiles count.

In performance sports lorded by judges, smiles count quite literally. But viewers can also tell which athletes seem relaxed, confident, and poised — and who doesn’t. The smilers seem to nail that triple axle flip ninja soar more often than the teeth-gritters (unofficial study). In swimming, staying poised and confident doesn’t always result in smiles, but occasionally, a smile can trick a swimmer into feeling poised and confident.


3. The best preparation comes from endless, non-stop, life-spanning practice.

When it comes to sports, being prepared simply means practice, practice, and even more practice. Most of these Winter Games athletes have been honing, practicing, and perfecting the same maneuvers since childhood — thousands of leaps, jumps, and sprints. Swimmers know this as well as anyone: Practice may not necessarily result in perfection, but you can’t get to perfection without a whole lotta practice.


4. Stop complaining about our awesome, temperature-controlled, regulated environment.

“This pool is cold.” You want cold? Go cross-country skiing through a blizzard. Then imagine competing in those conditions, your entire career coming down to one race through ice and snow. Sure, a draft might breeze through a natatorium. Yes, sometimes there are pools that are two degrees colder than other pools. But swimmers have the luxury of competing in regulated, controlled environments. Water is water, turns are turns, and if you have a lane somewhere, you have an opportunity to race a best time.


5. Go with the snow. (Or water flow.)

In the Winter Olympics, success is determined by split-second decisions about icy conditions and snow. Often, when athletes fight these conditions too much — in bobsled racing or downhill skiing, for example — a fall or poor turn ensues. Athletes have to work with their conditions, not fight them. Same in swimming. Sure, the 400 IM requires strength and grit. But if you charge out that first 100 butterfly and fight and chop the water, you might not have a great race (or finish). Swimmers often have to go with the flow, literally and metaphorically, and not fight the water. It’s a delicate tango, one that is very much on display during the Winter Olympics.

So, if you’re like me and will soon drop into the rabbit hole of 24/7 Olympic marathon-watching, also watch for similarities between our watery world and their icy arena. There are more than meets the goggle…



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