What is "Off the Blocks?" Q&A with Splash Editor Jim Rusnak

What is "Off the Blocks?" Q&A with Splash Editor Jim Rusnak

By USA Swimming  | Tuesday, June 12, 2018

On Wednesday, June 13, USA Swimming will launch the first of its three-part web series, “Off the Blocks,” which will feature Lilly King and the elite training group at Indiana Swim Team as they prepare for the Phillips 66 National Championships.

This web series is an innovative concept that’s never been done in the world of swimming. Forget your average YouTube swimming tutorial or traditional event coverage. This production goes above and beyond.

Jim Rusnak, USA Swimming’s Director of Media Properties and Editor-in-Chief of Splash Magazine, answers some questions about this project.


First question: What is “Off the Blocks?”

Rusnak: “Off the Blocks” is a three-part web series about various U.S. National Team members and aspiring National Team members as they prepare for the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships. We wanted to give fans an exclusive, inside look at these swimmers and their lives heading into one of the most crucial national-level meets this side of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. So much is at stake – if you don’t qualify for a team at Nationals, you’re sidelined from international competition until 2020, missing out on some valuable experience heading into the Olympic year. How do these swimmers train? How do they deal with that pressure and live their daily lives? That’s what we wanted to look at with this series.

How did this all come about?

Rusnak: Over the last few years, we’ve been looking for ways to transition Splash from just a magazine to an all-encompassing swimming media entity, with print and digital properties. This is a little step toward that.

I’ve been a swimmer all my life – as an athlete, as a coach and here on staff. Swimming is my sport, but since moving to Colorado, I’ve also immersed myself in a number of outdoor/action sports, and I love action sport videos. I’m a big fan of Warren Miller ski films, BMX and mountain bike videos – you name it. They get me pumped up to ride and ski.

One day I was watching a mountain bike video, and I thought, “We need to do something like this for swimming.” So I reached out to the company that produced that video just to see if they saw any possibilities in creating a really cool video like that for swimming – something that would showcase the personalities, and the athleticism, the dedication and the drama involved in the sport.

And which production company is that?

Rusnak: Boombox Group. Boombox is a world-class production company that specializes in sports-driven digital content. Some of their clients include Red Bull Media, Under Armour and EA Sports. Red Bull Media is the absolute standard-bearer for action sports. Any company that does work for them must be top-notch.

The first person I talked to at Boombox was TJ Walker, Head of Production. TJ is a sports fan and was really enthusiastic about working with us. I have to say, he and his crew have been top notch. They have done their research in our sport, got to know all the names, all the stories – they came to the table prepared. They’ve worked with elite athletes all over the world and know how to work with these athletes in their environments – whether they’re training or competing, or whatever.

Why Indiana Swim Team for the first episode?

Rusnak: Lilly King was the main reason. Not only is she an Olympic gold medalist, world champion and world record-holder, but we all know about her personality and outspokenness. We needed someone with personality, and Lilly fit the bill. Then factor in two more Olympic champions in Cody Miller and Blake Pieroni, and it made for an ideal situation. Cody Miller’s social media presence factored in the decision, as well.

When we approached Lilly about doing the project, we didn’t have to sell it much. I think the initial call lasted 30 seconds. She was like, “I’m in.” Right away. Cody and Blake had the same response.

Then when we got to Bloomington to film, Coach Looze and Indiana University were so accommodating. Can we shoot your practice? “Yes.” Can we shoot in the weight room? “Yes.” Can we grab the athletes for interviews? “Yes.” Can we interview the coaches? “Absolutely.” I’ve been working at USA Swimming for 17 years, and never has any coach or program offered us close to the same access – and to be fair, we’ve never really asked. But it was unprecedented. I think we shot close to 12 hours of footage.

I’d like to thank coach Looze for the opportunity, and his staff – including associate head coach Mike Westphal – for opening their doors to us, and IU SID Scott Burns for coordinating all the logistics. We’ve never done anything like this before, and they took a chance on this experiment. We are grateful.

So what can we expect?

Rusnak: We came up with a “Russian Nesting Doll” approach to this content. First, while filming on location, we published a number of live stories on USA Swimming’s Instagram account. Then, in the following weeks, we launched short teasers on Instagram and Twitter. Hopefully everyone’s seen those. Next, we will release the 10-minute web episode with Lilly and the Indiana Swim Team Wednesday, June 13, at 10 a.m. Mountain Time right here onsftest.usaswimming.org.

After this episode, what’s next?

Rusnak: We plan on having two more episodes with some big-name swimmers leading up to the Phillips 66 National Championships. Keep an eye on the stories in USA Swimming’s Instagram account next week to find out who’s featured in our next episode. I have a feeling swimming fans are going to be really excited about it.



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