Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Michael Phelps: The Lance Armstrong of Swimming?

Hang with the analogy for a minute: You take a relatively obscure sport (in terms of American mainstream awareness), add an American athlete who soundly whups the world in a way nobody's ever done before, and throw in a heaping helping of hero-worship media hype. Granted, Phelps loses points for not reaching his astounding achievement after battling back from almost-certain death, but other than that little detail, it's a pretty similar narrative.

Assuming the Phelps/Armstrong parallel holds, here's what I predict for swimming in America over the next few years based on what Lance did for American cycling:

  • LSS (Local Swimming Shops) will be overrun by pudgy guys in their 40s with too much disposable income trying to wedge themselves into those American flag neck-to-ankle swimsuits, convinced that wearing Michael's suit will help them beat their buddies to the other end of the pool at the Y. To capitalize on this trend, the maker of these suits will come out with a special "Gold" version that features eight Olympic gold medals silkscreened across the front -- the "faux Maillot Jaune" of swimming.
  • Pools across the nation will be packed to capacity with people who can't swim a stroke to save their lives. Diehard swimmers who once had the water to themselves now won't be able to swing an arm without getting kicked in the head by three Phelps-wannabes who can't stay in one half of the pool, much less one lane.
  • Phelps will want to use his newfound stardom to benefit a cause. However, with all the good diseases, genocides, and natural disasters already spoken for (damn you, Bono, snagging Darfur!), Phelps will have to aim a little lower. Still, his light-blue "Swimstrong" rubber bracelets (with proceeds benefiting MPFPSE: the Michael Phelps Foundation to Prevent Swimmer's Ear) will take the worlds of sports and fashion by storm.
  • Ever the contrarian, Grant Petersen will expand his Rivendell retro-empire into the world of swimming. His "underswimming" concept will be based on the style of Mark Spitz: banana-hammock trunks, no cap, and no goggles (because the burning sensation of chlorine in your eyes keeps you "more connected to the water"). Petersen will also prototype a Spitz-style fake mustache, made in the USA of hand-woven, 100% Merino wool. However, he takes so long to come up with a cutesy name for it (the "Splashy 'Stachey") that Surly is able to produce and sell thousands of its Taiwanese knockoff (the "Lip Tickler") before one Rivendell mustache goes to market.
Remember, you saw it here first.

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