Swimming without presence at the Beeb’s Christmas Presents

SPOTY logoAquatic sports have missed out on Sports Personality recognition. Again.

According to Sport England 2.69m people swam for a minimum of thirty minutes once a week in the twelve months October 2013 to October 2014.

Swimmers missed out on the main award and the Overseas Sports Personality of the Year in 2015 as the curse of “The British Sporting Public” struck once more. Why are swimmers penalised in the vote for the country’s largest national prize? For competing in multiple disciplines? Does the increased availability of gold medals and world records dilute their value? Because that doesn’t seem to be a problem for other athletes with double and triple-gold hauls.

Adam Peaty finished 11th of the 12 nominees for the 2015 BBC Sports Personality of the Year with 13,738 votes. However, if you look beyond just his perfect physique you will see a 20-year old who is both the 50m and 100m world Breaststroke champion and has taken the world records for both distances from the South African Cameron van der Burgh.

More impressively, the Derby swimmer is the first man in history to swim under 58 seconds (57.92 to be specific) for the 100m Breaststroke. That is simply absurd, breaking a van der Burgh record that had stood since the London Olympics.

This week Ben Proud of the Plymouth Leander club smashed Mark Foster’s  50m Freestyle British record of 14 years in a time of 20.74 seconds. Yet, with world records, British records and personal bests being beaten up and down this isle, why is Britain’s most popular participation sport having to fight so hard for national recognition?

Granted, to outsiders, swimming might not be an attractive sport. Spending more than half your time 70% naked is not enticing to many and neither is getting your hair wet. However, swimming is a fantastic and inclusive sport that should be championed by our national broadcaster. It’s a life skill we teach children and it deserves to be respected throughout the country as more than a hobby.

Jazz Carlin failed to make the SPOTY shortlist on the night, despite winning both the 400m and 800m European Short Course Championships in Israel this month, following on from a record-breaking 2014, the year in which she became the first female Welsh Commonwealth Champion since Pat Beaven in 1974.  And let us not forget Para-Swimming. The swimming exploits of our greatest Para-Athlete Dame Sarah Storey during her younger years, before her switch to cycling in 2005, were staggering. She won 18 European Gold Medals and six World Championships from 1992. Ellie Simmonds was an S6 (Disability Classification) Paralympic Champion at the age of just 13 and in 2012 defended her 400m Freestyle Title by taking more than five minutes off the world record. Our para-athletes are unparalleled in the pool.

We have a rich history of swimmers in this country, but it is in the United States that the injustice towards the global swimming community can be felt most. At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in German waters, a feat which would not be topped for over three decades. In 2008 along came Michael Phelps of Baltimore, who won eight gold medals.

Eight.

Seven of the eight Olympic Championships came in world record time, and the remaining one was still an Olympic record 50.58 seconds for the 100m Butterfly. Phelp’s unparalleled versatility was penalised by The BBC panel who chose the Overseas Sports Personality of the Year for 2008. They chose a certain Jamaican sprinter called Usain. Credit where it is due, Bolt ran a 9.58 in an Olympic Final… slowing down after 60m… into a headwind… but how can you argue with EIGHT gold medals?

So we arrive at the present day and the year of the World Championships in Kazan, Russia. A World Championships that was to be dominated by an eighteen year-old Katie Ledecky. She entered five races, and won all five, three in world record time, sweeping all the Freestyle competition from 200m upwards aside. The list read: 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and the 4x200m relay. Anaerobic and Aerobic Swimming at the highest level the sport offers, a legacy of near-perfection and peaking when the pressure is truly on.

The cast list is longer for Ledecky, with the help of Missy Franklin in the relays and some impeccable timing for her final 50m in the 200m final to thank for her medal haul. The Aggregation of Marginal Gains (as made famous by British cycling coach David Brailsford, now a major mental framework in many diciplines) philosophy came to life in a big way.

Swimmers do undoubtedly benefit from their body types. The aforementioned Jazz Carlin is 1.77m (or 5′ 10″ in old money) but weighs only 63kg (9st 13lb). It all comes down to power to weight ratio and hours of practice, countless 5.30am alarms and lonely laps, squat sessions and kick floats, black lines and yoga and repetitive strained shoulders.

To name Dan Carter as Overseas Sports Personality of the Year 2015 is the best evidence that “The British Sporting Public” are not informed enough, or lack an eclectic enough view of the Sporting World to make the correct decision, seduced into the knee-jerk vote at the drop of a hat, tempted by the most recent events on the calendar (Great Britain only lifted the Davis Cup a few weeks after New Zealand’s RWC victory). Carter is not even the best ‘rugby’ player in the world.

To be truly satisfied with the entire BBC sporting showpiece from a swimmer’s perspective in the years to come, it needs to return to its old mould of “Sports Review of The Year”, because the word “Personality” leads to too many deserving sportsmen and women falling by the wayside on a night that should be used to celebrate their commitment and singular drive. Think about it; Andy Murray has just won a “Personality” contest for the second time in three years.

Swimming holds a special place in the country’s heart. From old ladies to Aberystwyth University Students training for the Cerebral Palsy National Championships in Nottingham on April 3rd, it is open to all. My heart sinks every time it fails to gain the recognition it deserves. It is time our national broadcaster saw this stark reality too, because two minutes with the reigning and defending double World Champion and world record holder one winter Sunday is not enough, especially for the sport in which the phrase “Day Off” does not exist.