How Times Have Changed From 1962 To The Present
The competitors wore no goggles or swim caps and would have had no concept of techsuits, wristwatches with GPS capabilities or jammers, and most likely would have never even considered neoprene caps or polarized goggles.
The course was definitely not designed or set by GPS and there was no electronic timing of the lap splits or final times. There were no starting pontoons or feeding stations, no gel packs or feeding sticks back in the 1960’s.
“I remember writing articles about open water swimming in the late 1970’s,” recalled Steven Munatones. “If I was not present at a swim, I would call swimmers or the race director after initially writing them a letter (sent via snail mail as fax machines were not yet invented). Of course, the gathering all the pertinent race information would take a lot of time, usually based on the memory of the race director, without the availability of the Internet, Google, websites or Openwaterpedia.
The differences in covering the sport in the 1960’s and 1970’s were as different as the rotary telephones of that era and the smartphones of the contemporary era.
“Even as late as 2008, the dissemination of information was different. I remember in the NBC studios at the 2008 Beijing Olympics covering the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, one of the producers asked me what I was doing on my BlackBerry phone. I was feverishly using Twitter at the time – and told him that I was sending tweets,” Munatones recalled.
The anthropometry – or the scientific study of the measurements and proportions of the human body – of elite swimmers has also changed rather rapidly over the last 50 years. While broad shoulders, a tapered torso, thin hips, and toned legs have always characterized competitive swimmers, the physical size and strength of the elite swimmers has visually changed – for the bigger.
A comparison of the two most decorated swimmers of all time – Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz – is telling:
So what happened between the 1960’s and contemporary times? Munatones observed changes over the years, “A variety of things occurred. Weight training and all types of dryland training became a much larger component of the competitive swimmer’s training. And this type of dryland training started relatively earlier in the athlete’s career. Teams like Sandpipers of Nevada and most other elite age group teams have a dedicated staff and offer a specific dryland training program.
On the women’s side, college swimming certainly helped. So instead of peaking in their teenage years – like Sandy Neilson in the 1970’s and Debbie Meyer in the 1960’s while winning Olympic gold medals – and then retiring, women had the benefit of continuing to compete in college, adding years to their career.
The breakthrough at FINA and other national governing bodies from British Swimming to USA Swimming to essentially eliminate the differences between amateur and professional swimming also helped. So instead of a swimmer like Mark Spitz retiring at the age of 22 and then moving onto a professional career, we have athletes like Jason Lezak who was able to win a silver medal at the age of 37 at the 2012 London Olympics and women like Dara Torres who was able to win three silver medals at the age of 41 in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The professionalism – to a certain extent – also helps. While the swimmers decades were formerly competing for themselves, their universities, and their country, now they are competing as a way of life. It is their lifestyle and livelihood. They earn money, endorsements, sponsorships, build their personal brands, and can live off of their achievements in the water. That can be a huge driving force, not only in the pool, but also in the weight room – and a driver in motivating them to work out longer and even more intensely.”
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