As a teenager in 1930s Illinois, “I dreamed of being on an Olympic team,” said industry icon Adolph Kiefer. At age 17, he realized that dream, winning the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Though it’s been nearly 75 years since Kiefer was breaking world records in the pool, the Olympic Games are still an inspiration for him and thousands like him.
Kiefer describes the Olympic Games as “the pinnacle of the sports world.” This is especially true for sports — such as swimming, diving or water polo — that don’t see a lot of media coverage otherwise. For that reason, pool operators can expect to see some eager new faces this summer and fall, thanks to the Beijing Games.
“Swimming is one of the most popular sports in the Olympics and it increases the exposure for all aquatic sports on the world stage,” said Lindsay Mintenko, USA Swimming’s National Team managing director. “It’s a really great thing any time there are big events that showcase swimming and other aquatic sports.”
Bruce Wigo, head of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and former head of USA Water Polo, agrees. Whether people are watching it on TV, or reading about it on the Internet, Olympic event coverage is sure to be all over the media this summer, and experts agree that aquatics operators should take advantage of the heightened interest. “Interest in swimming and other aquatics sports generally increases after the Olympics, and it’s a great time for clubs to capitalize on the exposure given to the sport,” Mintenko said. “Most importantly, clubs need to have programs in place that are well-executed and can maintain the interest of people who want to be a part of the sport.”
Preparation is key. “A lot of the people [likely to come in as a result of exposure to aquatics through the Olympic Games] have no experience,” Wigo said. “With this type of kid, you want to hook them on the fun first.”
USA Swimming is doing just that, hosting more than 500 U.S. Olympic Splash Bash Parties, coinciding with the swimming portion of the Olympics. At these parties, fans around the country will gather to cheer on the U.S. Olympic swim team, and USA Swimming is providing party ideas, prize giveaways and decorations to party hosts. “These parties are more than just a ‘marketing hook,’” Mintenko said. “They are a great way for USA Swimming to bring the excitement of swimming to fans and kids around the country while informing attendees about swimming and everything the sport has to offer.”
Three Ways to Turn Olympics into Gold
- Enlist the support of champions. Johnny Johnson, owner of Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin, Calif., has worked with several current and former Olympians as well as the children of some former Olympians. “So many of the Olympians are happy to help inspire kids,” Johnson said. “It’s not just in the private swim schools [either]. Many [of the athletes] come out of public pool and YMCA programs, too.”
- Hold an event. The Perry Park Center in Perryville, Mo., is hosting an “Olympic Exhibition Day” featuring exhibition swimming and diving from high school and recreational swim teams. Also on tap: a barbecue, kids’ games, water polo demonstration — and Olympic swimming events as they occur, via a big-screen TV.
- Celebrate your athletes. Jeff Purchin of 5 Cities Swim School in Arroyo Grande, Calif., and the United States Swim Schools Association, suggests holding a mini-Olympics for swim-lesson and swim-team participants. You could decorate, provide medals and hold a “torch relay” march around the pool.