Swimmers less intense away from Olympics

Sunday, February 15, 2009 | 7:18 p.m. CST; updated 8:02 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 15, 2009

COLUMBIA – Every four years, the world watches a sport that doesn’t normally receive much attention.

At the Olympics, swimming is a main event, and in 2008 at Beijing, it seemed to be the premier competition of the fortnight.

But unless you’re Michael Phelps, swimmers don’t receive much attention aside from those two weeks. So during the years that don't feature the Olympics, life changes for a professional swimmer.

“Well right now, I’m kind of fulfilling obligations to sponsors,” said two-time U.S. Olympian Mark Gangloff at Saturday's competition at the Missouri Grand Prix at the MU Student Recreation Complex.

Gangloff said those commitments include putting on swim clinics and giving talks at schools. The popularity that swimming received at the 2008 Olympic Games has allowed him to go into schools and deliver positive speeches and be a role model for children.

But other than speeches and swim clinics, Gangloff and his fellow Olympians said non-Olympic years consist mostly of training, just a little more relaxed than what they have to do to prepare for the Olympics.

“In a non-Olympic year you may go out and party a little bit more, or if you’re not feeling it, you may not get up for morning practice,” said Eric Shanteau, who won silver and bronze for the United States in Beijing.

And there’s no doubt Shanteau enjoys that more relaxed period.

“I couldn’t do the Olympics every year,” he said.  “It’s a two-month trip and it’s a tough, tough event to really get up for and get yourself ready for.  I’m glad it’s once every four years.”

In the offseason, swimmers use events like this weekend’s Missouri Grand Prix to gauge where they are in their training.

“It’s a test of how out of shape you are or how in shape you are,” Gangloff said.

Shanteau said he focuses more on himself and less on the other swimmers at events like these.

“This is one of those meets where you come to basically race against yourself and the clock,” he said. “There’s gonna be a couple other people here who are great competition, but for the most part this really helps with self-motivation.”

Perhaps the most obvious clue that swimmers weren’t too concerned with posting their best times was the absence of those futuristic looking Speedo swim suits that garnered so much attention during the 2008 Olympics.

Shanteau said those are more prominent when swimmers are competing seriously and trying to post their best times.  But, contrary to popular opinion, he said the new technology is not the sole reason for faster times during the Olympics.

“It’s just taken a little bit more seriously, I think,” Shanteau said of the Olympics.  “And more than the suits and anything else, that’s the reason why (everyone swims faster).”

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