In search of an identity
I just listened to
's podcast talk of her presentation, "We cannot let up until our sport is purified...". It was very good and highly recommended. (Evmo has the link in another thread.)
At the very end, she mentions people's strong sense of identifying with long-distance swimming as being a reason for wanting to keep the sport "pure." It occurs to me that, in fact, what we might be seeing is an attempt to actually define a public identity for the sport where there has been none. I say that because, until fairly recently, distance swimming was largely ignored with the occasional publicity "spasm" surrounding a specific person or feat. As such, the sport's identity was largely a matter of unspoken agreement among a relatively few people and anyone who stepped outside the boundaries found themselves with a lack of "community." This works fairly well in small groups and with limited public exposure. Since the advent of triathlon, 10k Olympic swimming and an increase in public awareness of distance swimming, swimming is being shown to have a more amorphous form than was previously agreed upon by a small group. Also, the distance swimmers are somewhat in danger of being subsumed and "lost" by the rise of other forms of the sport.
I've seen this before (I'm speaking about the U.S. only, BTW.) When I started running (1969), it was very much "off the radar". With the running boom, that changed and the identity of sport changed. Likewise with racewalking/walking, which experienced a brief surge of interest in the 1980's. There is a large, and instructive, difference between the two, however. Racewalking/walking had a rise in interest, but that waned and consequently the sport's identity is back in the hands of the relatively few people that practice it. Running has turned into a multi-headed beast with many different identities and an endless (40 years and counting) war between various factions. Even more interesting is that road racing is actually cannibalizing Track & Field and Track & Field is the precursor to all the other variations of running. I would be willing to wager that distance swimming is more likely to follow running's path.
It would also be very interesting to do personality/demographic assessments of the people within the distance community and where, and to what degree, they stand on the "purity" of the sport. (
- Anyone in the Psych Department of your uni need material for a few papers?) I think it's a grand opportunity to determine how a sport's identity evolves in real-time and the people helping to shape that evolution, since this is happening at this moment.
Sorry to ramble.
"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" -Satchel Paige
When you say, "I'm going for a run," people probably imagine you're about to hit the road or trails. When you say, "I'm going for a swim," I get a feeling most people imagine a hotel pool. A more serious swimmer perhaps pictures a short course pool.
If you look at the language we use to talk about our sport, you can see the state of its identity. We cannot sign up for the "regular" category in events, instead we must choose "non-wetsuit". We do not go for "closed-water swims" when we train in a pool. What we consider normal activities require the use of adjectives and qualifiers. It is the same way I describe my atypical runs as "track work" or "sprint sets" or "hill runs" (ha! I don't run OR sprint).
During the past few weeks I've experienced a bit more of the "without a wetsuit?!?!?" than usual and it has had me thinking about what you brought up above. When did that 40-year clock start ticking? Let's all get together and celebrate when it rings zero.
I've just saved the talk to listen to in the airport tonight. Here it is again in case anyone else wants it:
I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.
The best way is to tell people what you are doing. Such as:
"I am going to swim in the ocean without streamers, halos, boat hanging, riding the bow wave of a boat or a wetsuit."
If they are still around when you finish telling them, they will assume that your doing it without a brain. So it's best to throw in "with a brain" at the end.
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