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Above the Glass

Take a lap: the hockey fan’s guide to Olympic swimming

In the off season I can be found in a galaxy far, far away from the ice rink, doing laps at my local community pool. This year, I’m cutting into quality workout time to watch the aquatic events at the Olympics. I can see from my Twitter feeds that my fellow hockey fans do not all appreciate the finer points of my favorite water sport. Maybe they just don’t realize that the two sports aren’t that different. That’s why I suggest that the next time you turn on the Olympics to a swimming event, think hockey.

It’s a fast game. Here in Portland, you can always count on Portland Winterhawk and NHL prospect Taylor Peters for a good soundbite: like the time he told me that the other 23 hours of the day are preparation for a game that boils down to one hour. It’s the same with swimming, but in shorter races, the one hour is one minute or less. Hockey and swimming are a lot like life: the really, truly big moments only come once and they are gone before you know it. And the time you spend in the prime of your life/athletic prowess winning shiny objects is far too short.

Size matters. Like hockey players, swimmers are very big. Being six-foot-whatever matters in swimming; it gives you a slight body length advantage and it can make all the difference in a close race, where a wall touch wins the gold. For junior hockey players, being NHL ready is about being strong no matter what your height. That usually means an extra season spent in junior, getting stronger mentally and physically. It’s not exactly what young, NHL-drafted players want, but it’s what they need to get ready and stay ready for a long career in the show.

It can change in a heartbeat. An event like the 400 IM is like four races in one. A relay race is the same. Just the way a hockey game can change drastically between periods, a swim race can change significantly between laps. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday, when the French team staged an epic upset of the United States in the 4 x 100 free relay. Another place where a race can change is the wall. Used wisely, propelling yourself out of a turn can help you get ahead or catch up to other swimmers. In hockey, the wall is the boards, where battles for the puck can turn the tide of a game. 

It smells. Well, ok, very few things in this world smell worse than hockey. But chlorine isn’t exactly pretty either. I’ve come from many a morning swim straight to work and no matter how much lotion, conditioner and what not that I use, I still get the same question…were you at the pool this morning? And I’m just a humble peon who’s trying to stave off middle age and weight gain. Imagine what it does to someone who’s in the pool for several hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a lot like hockey; there’s just no way to neutralize the smell entirely.

It makes people crazy. Because it takes so little time to watch a swim race, you also have to expend all your energy in one quick burst. Imagine the third period of a playoff game that is heading to overtime and fans have had a few too many to drink and far too much of the refs’ crap. Swimming is the same, minus the alcohol and overtime. It’s the same freak fest, with one exception: freaking out over a swim race takes just a few minutes instead of a few periods.

Show me the money. Like hockey players, talented swimmers who play their promotional cards right can make a boatload of money at it. Or in the case of Ryan Lochte, a closet load.  Get the right agent, stay out of trouble when out of the pool, and you’re set for life. True, swimmers’ deals probably don’t rival Sidney Crosby’s, but they can still bring home the bacon, just like hockey players.

Victory happens in the blink of an eye. Such is the case in swimming, where a fingertip touching a wall can decide a race. The hockey equivalent would be a shootout in a playoff game, in which one single, perfect goal wins the game. The game is different, but the principle is the same; it only takes one perfect moment to win. So the next time Olympic swimming pops up on your TV, give it a chance. You just might see a little hockey game in there.

Filed in: | Above the Glass | Permalink


Keyser S.'s avatar

How to improve olympic swimming;

1. Sharks
2. Ice chunks
3. Knives


Posted by Keyser S. on 07/31/12 at 05:21 PM ET

TreKronor's avatar

Posted by Keyser S. on 07/31/12 at 04:21 PM ET

You mention Sharks.  Don’t forget “Dives”....

Posted by TreKronor on 07/31/12 at 05:55 PM ET


Sharks - good one. Very handy for pushing swimmers to set a new world record. And how could I forget dives? No hockey-like sport is complete without them. Thanks for reading!

Posted by Samantha from Portland, Oregon on 07/31/12 at 06:38 PM ET

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com