questionsare there too many swimming events in the…

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No, I don't think there are too many swimming events. I think it's valid to say "Michael Phelps had more opportunities to medal than athletes in other events and therefore may not actually be the best Olympian ever."

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Initially, I was going to say no, though NBC does seem more than a little preoccupied with swimming.

Now that I think about it, I have to agree. There are events in several distances for every style of swimming, not to mention medleys and relays. Whereas in track and field, there's really only one way to run (2 if you count hurdles). Why not have the 100 meter skip, 100 meter run backwards, and hundred meter sidle, if there are events for deliberately suboptimal means of aquatic locomotion?

They should either scrub back/breast/butterfly, or add equally ridiculous analogues for track.

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You are off base here. Comparing swimming to running is not really the same. The skillsets between the swimming events are similar, but you will note that it is very unusual to be competitive in more than one. One of the things that made Michael Phelps so unusual was that he was competitive in both butterfly and freestyle, and good enough at the other two to consistiently win the individual medly.

It would be better to compare it to javelin, shotput, discus, and hammer. They are all throwing right? So they are all the same. Likewise long jump and triple jump.

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@voxitage: You hit the nail on the head. I particularly see no reason to have breast stroke and butterfly, which as you point out are absurdly suboptimal (both in terms of time and efficiency). It rather seems like breast stroke is just kept in because it makes for good photo ops when the swimmers pop their heads above water in a dramatic splash once per stroke. Why butterfly is still around I have no idea.
I would, however, make an argument for backstroke being worthwhile. It is a lot more efficient than the "freestyle" (or front crawl for us old farts). It might make more sense to have sprints use the front crawl and long events - say 800m and up - use the backstroke.

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@wilfbrim: I disagree with it being unusual to be competitive in all four swimming strokes. We have seen it fairly often over the years. For that matter look at how often the same guys are in the finals for the various events, too. The only difference is that this time one guy won the lion's share of the gold medals for doing the same thing over and over again. Usually the three medalists change position across the contests.

And if you want to compare it to the throwing events, you couldn't get as many medals in throwing even if you managed to master discus, javelin, shot put, and hammer throw, as you could if you were a really good swimmer.

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@lparsons42: I disagree with your assessment. Having swam and competed nationally for every stroke from age 6 through high school, all strokes are necessary. While the strokes may seem similar to you, ask any swimmer what they think and you will get a very different answer. Butterfly separates the boys from the men, and the girls from the women. I think everyone can be passibly good at freestyle, but butterfly requires a degree of coordination and core strength that most people do not have, nor do they comprehend. Difficulty rating as I see it: freestyle (easiest), back stroke, breast stroke, butterfly. It is the difference between diving well from the 5m spring board or diving well from the 10m platform.

As swimming is an extremely competitive sport, you need all strokes and lengths. Just as you do in running, and need all apparatus for gymnastics.

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@pyxientx: yessss. Watching the Olympians compete in fly makes it look so easy and effortless when in reality, it's an immensely difficult stroke that utilizes a billion muscles to pull off correctly- mad respect.

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@pyxientx: I agree. I swam in high school and can attest that the skills required to do freestyle, butterfly, breast stroke, and butterfly are no where near the same. I was really good at freestyle and backstroke. I never did breaststroke because it was too exhausting and butterfly required too much upper body strength. I could do the 200 IM, but it wasn't pretty.

Skipping and running backwards would require nearly all of the same muscle groups as you would need to run forwards. In swimming, each stroke requires an entirely different muscle group for nearly each stroke. That's why the IM is so impressive. You don't just have to be able to run, you have to be able to bench press, leg lift, run, high jump and do sit ups all at the same time (Now that would be an interesting event to watch).

If you don't like the swimming events, then don't watch it. As for the majority of the US, we like the events and realize the challenge it presents to atheletes.

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@capguncowboy: Actually, running backwards uses several distinctly different muscle groups in comparison to running forwards, which makes it a good analogy to swimming front crawl vs swimming butterfly. Similarly, running backwards is needlessly wasteful in terms of energy expended vs distance covered, as are the butterfly and breast stroke.

The point I'm trying to get to - if I'm being overly obtuse - is that it is pointless to call swimmers the "greatest olympians of all time" based on their medal tally, because nobody else has as many medal opportunities at the games. As I mentioned before even if you were the greatest contender of all time at all the throwing events simultaneously you still would not be able to win 8 gold medals in one olympiad because there are not 8 events for you to compete in.

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@agingdragqueen: They do make it look easy, but watching makes my abs hurt.

@capguncowboy: Agreed.

I swam the 200m IM and 4x100 IM, and did well, but my best was butterfly. I hated breast stroke because I found it uncomfortable, but competed in it nonetheless. I also ran cross-country and hurdlesin high school.

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The rotary strokes (back and free) have some similarities and you can find swimmers who are good at both rotary strokes.

Fly and breast are rhythm strokes with totally different motions than Free and Back. Fly requires great upper body strength. Breaststroke requires a kicking motion (frog type) that some people find natural and easy and others struggle with.

In an IM it's usually fly or breast stroke that kills someone's IM time most often breaststroke because of the vastly different kick.

That's why you usually see breaststroke specialists who don't swim anything but breaststroke. There are others who are fly specialists.

Phelps being world class in free, fly and back and the IM is a phenom.

I don't think there are too many swimming events just like I don't think there are too many track and field events. I do think there are too many equestrian events. Car, motocross, elephant and camel racing have as much right to being included in the olympics as equestrian events.

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@lparsons42: You can compete in track and field. Most runners are specialized, just as most swimmers are. However, there is more versatility in swimming as opposed to track and field. I was on swim (all 4 strokes), dive (10m platform), and water polo (goalie and low wing) teams while competing. In high school, water polo was required if you were on swim or dive team. That isn't every swimmer, but most of us did (do) more than one thing well enough to compete. I also ran track, and was on the drill team while in high school, in addition to swim team captain of the girls team. It is just a matter of what you are good at. I never limited myself, why should Olympians?

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@pyxientx: I always had my arms ache before my stomach, but alas, that was when I had a nice stomach.

I actually liked breast most of all, but it's a hard stroke to go fast in- I wasn't very fast and I still don't know what the magic is that makes some swimmers amazing at it. I also never mastered the fly kick after a dive. Really, if I'm honest with myself, I was never that great at competitive swimming but I still love it dearly.

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To dispute the claim that Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time is a bit harsh. He hasn't only won the races, he's put up world record times on MOST of the events he competes in. Until recently, he rarely lost a race, and when he did it was by mere hundredths of a second.

I agree that track and field contestants don't compete in an equal number of events as Phelps. In high school I had to forego the distance running events because I did the jumping competitions and most of them took place at the same time. There were times that I would do long jump on one end of the field, run to the other and do triple jump and then run back to the other end and do high jump. All of them were taking place at the same time and it made it harder to rest between vaults. Then I ran 3 races too.

However, track contestants could easily compete in 7 events if they wanted to, but most just aren't that versatile. They train specifically for one thing and that's it. Don't blame Phelps for that.

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@agingdragqueen: Working out and tumbling helped quite a bit with the arms, so no remembered pain there, but no amount of crunches prepares the abs for an 800m butterfly. They (abs) always seemed to hurt. I still love the sport as well, and haven't competed due to an injury in 20+ years. I still miss it. Being a coach to youngsters makes up for not being able to compete though.

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No, not really. It is the summer Olympics after all, and swimming is strictly a summer event for most people.

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@jsimsace: I'm puzzled by the notion that swimming is "strictly a summer event for most people". All the contests - and the vast majority of the training - take place indoors.