IOC says it is “totally relaxed” about the Olympic rings tattoo

The damage control arrived in my Inbox the next morning. The IOC wanted me to know that it is “totally relaxed” about Olympians wearing the rings tattoo in competition. IOC Director of Communications, Mark Adams, wrote that: “this announcement was made by the IPC not the IOC.” The distinction, he said, was that “it was an IPC event not an IOC one. They made the decision – we would be totally relaxed for a Paralympian or an Olympian to have a rings tattoo.”

Cue the bus, screeching to a halt, as the International Paralympic Committee is thrown under it. An interesting sacrifice of an organization that the IOC calls a close partner. Indeed, they are in the midst of a multi-year agreement that extends through 2020. On the IOC website (, President Jacques Rogge states that “the IOC and the IPC have a long and strong relationship and it is with great pleasure that we are able to extend this agreement with the IPC and ensure that the Olympic and Paralympic Games continue to be held in the same host cities until 2020. Our continued financial support to the Paralympics shows the Olympic Movement is universal.”

Continued support… Yes, well, evidently that does not include support for athletes with an impairment and the Olympic rings tattoo in a visible place on their bodies.

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Calling All Swimmers with the Olympic Rings Tattoo

Paralympic Swimmer disqualified because for a tattoo of the Olympic rings on his chest… Sparks call to arms against clueless IOC…

It’s a branded rite of passage that announces membership in one of the most exclusive clubs on earth. For many it’s the only ink they’ll ever get. The Olympic rings tattoo – that’s one you’ll never regret. And over the last thirty years, it’s become more and more de rigueur among newly minted body proud Olympians. Except now apparently it’s illegal.

On Monday May 2nd, British Paralympic champion Josef Craig was disqualified at the IPC European Swimming Championships because the 19-year-old has a tattoo of the rings emblazoned over his heart. He was DQ’d after his prelims swim in the 100 freestyle – because the tattoo of those rings “breached advertising regulations.” Said the utterly out of touch spokesman for the Paralympic International Committee: “Body advertising is not allowed in any way whatsoever and that includes the Olympic rings. The athlete did not wear a cover and was therefore disqualified.”

Um, excuse me? There are so many things wrong with this that one sputters trying to put the outraged thoughts in order. A tattoo of the Olympic rings is advertising? Oh really? So, that would mean that every Olympian is, by that definition, a spokesman or woman for the Olympic movement? When the athletes recite the Olympic Creed at the Opening Ceremony, is it in service of a corporate brand? Somewhere Pierre de Coubertin is rolling over in his grave.

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Drinking Like a Swimmer

From Grant Hackett to Michael Phelps to countless others, a swimmer’s relationship with booze can be a complicated thing…

Grant Hackett has a problem. I don’t mean an alcohol or a pill problem, those are just symptoms. It seems to me he has a lack-of-moderation problem. Which is to say, he has a swimmer problem.

On April 17th Hackett faced some unfortunate humiliation when he ‘tweaked the nipple’ of the guy in front of him after the 6’6″ Hackett objected to the passenger reclining his seat. Giving unsolicited titty-twisters to strangers abroad aircraft is generally inadvisable. In fact, no good is likely to come of it. Particularly if you’re shit-faced and you’re a public figure. No good came of this.

Not for the first time, Hackett was looped in public and found himself explaining some seriously embarrassing behavior. In February 2014, he was seen in the late night hours of a Melbourne hotel, mostly naked, very confused, searching for his four-year-old son. A couple days later he checked himself into rehab, citing a dependance to a drug called Stillnox – aka Ambien. (A drug it must be noted that is reputedly used widely by elite swimmers to help them adjust to jet lag when competing internationally…)

Like Michael Phelps in the wake of his substance-sparked mishaps, Hackett has always appeared afterwards contrite and taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t know the man, but I know that he is beloved in and out of the sport, and commands about as much respect from his peers as any swimmer alive. It’s a damn shame that the most frequent adjective before his name these days is “troubled.”

Yet his troubles aren’t exactly surprising. Due to our rather extreme wiring, many swimmers have a very hard time with the m-word. In the dry land world, moderation is a prized quality. For swimmers, moderation seems to imply just doing enough. Enough to feel good, but not really going for it. In the pool, who respects that? And so, when swimmers climb out and crack one open, things can often get out of hand. Particularly when we dry off for good, or what seems like for good, and face a life without morning workouts or meets looming on the horizon.

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Forget About Laps

Introducing ‘Speedo Fit’ Water Training… Featuring Lochte, Missy, Cullen… and Mr. Laird Hamilton

Upper West Side, Manhattan, Equinox Fitness Club, 7:30am.

It’s not often that Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, and Cullen Jones are overshadowed when they’re standing around a pool. They’re three of the most recognizable faces in the world of swimming, and on Tuesday morning in New York City the trio was serving as ambassadors for Speedo’s latest initiative. I was there to cover the event for Swimming World. Their sponsor is launching Speedo Fit – think of it as cross training in the pool. Complete with running shoes, compression shorts, and an assortment of exercises familiar to dry land workouts, but seldom executed underwater.

It’s an interesting though less than revolutionary concept. (Water aerobics, aqua spinning, underwater hockey, they’ve all been ‘things’ for awhile now…) And that’s just what the event’s main attraction was quick to point out. “The first underwater cross training was introduced by the Polynesians a couple thousand years ago,” he said. His name is Laird Hamilton, aka world’s greatest Waterman – and with all due respect to Kelly Slater, the most recognizable surfer on earth.

Lochte, Missy, and Cullen might be superstar bold-faced names in the Olympic orbit, but Laird has transcended all those pool-bound glories. Seeing him speak to the assembled 60+ media, with the Speedo stable looking on, was a bit like watching Michael Jordan showing up at March Madness. Sure, the players on the court are riveting in their own right, but we’re talking single-name icon here.

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Over the Northern Border

Once again, a large portion of the Canadian Olympic Team is made up of swimmers who do not train within its borders… With Team Canada on the rise, led by multiple Olympic medal prospects, a look at that forever touchy issue: When it comes to fulfilling potential in the pool, should they stay or should they go?

As usual the NCAA had a hand in picking another country’s Olympic team. Last week at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Toronto, nine U.S. universities – USC, Georgia, Cal, Missouri, Texas A&M, Minnesota, SMU, Ohio, St., and Indiana – helped qualify swimmers onto Team Canada. Georgia produced two Olympians, seniors Brittany MacLean and Chantal Van Landeghem, one of whom, MacLean, is arguably Canada’s top female medal hope.

For decades – in Canada and elsewhere – it’s been a proud, and disputed, tradition. NCAA coaches come calling anywhere in the world that there’s talent and fast times. Some programs embrace foreign athletes more than others; some (jingoistic?) coaches take an opposing view, claiming that it’s not for the NCAA (‘National’ referring to the American nationality) to help train future Olympic competitors from other countries. While that’s an unfortunate point of view, that ignores the cross-pollination and heightened competitive environments produced by a diverse cultural stew of athletes, it’s a view shared by many coaches on the other side of the border too.

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Bolles Nation

The three greatest swimmers in the NCAA – Ryan Murphy, Joseph Schooling, and Caeleb Dressel – all hail from the same place: Bolles. The single finest place on earth to develop champions in the pool…

It was impossible to choose. Any other year, any one among the three would have been the slam dunk unanimous pick, but this year all three gentlemen were flawless, and so it was only proper to bestow the honor on the trio. It wasn’t the first time they’ve shared center stage.

Ryan Murphy, Joseph Schooling, and Caeleb Dressel have known each other a long time, since they were young teens at Uible Pool on the Bolles School campus in Jacksonville, Florida. They’ve always been record breaking chosen-one studs, since they were kids. Murphy has been a backstroke prodigy since he was a boy. Schooling, a butterfly genius since he arrived from Singapore. And Dressel, well, he’s the sort of speed freak phenom that you could see turning pro in any number of sports.

Together, they’re now in the midst of compiling a collective collegiate resumé that has never been witnessed in the history of swimming.

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The Rage to Master

What defines a prodigy, across every sport and art? According to a prominent psychologist, it’s the “rage to master”… It’s a mad hunger to hyper-achieve that can be seen in the eyes of Phelps, Ledecky, and few others…

You know the look. You see it behind the blocks, as they walk out stone-faced, on another plane of existence. They have those highway eyes, looking far off down the pool to a destination they’ve already determined. It’s somewhere no athlete has gone before. They’re about to do something that will astound. All we can do is sit back and watch.

You know the look. The one at the finish, soon after they touch the wall. They turn and see the clock, and then they combust. All the focus and execution and pain comes pouring out of them in a defiant celebration. You know they’re happy, but they don’t look it. They look angry, full of righteous rage.

Ellen Winner, the psychology chair at Boston College, would probably identity that look as the “rage to master.” The aptly named Winner wrote the book on child prodigies – literally. It’s called Gifted Children: Myths and Realities. What appears to be anger might better be described as a maniacal persistence, an all-consuming devotion to the task. “They’re singled-minded,” she says. “They just want to get better and better.”

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15 Swims for 2015

15 Swims Worth Remembering in 2015…

The year before an Olympic year is often a bit of a buzz kill. It’s a time when everyone is usually gazing out at the near horizon, with the goal of the Games superseding anything that happens one year out. But not this year. In 2015, we were treated to some all-time performances, from a collection of young and old-ish, from an unknown Turkish teen to the ultimate bold-faced name in the pool.

So, with swimmers immersed in Christmas Training across the globe, and a new Olympic year about to dawn, enjoy this highly subjective look at 15 swims worth remembering in 2015… (NOTE: Links to each swim are provided where possible.)

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The Brand of a Club

Three years ago, the Curl-Burke swim club was rebranded in the wake of Rick Curl’s sexual abuse disgrace… Today, the renamed Nations Capital Swim Club is the number one ranked club team in America, led by Katie Ledecky. While the old name has been erased from record, the legacy of excellence never skipped a stroke. Thanks, in large part, to the club’s owner and CEO, Tom Ugast…

He stood up there at the height of his profession. On a fine recent Sunday evening in Los Angeles, Bruce Gemmell received his third straight Golden Goggles award, as the Doc Counsilman Coach of the Year. He’s Katie Ledecky’s coach, after all, and whoever’s coaching that girl is doing something right. But behind the podium, delivering remarks filled with his usual humility and selflessness, Gemmell stood for a lot more than Ledecky’s leader.

Here was the guy who represented the Nations Capital Swim Club – the one that not so long ago was called Curl-Burke – and it was hard to envision a figure you’d rather have leading your organization. Gemmell oozes integrity. Some people have that way about them, you can smell it a mile away. Some pretend to, some puff out the chest and say all the right things, deliver all the right results, but you can sense something off underneath.

The parents and swimmers of Nations Capital should know. The guy who used to run the place was like that. Rick Curl could coach, no one ever begrudged him that, but as a man there was a fatal secret. This was a man who sexually abused a 13-year-old girl, when he was 33. A guy who got away with it too, for years, despite widespread whispers, until the culture finally caught up to the outrage his crimes deserved. Now Curl is serving seven years in prison, his name verboten on pool decks. Yet somehow the club he founded 37 years ago never missed a beat.

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The Bravest Man in the NCAA

Two years ago, Schuyler Bailar joined Katie Ledecky on a NAG-record setting relay… Now he’s a member of the Harvard men’s swim team, and the first openly transgender swimmer in college history…

Consider your identity, how you might describe yourself in the most basic of ways. Name, age, gender, race, that should get things going. Then you may go on to where you’re from, where you live. Then your basic specs – physical appearance; sexual orientation; occupation; relationship and family status; maybe you’ll feel it’s necessary to mention your faith or political affiliation. What else? The driving passions of your life, perhaps. If you’re reading this, swimming will probably get a shout out.

Now try subtracting some those defining qualities. You’re not from New York, you’re from Milwaukee. You’re not six feet, you’re five-two. You’re a brewer, not a business owner. You’re not Catholic, you’re atheist. Are you still “you”? Of course not, you think. At least I did. And those are the easy items. Location, height, career, religion – either they’re subject to change or you can’t do a damn thing about them.

For Schuyler Bailar, and for many others struggling out there, the question of identity goes much deeper. Born a girl physically, Schuyler was always psychologically a boy. One of those core four identifiers – name, age, gender, and race – was hardly fixed. Since he was a kid, this is something he just knew. As much as you can be confident you know your age or race, Schuyler knew the soul-deep conflict between his exterior sex and his interior one.

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Icons at the Pool

Beatles-pool - sml Ali Underwater-sml Keith 2 EH-C675T HST-Pool Polaroid - sml Fitzgerald family at pool - sml Dylan diving - sml Bill Murray underwater, Rushmore - sml