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The Chuck Wielgus Blog: A Bit of History About the Duel in the Pool

12/16/2013

Duel in the Pool logo (small)A group of 34 U.S. swimmers are currently in Glasgow, Scotland getting ready to compete at the 6th Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool.  The event will be held December 20-21 and will be televised on NBC on December 22 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm.  This edition of the Duel in the Pool will feature Team USA vs. European All-Stars from 15 countries, and it is shaping up to be a highly competitive meet.

The history behind this meet goes back to the 1999 Pan Pacific Championships held in Sydney, Australia.  Many swimming people still consider that meet as one of the greatest competitions of the modern era.  While there were more than 20 countries represented, the meet virtually turned into a head-to-head competition between the U.S. and Australia, the sport’s two acknowledged super powers at that time.  

With Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett leading the charge, the Aussies were on a mission to take the “#1 in the World” title away from the U.S. at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, and the 1999 Pan Pacs was the perfect set-up meet.  

The team title at Pan Pacs came down to the final event on the final day of the four-day competition.  The U.S. won that final medley relay to win the overall team title for the meet, but the Aussies had sent a clear message that 2000 would be their year.

That Pan Pac meet showed the Aussies what U.S. college swimmers already knew; there’s nothing more exciting in swimming than a great dual meet.  And so it was then that we set out to create a dual meet that would feature the U.S. vs. Australia.  We envisioned that this meet could become something of a signature event for our sport and a great television property.  

The inaugural Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool was held in 2003 in Indianapolis.  The event was a great success in every sense – NBA-style athlete introductions, sellout crowd, NBC television broadcast, etc. – except the competition was a blowout.  The two-day dual meet format is great for spectators and is also an exciting way to get sports fans, who might not normally follow a seven-day swimming meet, interested in our sport.  

We began holding the competition every two years – the 2005 meet was in Irvine, Calif., and the 2007 event was in Sydney following the World Championships in Australia that year.  

For the 2009 Duel in the Pool, we decided to change the format to be USA vs. a team of European All-Stars, mirroring a Ryder Cup style concept for the sport of swimming.   USA Swimming and British Swimming worked together to host the 2009 event in Manchester, Great Britain and the 2011 Duel in the Pool held in Atlanta, Ga.   

Throughout the years, Mutual of Omaha has been an outstanding partner and the reality is that we simply could not stage or televise the meet without its support.  We’ll wait until after this year’s event in Glasgow to determine what will be best for the future of the event.  My own hope is that we can continue to increase the competitive atmosphere around the Duel in the Pool and that we can also find a way to bring the event back to U.S. in 2015.

Chuck Wielgus can be contacted at cwielgus@usaswimming.org.  All of his blogs are archived at www.usaswimming.org:  click on “News” and then click on “Org News & Blogs”.