Olympic Trials

The Buzz: Olympic Trials Guide to Good Cheer


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Swim meets are like graduation ceremonies: You can always determine who’s got the most friends in the stands based on decibels. An uproarious cheer that singles out a swimmer’s name is like a motor strapped on: You feel as though a billion people are rooting for you. Contrast this with a pre-race name announcement, followed by crickets.

Crickets don’t necessarily hurt, but they don’t help, either.

One myth long-standing in the swim community is: “Swimmers Don’t Hear Cheers.” Not specific cheers, some say. Because water absorbs sound, some argue, there’s no “home field advantage” for a swimmer who has five billion friends and family in the stands. I’m reminded of this myth watching Ricky Berens command Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in last weekend’s 200m freestyle in front of a hometown, pro-Berens crowd. To think the pre-race uproar did not send a surge of fire into Beren’s belly and propel him to win is foolish.

Swimmers can hear you.

In six weeks, the most important meet for 1700 swimmers kicks off. Fifteen thousand fans could show, but don’t be dissuaded. If you have a teammate, friend, sibling, son, daughter, or someone you know competing, you want them to feel as though the entire cast of “Glee” is screaming for them with the fury of a thousand suns. Here are some tips (and warnings) about Jeer & Good Cheer this coming Olympic Trials:

1.) Enlist Help. At college football games growing up, there was a guy who passed out pre-written cheers to the surrounding 100 people, stood on his seat, and conducted each cheer like conducting a symphony. I suggest doing the same. Swim meets are nearly as excruciating for swimmers as they can be for fans: long periods of monotonous lull followed by two minutes of excitement. Taper is a time of strategy. So strategize some organized cheers. Don’t settle for the standard cliché, “Let’s Go!” These are the Trials. Just as swimmers have had a lifetime of preparation, so have you.

1b.) “I’ll Cheer For Your Kid If You Cheer For Mine” (a.k.a. “The Parental Bribe.”) Formulate a League of Good Cheer with the people in your section. Can you imagine prelim pandemonium that would ensue if entire sections brought the roof down for each other’s swimmers? Enlisting extra support voices in exchange that you’ll do the same is downright American (actually probably socialist, but no one’s looking). At most Trials, this arrangement usually happens naturally (esp. for finals) so don’t be afraid to reach out and lend a helping voice. No one said parenting was a saintly business. Sometimes a little bribery goes a long way.

2.) Cheer For Someone Every Heat. If you have no one to cheer for in a heat, pick a swimmer, randomly, you think will drop the most time from their seed. Then make a contest of it, and cheer your butt off. It’s a little random, but for the athlete, it’s better than swimming for 15,000 silent, staring faces.

2b.) Cheer For Everyone, Every Heat. Self explanatory.

3.) The Organized “Good Job (Insert Name Here) Post-Race Cheer!” For the more uncreative types, this cheer is very easy. One, two, three, “Good Job, Jake!” Let ‘em know where you’re at, and that you’ve got twenty strangers who also saw him swim. This is obligatory for any post-race best time. (Side note: Know your swimmer’s best times. You don’t want to do this cheer if they were 10 seconds slower than a time swum a month ago.) (Side note two: Don’t do post-race cheers if they interfere with the next heat.)

4.) Allegiance Yourself. Root for all swimmers from your state. Or your old college conference. Cheer for everyone over the age of 35. Sometimes allegiances make cheering selection easier. (The ’08 Trials I cheered for all swimmers named Mike, so I could receive discreet yet public affirmation and compliments. “Good job Mike! Way to go, Mike!”)

5.) Don’t Be Disruptive. (a.k.a. Don’t be “That Guy.”) Cheer like you’re front row for Bon Jovi, but be respectful when swimmers are on the blocks. Just as you can cheer a swimmer to victory, your voice is the last clear message swimmers hear before diving in. These kids’ entire careers come down to this. Be respectful. And be aware.

6.) Do not propose in cheer-form to anyone on the blocks. I’ve heard it done at a swim meet before, and the answer is always no.

7.) Keep cheers positive. This isn’t Dancing With The Stars. There’s no judging.

8.) Performing “The Wave” at a swim meet is the greatest water homage you can do. Like watching a play within a play, or crossing the beams, for you “Ghostbusters” fans. So in the words of Jack Handy, “If you ever discover that what you're seeing is a play within a play, just slow down, take a deep breath, and hold on for the ride of your life.” I don’t know why “The Wave” isn’t mandatory for all swim fans at all swim meets. It just seems natural.

9.) Leave Noisemakers at Home. They’re not allowed, mostly because our ears are still ringing from the World Cup vuvuzelas. No more vuvuzelas. (I imagine the 9th circle of hell involves never-ending preliminary heats of the 1500m + vuvuzelas.)

10.) Cheer for anyone who: wins from an outside heat, has mutton chops, is under five feet, is over 35 years old, smiles and waves before the race, wears an American flag cap, destroys their seed time, has no one else cheering for them, has 100 people cheering for them, wears neon-pink suits, makes the semi-finals, makes the finals, participates in a swim-off, signs lots of autographs, points to their family in the stands, takes out their race in under world-record pace, jumps out of the water after a swim, shakes competitors’ hands after the race, hugs their coach, high-fives swim fans, breaks an age group record, breaks any record, is so happy post-race they break into tears, makes the Olympic Team, or has a first name Mike, because obviously, all the great ones do.

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