National Team

The Oscars of Swimming

9/19/2013

Ryan Lochte 2010 GGA (Med)By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

The Golden Goggle awards, set to begin in 2 months, are the Oscars of swimming. They are not only a celebration and recognition of the sport’s best accomplishments over the previous year, but they are also a red-carpeted gala. Swimmers exchange parkas and flip-flops for evening gowns, tuxes and heels. “Who’s that?” some people ask. Strange to say, but it feels like we’ve never seen some of these swimmers fully-clothed.

But my favorite part of the Golden Goggles isn’t the pageantry or fashion. Just like the Oscars, for me, it’s all about the speeches.

The difference between the Oscars and Golden Goggles, of course, is that those in attendance of the Golden Goggles have already won hardware. Most have earned a medal, hence the reason they are there in the first place. So the anticipation for the “winning envelope” isn’t as intense as the Oscars, where losers truly do feel some disappointment. At the Golden Goggles, rather than another opportunity for victory, it is the rare opportunity for recognition, coming together, and for winners to “say something.”

Think about it: When in swimming do athletes get the microphone all alone? Oh, they’re interviewed. Exhaustively so. Most interviews take place poolside, complete with huffing, puffing, and occasional droplets of nose snot. Not exactly the best platform for coherent, articulate thought. Sadly though, this is most fans’ exposure to these athletes, in that post-race interview. Unfortunately, these post-race interviews can sometimes feel lacking, since all the athletes themselves want to do is warm down. They struggle for coherent answers, they strain for complete sentences. You would, too, if you just finished a 400 IM seconds earlier. (I’d rather see poolside interviews take place after the awards, where swimmers have time to catch their breath.)

But the Golden Goggles offers winners the chance to say something. To talk without a billion ounces of lactic acid eating their muscles. To talk without the worry of a rogue nose booger sliding down their faces. To just talk.

It’s the best – and perhaps the only – opportunity for swimmers to talk without the words being rerouted by lenses or violin-soundtracked TV profile pieces. Nothing against those latter segments, but swimmers’ words aren’t exactly offered directly. Their stories and personalities are affected by story producers, cameramen and interviewers.

But a speech at the Golden Goggles offers something rarely seen in sports today: The opportunity for an athlete to simply talk. To thank. To inspire. To share. There are no violins, no voice-overs, no manipulating angles. Only words.

I’m not sure this opportunity has been wholly embraced by all participants, but it should be. It’s the only time swimmers and coaches can present themselves exactly who they are. It’s the only time they can talk to the world with some preparation, removed from the pool, with only a microphone and an audience. And with a little foresight, it’s the one platform available for swim people to truly say something that they’ll be remembered for decades into the future, like Oscar winners are. Granted, not all swimmers are natural-born orators, but they needn’t give an Oscar-worthy performance to simply speak from the heart.

It’s my hope that the Golden Goggle speeches this year at the best they’ve ever been. That this special – and perhaps overlooked – part of the ceremony is embraced. It’s a rare opportunity in life to be able to talk pretty much about anything and have people listen. Of course, winners can choose to say whatever they want, however much they do or do not want to say. But to me, a microphone can be a powerful thing. Even if it’s simply used to thank those people who helped you get there. Not many swimmers and coaches have truly taken advantage of this speech-giving opportunity, but I’d love to see it happen. I’d love if, in 30 years, we could look back at this awards ceremony not as just a fundraiser or a recognition event, but as an opportunity to talk without the producers, without the interviewers, without the cameras, without the violins.

The Golden Goggles are the Oscars of swimming.

We come for the gala. And we should stay for the speeches.