Yesterday I got to attend Day 1 of Stop 5 for the ISL American Derby at the University of Maryland.
The transformation of the pool was outrageous. A scaffolding tower for a cameraman was built IN the actual pool on the turn end. The largest black curtains you've ever seen in your life block all light coming into the building and around the pool. They even painted the doors to the locker rooms black.
If you've never been to the University of Maryland pool the back wall is mainly glass from floor to ceiling.
RIP Terrapin Invite.
The deck was covered in that squiggly plastic mat stuff -- it was also black. I love this for safety -- no slips, trips, or falls from ANYONE -- and there is a ton of staff on deck running back and forth. Dozens of volunteers, officials, and event staff walking on and off deck for every single event.
They have 12 industrial lights lining both sides of the 25m pool. You are constantly going from full lights during races to the show lights in between races.
Heat sheets glow.
The DJ and the music was legit. I found myself bobbing up and down the entire time. What is the DJ's name? I couldn't find it anywhere.
The 4 team areas are just little platforms with LED boards sandwiching the athletes.
The custom LED screen that looks like the Fortress of Solitude behind the blocks is a sight to see.
I'm not sure how long it takes to set up a venue but I would assume minimum of a week or two. Word on the street is that it costs roughly a milli to run a two day meet.
Doors opened 90 minutes ahead of time. A line of people was already outside the door. The stands filled up fast. There wasn't an open seat in the place with an hour to go before showtime.
I'd say the vast majority of the spectators were club swimmers with their parents.
The Fish came out in full force, fanboying the entire time from the stands. They would collectively lean over the railing and yell at superstars like Caeleb Dressel, Michael Andrew, and Cody Miller in order to get their attention for a selfie.
One of the best parts was the warm up time. It gave the audience the chance to view 100 elite athletes prepare their minds and bodies for competition. Bands, equipment, jump ropes.
I watched as fans pointed and picked out their favorite swimmers.
"Hey Mom watch this Dressel's about to do a start."
Dynamic stretching routines from Kathleen Baker on the bulkhead. A complete yoga workout in the Fortress of Solitude from Madison Kennedy.
There is a lot a young swimmer can learn simply from observing warm up.
It's not very often you get 100 of the best swimmers in the world under one roof.
Seeing them swim in person is way better than on television. I would urge you to take your entire swim team if you can.
I take back everything I said about how the event seemed rushed on television -- the fast paced nature really plays well with the live audience. They wanted more of everything.
There are a couple of breaks that are perfect for running to the bathroom or to grab a snack. Two hours is spot on for an event. You get there an hour or so early and you stay an hour or so afterwards to meet the swimmers.
Here are the some of the swimmers that impressed me the most...
Kelsey Wog (Cali Condors)
The Canadian went toe-to-toe with her teammate, Lilly King. Actually, at the 150 she was quite a bit ahead of her. King ultimately won with a great last 50 but Wog was excellent. She's got a super wide kick that grabs a ton of water. I think this time was faster than her Silver medal in Windsor (SC World Champs 2016).
Clyde Lewis (NY Breakers)
Honestly I thought he was going to win the 200 Free. He looked strong and controlled the entire race he just didn't have enough burst at the end to close it out. You might remember Clyde from World Champs -- he was top seed going into Finals with a 1:44.9 LCM. He's one of Australia's best swimmers and will play a large part on the Australian relays next year. He also has excellent taste in glasses.
Siobhan Haughey (DC Trident)
1:51.99 in the 200 Free is pretty outstanding -- nobody could stay on pace with her. She also threw up a 3rd place 50 Breast in sub 30 fashion...how about that for versatility? Siobhan swims very light on top of the water, she is very precise in her stroke. Tokyo 2020 here she comes!
Beryl Gastaldello (LA Current)
The bubbly girl from France continues to stick finishes like no other. She wasn't a huge name when the league started but now everyone knows her name. Beryl was built for this type of swimming -- she's a killer in multiple strokes, on relays, and in the Skins races. These are the types of swimmers you want on your team!
"I just love racing. I don't like practicing. If you like practicing you are weird." - Beryl
Other Stuff I Thought About
Zane Grothe (DC Trident) gave that 400 IM his best go and I appreciate that.
NY Breaker's Pernille Blume has a turnover you must see in real life. She is so tiny yet so fast and efficient she is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover. All shapes and sizes can swim fast. Wikipedia has her listed at 5'7 but that's generous.
Radoslaw Kawecki, the Polish backstroker for Cali Condors, has one of the most pleasing backstroke techniques to watch.
Ian Finnerty (DC) went 2:02.76 in the 200 Breast. Ed Moses went 2:02.92 in Berlin in 2004 to break the World Record. #UVA
Beefy T (LA Current) was excellent, swimming 5 times in 2 hours. Sub 47 split in the 100 Free on a relay. Huge underwaters -- he is simply one of the best in his ability to hold his breath long on walls late in his events -- it's automatic.
Amy Bilquist (LA Current) only swam once but she made it worth it nabbing 2nd and touching out Canadian Kylie Masse to go 1-2 in the 200 Back with teammate Kathleen Baker. Really, really strong swim from her!
Next year there might be 2 new teams and 27 meets, says ISL founder Konstantin Grigorishin.
It seems to me it is a great opportunity for so many athletes and has forced FINA to release its grip a bit. Just of that reason alone I believe the ISL's impact to be monumental.
The athletes are obviously taking this very seriously -- enough to the point where many will be shaving and tapering for the showdown in Las Vegas.
To foreshadow the future of the league is a wasteful task. Instead, let's enjoy every meet we get.
I hope to see you in Las Vegas next month. You seriously do not want to miss this.