The debut of the much-heralded International Swimming League, a seven-event series of quadrangular meets among club teams in five countries, took place on Saturday at the famed IU Natatorium in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Was this the start of a revolution in swimming?
Not yet; for the first day of the first meet, SwimSwam.com estimated the crowd at 500-600 in the 4,700-seat facility. The meet had television coverage in Australia, Canada and the U.S., but most of it was online; ESPN3 had the meet in the U.S.
A lot of the format was new to the non-Americans, but it looked like a collegiate dual meet otherwise and the U.S. athletes were well familiar with it. But the event was shaped to be a cross between a sporting event and a 1990s-era dance party, with a live D.J. on the deck level and the lights down low for the entire program (er, show).
The swimming was pretty good, considering the time of year; with the emphasis on the team scoring and individual points scoring (9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) – swimmers receive $300 per point scored – the importance of times was reduced. Still, of the 16 individual events held, there were world leaders (25 m/short-course pool) in 15 of them, thanks to the star competitors.
Sweden’s sprint star Sarah Sjostrom won the women’s 50 m Free and 100 m Fly and home favorite Lilly King of the U.S. won the 50 m Breast and 200 m Breast. They were the only double winners of individual events. Sjostrom also won a third event in the women’s 4×100 m Free for her Energy Standard (FRA) team. South Africa’s Chad Le Clos, also from Energy Standard, won the men’s 100 m Fly and swam on two winning relays.
The format broke back two retired stars: France’s Florent Manaudou, who won the 50 m Free – where he is the world-record holder – and was fourth in the 50 Back, and American Natalie Coughlin. Both retired after Rio; Coughlin swim in the 50 m Backstroke, where she finished seventh.
Katie Ledecky, swimming for DC Trident (USA), finished second in the 400 m Medley and second in the 200 m Freestyle.
Sjostrom scored the most points at 22.5 for the first day and $6,750 in earnings (+ $1,000 given to every swimmer who participates in the meet).
The meet continues on Sunday and will be shown on ESPN3. Full results are here.