Column: Competition a welcome change

We’ve been training for six weeks now, but as of Friday, the swim season has officially started.

Our first meet was the Show-Me Showdown, an invitational that pits every Missouri school against one another. The level of competition is similar to the football team opening their season against South Dakota State. There were some good swimmers from other teams, but the end result was a comfortable victory for us.

Swim meets are very different from competitions in most sports, and in my experience few people understand exactly how they work. For example, our regular season performance really has no bearing on qualifying for championship meets — the Southeastern Conference Championship and NCAA Championship. Every team can take 22 swimmers and divers to the SEC’s, and while swimmers must qualify for the NCAA’s based on times from the season, swimmers only tend to go fast enough to qualify for the NCAA’s exclusively at meets when they have tapered.

As a result, swimmers are not expected to be at their fastest for in-season meets like the Show-Me Showdown. That doesn’t mean we can give less than our best effort, though. In-season meets are typically much more physically demanding than meets we have tapered for, because we come into the meet tired but are still asked to swim our fastest and do what it takes to win races. Throw in the fact that this meet lasted five hours, and it can be difficult to get especially pumped up to swim.

However, like other sports, competition is a welcome break from practice. Even though we are all hurting coming in, the first meet is exciting because it’s our first chance to see how the last six weeks of training have helped us. The team comes together to cheer one another on and we finally get to compete against someone other than our teammates.

The Show-Me Showdown was an invitational, with swimmers from multiple teams participating. Most of our in-season meets are dual meets, with just one opponent. (We do have one dual meet in November with four teams participating, but it’s still considered a dual meet because it is scored as three separate meets for us).

Meets are scored by assigning point values to each finishing position in every event. In most dual meets, there are 13 individual events and three relays. However, the Show-Me Showdown only had eight individual events. Then there are championship meets, which usually span three to five days and have 13 individual events and five relays. Unlike in-season meets, individual events are swum twice at championship meets — once in the morning by everyone, and then by the top 16 or 24 qualifiers (depending on the meet) at night in finals.

So swim meets are complicated. There are even more meet formats for high school, club and international competition, but I won’t get into those. Maybe the lack of a uniform format is what is holding swimming back from taking off as a spectator sport. Or it could be the fact that only a couple meets each year really matter, or that the ones that do last for multiple days.

Regardless, all swim meets, even the Show-Me Showdown, play an important role in our season. They allow us to practice racing and experiment with different pre-race routines to ensure that we will be ready when the championship meets arrive. Most importantly, they give us a chance to come together as a team and have some fun.

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