Frontward, backward, and awkward - swimming at the Olympics
Swimming has been at the modern Olympics since the beginning - 1896. But, back then it was just the freestyle at various distances, as it should be. Why do we have four different disciplines? The freestyle (which is ALWAYS done as a front crawl), the butterfly, the breaststroke, and the backstroke are the four races competed over various distances and with various medley relays. In the running races, do we have a 100m sprint forwards, backwards, side-shuffle, and hopping? Of course not, that would be ludicrous. So why do we tolerate it in swimming? There should be one way to get there and it's the fastest way - the front crawl.
My best stroke was always the breast stroke. It looks quite graceful. The breaststroke is a great way to get around the lake or pool without getting your face in the water with every stroke. That comes in handy for those who are not wearing goggles. It's evolved into a sophisticated dog-paddle, if you will. But, it's slow. Much slower than the other strokes. The 100m record for breaststroke is about ten seconds slower than the front crawl. It would be the equivalent of the 100m prance in Track. Good-bye breaststroke.
While simply swimming from A to B, I've been known to do the backstroke. Three things about the backstroke - you can't see behind you to know when to stop, very easy to go off course, and it's also much slower than the front crawl - about five seconds over 100m. Again though, your face stays out of the water. Still, we don't conduct any races backwards in Track. Out with the backstroke.
The butterfly is simply ridiculous. Has anyone ever swum the butterfly on a voluntary basis? Double overhead swings designed to destroy your shoulder socket, combined with the rarely used dolphin-kick. Again, slower than the front crawl by about three seconds over 100m, and it looks way more tiring. So it's both slow and inefficient. Time to scrap the butterfly. It is way too awkward of a stroke to both perform and to watch.
Now, the one discipline I would add is having the races underwater. Because that really is a faster way to travel in the water. Breaking the surface increases drag significantly. They actually have to limit how far swimmers go underwater. Instead, they should make the race as two or four lengths, all underwater with a mandatory breath at each turn. You and I may not be able to do it, but Olympic swimmers can easily travel 50m underwater. Now, it would suck to watch, because everyone would be underwater, but it would be a better test of swimming skill than the other three strokes.
What all the swimming strokes have done is contribute to a bloated Summer Olympics. In London, there are 950 athletes competing in thirty-four events, which means 102 medals will be awarded. Soccer, sorry football, has over 500 players but just six medals up for grabs. No country can win more than two, while the U.S. already has sixteen medals in the Pool, with many more to come. Time to end the over-representation of swimming at the Olympics. All the same distances, but just front crawl, underwater, and relays.