are young swimmers juiced?

As I am an authority on youth sports due to my unparalleled recreational swim coaching success, I am often contacted by the sporting media. And recently, the sporting media wants to know just one thing: Are today's young swimmers juiced?

Swimmers are bigger and faster than they were a generation ago. Why, in just the last decade, many of the sport's most hallowed marks have fallen, from Alexander Popov's 100 meter freestyle time to Mary T. Meagher's 100 butterfly record. Youth recreational sports are no different, as the Contra Costa County records for 13-14 Girls' backstroke and butterfly fell last year, as well as the "unbreakable" 11-12 Boys' butterfly mark. Clearly, this goes beyond advances in swimsuit technology or better training methods. No, these kind of marks require some chemical enhancement.

To a trained professional like myself, the signs can be obvious. You see a nine year old boy come to practice in May six inches taller than he was the previous August, and alarm bells go off in your head. That's not the only red flag. Kids dropping six, seven seconds on a 50 freestyle. Thirteen year olds towering over their twelve year old counterparts. Girls eating entire bags of Gummy Worms and not gaining weight. Let's face it: The drug culture of professional sports has affected even the formerly-pristine world of age-group swim competition.

Sure, I've heard the excuses. "Billy lost a lot of baby fat." "Johnny learned to do a flip turn." "Growth spurts are perfectly understandable for pre-adolescents, particularly those active in sports." To which I say, peddle your sunshine somewhere else, Pollyanna.

I don't blame the kids, really. In the past, kids would be satisfied with doing their best, and having fun. No longer. There's pressure from the parents, who want results for their swim lesson dollar. They don't like buying Capri Suns for losers. There's pressure from the sponsors, like Speedo and TYR. When Nike signs a five year-old to a six-figure endorsement deal, that kid had better touch with two hands on his breastroke. Perhaps most importantly, there's pressure from the other kids. As one unnamed 7-8 boy told me, "Coach Sean, you don't get the bitches by swimming on the B relay."

Usually, it's a gradual thing, with the performance enhancements. You'll see a kid chugging a Coke twenty minutes before their race, and you know they're on their way to trouble. Pretty soon they're eating Pixie Stix and drinking Mountain Dew, desperate to get a caffeine-and-sugar-high edge on the competition. Those are the kids who will be listening when a stranger offers them something to "put a little distance on that streamline." Though I haven't seen any shooting up, all those Pokemon band-aids have to be hiding something.

No one but Coach Sean is willing to blow the whistle on it, because there's too much snack bar money at stake. Just remember who was willing to tell the truth at the end of the summer, when the County backstroke champion gets disqualified for having a Speedo full of cork.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on June 26, 2003 1:39 PM.

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