How to break the mould? How to crack the cycle: Olympic Games, World Championships, vast global audience: and in between, back to minority moments in the grand scheme of world sport?
Questions many in swimming have asked down many a long year. No easy answers but while Stephan Caron asks questions yet, the French Olympic medallist with Scottish roots is keen to get some answers up in lights. This September he will put his vision on the line alongside a fabulous cast of world swim stars at a €1m aquatic extravaganza in Singapore.
The show-stopper in the midst of three days of aquatic fest – which will include an open water challenge and clinics designed to spark the swim gene in children – will be a 100m freestyle fight featuring Olympic champion Nathan Adrian, the man he pipped by 0.01sec for gold at London 2012, against World Champion James Magnussen.
Anthony Ervin, Olympic Champion at 19 in 2000 and a World Champion a year later, and others who have stood on the biggest podiums in the sport, including Eamon Sullivan, Fabien Gilot, Roland Schoeman and Vladimir Morozov. Florent Manaudou remains a possible, a final decision to be made when his Berlin European Championships campaign is done in August.
Then there’s Daniel Gyurta, Christian Sprenger, Brittany Elmslie, Jeanette Ottessen, Ruta Meilutyte and Rikke Pedersen. The size of gun is fairly obvious.
Stars, the stage, the sensational setting and supertroupers are all in place but something is missing. Caron, the experience of a post-swim City of London high finance career guiding him, comes clean in an interview with SwimVortex: there’s a hole my budget.
Towels are not for throwing in, as any swimmer worth his or her salt will tell you – they’re for chucking in a bucket before you leap on your blocks ready for battle. These days, the 100m freestyle bronze medallist at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, silver medallist the 1986 World Championships (only Biondi ahead) and European Champion of 1985 is more starter with a megaphone in hand:
Calling all headline sponsors out there – top billing on the billboard, your name in lights alongside the sprint kings and queens as the action is broadcast to 55 nations – all for just €300,000.
In the grand scheme of things, that’s peanuts. And that’s the point that cuts to the chase of what Caron is trying to achieve. He explains:
“Swimming is probably at a tipping point. Perhaps we’re where athletics and tennis was 20 years ago. We have world and regionally famous athletes and swimming achieve record-breaking views during the Olympics and World Championships but that attention drops off dramatically between those two events.”
The question he asks is: “How do we sustain that attention, tap into its energy.” The sport lacks a Diamond League, an ATP Tour, both high quality events, he notes. Swimming has its in-between highlights, too, such as the World Cup, “but what a lot of people say is that in swimming there are just too many events and its all too complicated” to hold the gaze of any but the dedicated fan.
Swimming, to hold that deeper gaze, needs to think outside its goggles. Nothing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) in mind, history offers us a reminder that swimming and aquatics as entertainment beyond the traditional race day is one way of keeping the lights on in between blockbusters.
Take Billy Rose’s Aquacade: when it moved to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, it was the most successful production of the whole extravaganza. An Art Deco 11,000-seat amphitheatre was built at the north end of Meadow Lake, designed by architects Sloan Robertson no less, with shows staged by John Murray Anderson and orchestrated by Ted Royal. The pool and the 300- by 200-ft stage was hidden at times behind a floodlit 40-ft curtain of water.
The stars of Aquacade included Johnny Weissmuller [Photo courtesy of ISHOF], Buster Crabbe, Eleanor Holm, Gertrude Ederle and Esther Williams [Photo: estherwilliams.com]. Household names back then, when swimming was new. It was glamourous stuff: even at a time of war, the 1940 Aquacade was staged in San Francisco at the Golden Gate International Exposition. In 1955, Duke Ellington played at the bash for several weeks. Imagine that.
It was of its time. Caron is living in his. “We wanted to keep it simple, bring it down to a tighter focus. Get rid of heats – the swimmers don’t like heats anyway. The focus in the pool is on 50s and 100s: its a sprint meet and a very attractive show: We will take time to present the swimmers [a light and sound show in the mix] … none of that is very revolutionary. We want to innovate a little but not lose what swimming is about. The Duel in the Pool did a good job with that.”
Mirth hanging on his words, Caron adds: “The highlight will be the 100m freestyle … yes, I’m a little bit biased there. The best line-up is what we want.” He barely pauses before he asserts:
“We want this to be the best event after the Olympic Games and the World Championships. We’ll focus on the 100m this time and build up from there.”
The budget is a challenge, with Olympic and World medallist granted automatic right to an engagement fee, all travel paid, five-star hotel waiting at journey’s end. The total prize money is $150,000, with the winners of the showcase events earning up to $10,000 for a win.
Backers of the event include Speedo and Coca-Cola, while Singapore has found a perfect fit for its world-class facilities and ambitions to be seen as a sports destination wedded to excellence and entertainment.
FINA stages its Aquatics Convention next December, part of the aim to seek ways of keeping the lights in between blockbusters. Caron, who believes that discussion is needed urgently when it comes to the clutter of a race calendar that leaves little room for new ideas and events, says that the Singapore event is not intended as competition to FINA but as a complimentary world, one which the international federation may well wish to tap into one day.
“Year one is a bit of an experiment but we hope that we can prove the case that the popularity of aquatic sports can be maintained at a high level away from [Olympic and Worlds],” said Caron. “We want to demonstrate that there is a need to for these kind of events.”
For any interested in supporting the venture as headline naming sponsor, contact Stephan Caron via Linked In .
Alternatively, mail firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on how to contact Caron and team to discuss partnership.
For more information about the project, Caron and fellow organisers and the event and programme:
Swimming"s Singapore Sling As Caron & Co Keep The Lights On Between ...