Once the fastest swimmer on the planet, Rowdy Gaines remains one of the swimming world's most popular personalities. The 8-time NCAA champion and 11-time world record holder won three Olympic gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games before stepping into the broadcast booth as a television commentator.
In November, 2008, Rowdy joined Olympian Aaron Peirsol at the Inaugural Race for the Oceans Open Water Weekend in Fort Meyers Beach, Florida, to benefit Oceana.org in its quest to protect the world's oceans. The event featured an open water swimming clinic hosted by Aaron and Rowdy, followed by 1K, 5K and relay open water races the next day.
Active talked to Rowdy before the event about Aaron's commitment to environmental protection, the recent Beijing Olympics and the future of open water swimming.
Active: What will your role be at the first Race for the Oceans event? Are you participating?
Rowdy Gaines: I'm actually doing the announcing from the beach, sort of the commentating as the participants come into the finish.
Have you done that before for races?
RG: I've done a couple open water events like that, and I've done some pool events as well. It's definitely something different being on the loudspeaker where everybody who can hear me is right there. Usually, I'm not aware of that on television. I don't feel so intimidated because nobody can see me. If I screw up on the beach people go "What did you just say?!?"
But it's obviously a great event and I'd walk on water for Aaron Peirsol.
How often do you get in the water now?
RG: I try to get in at least five days a week. Mostly at the pool, but I moved to a suburb of Orlando six months ago. My father has a beach house near Fort Myers. I go down there a lot and swim in the ocean quite a bit.
I think that's a big reason, from a water standpoint, for my success. I'm more comfortable in the water than I am on land. I grew up around the ocean. I'm a third generation Floridian. I just feel comfortable in the water.
With open water swimming now in the Olympics, do you foresee it becoming a bigger part of the swimming world, especially among young athletes?
RG: I think it's going to take some time. Whenever you have an event that is new to the Olympic program, it will take some time. Having said that, I really believe it has the chance to take off. In our country especially, there is so much shoreline and so many opportunities to get involved with open water swimming.
And it's fairly easy—you don't have to learn how to do flip turns. I know that sounds simplistic but it's something that people enjoy, especially in the summer. And because it's fun!
With most high school and collegiate swimmers now in season, do you see any benefits to swimmers accustomed to the pool stepping out of their comfort zones and trying open water races?
RG: Absolutely. One of the problems for distance swimming and open water swimming is the fact that there's not a lot of love shown for the average middle-distance and distance swimmer in college.
I say that because college swimming has gone so much toward sprinting now because of the relays. The relays count double in points. College coaches are much more likely to recruit an average sprinter compared to a good distance swimmer.
I think open water swimming will give a distance swimmer an opportunity to shine somewhere else other than swimming the 1,000 freestyle in a lonely dual meet in college. Though it's not going to be part of the collegiate program, obviously.