The meeting at London Aquatics Centre was the sixth of the seven meetings that comprise the ISL’s inaugural season. The league involves teams of 24 (12 men and 12 women) competing in short-course sprint, relay and skins races for team points. There are play-offs and finals, individual and club prize money, as well as appearance money for clubs.
The league consists of eight teams – four from Europe and four from the USA – though there are plans to expand the league next season to 12 sides, with two further teams from both Europe and the USA and the series running from September to April as opposed to the current season of October to December. Despite the teams being based on two continents not all the swimmers are American or European; the teams comprise of swimmers from all over the world.
ISL’s founder, owner and financial backer Konstantin Grigorishin has said he is investing more than £17m in the new venture and a zero-tolerance policy on drugs has been widely welcomed. No swimmer who has ever tested positive for banned substances has been allowed to sign up, and there is also equal prize money for men and women.
Grigorishin has said “the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and international federations … don’t respect athletes, they don’t consider them like partners”. He says the new league is about “putting power back into the hands of athletes … championing the right of professional swimmers to make [the] living they deserve, and to have a greater say in the way their sport is run”.
The ISL wants to make its events media-friendly, achieve a viewing audience of at least 100 million people over five years, attract sponsors, bring an entertainment component, and work on fan engagement, including merchandising.
It’s about how we target ourselves to a new audience and how we grow the sport because swimming is one of the most watched sports at the Olympics. We need to fill that gap between every four years and make it every winter and every season – whatever it takes – Adam Peaty of London Roar
Duncan Scott, Adam Peaty and James Guy, British members of the London Roar team, warm up before racing.
A London Roar swimmer training and Belarus’s Ilya Shymanovich of the Energy Standard team, practices his breaststroke despite being heavily strapped up. Members of the London Roar team, including Cate Campbell and Adam Peaty, do a question and answer session for a local club that had to cancel its usual training time in the pool to make room for the Roar training before the International Swimming League meeting.
The Aqua Centurion team, wearing identical suits to keep warm, perform a routine as they are introduced to the crowd (top). Waiting in the call room before the women’s 100m butterfly are Energy Standard’s Sarah Sjöström of Sweden (centre) the current Olympic 100m butterfly champion and multiple world record holder, next to teammate Anastasiya Shkurdai of Belarus (left) and Marie Wattel of France and London Roar. Cate Campbell of London Roar walks out to compete with teammate Emma McKeon (right).
The league’s seven swimming meets take place in seven cities around the world. The regular season started in October has seen action in Indianapolis, Lewisville and Maryland in the United States, Budapest in Hungary and Naples in Italy ahead of this meet in London, the final meet of the regular season.
Each team competes three times during the season, twice in regular competition against fellow teams followed by a “derby match” (of which the London event was one) against their regional rivals. The top two European teams secure a place in the finals in Las Vegas in December.
Members of London Roar and Team Iron wait for their races (above), Anton Chupkov a Russian swimmer for Energy Standard team walks out in front of Great Britain’s Adam Peaty of London Roar for the men’s 200m breaststroke ( left) and Ranomi Kromowidjojo of Holland and Team Iron adjusts her goggles before competing in the women’s 100m butterfly (right).
The start of the mens 200m backstroke (top) and members of the London Roar team including captain Cate Campbell of Australia (centre) start a thunder clap to support their team in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay.
Adam Peaty of London Roar competing in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay, a stroke he’s never competed in before. The 50m and 100m breaststroke world record holder had mixed fortunes in those events – winning the 100m breaststroke, continuing his six-year run of unbroken victories in that distance but coming fourth in the 50m race. “Don’t get me started on that 50m,” he said. “You make a mistake in the 50m, especially short-course, and you are out of the game. I made two or three mistakes. It’s the first time in a long time that I have come fourth but it’s good for the sport and me. When I lose, I come back faster.”
Guilherme Guido of Brazil and London Roar starts the backstroke leg of the men’s 4x100m medley relay (left), Chad le Clos of South Africa, the Energy Standard captain, dives in to start the men’s 100m butterfly (right) and spray flies as the women start their 100m backstroke race (below).
With the races coming thick and fast there is little recovery time for the racers. Duncan Scott, from Scotland and London Roar, looks exhausted as he climbs out of the pool after the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay.
Back to back racing means lot of races taking place in a short amount of time, so tactics come into play as coaches swap their lineups around during the evening. Below Emma McKeon gets some post race advice from David Lush, one of the Roar coaching team, before she heads off to prepare for her next race.
Margherita Panziera from Italy and the Aqua Centurion team, though given her tattoo maybe she should have been appearing for London Roar (above), and Max Litchfield of GB and Energy Standard competes in the backstroke leg of the men’s 400m individual medley.
Adam Peaty, above chanting with his London Roar teammates, said: “I think London smashed it. This is one of the main markets because we are so passionate about sport. It is appealing for that younger audience: straight action, no heats, everything at risk and hopefully this is the start to build proper profiles for these athletes. Without the fans you have got nothing and swimming is a sport for everyone.”
Many of the swimmers at the London event talked about how they absolutely loved being part of this revolution in their sport despite many of them being in the middle of hard blocks of training (always the focus is on the Olympics) and how they are loving being part of a team instead when they usually compete as individuals.
The Women’s 200m butterfy was won by Hungary’s triple Olympic gold medallist Katinka Hosszu, of Team Iron, in a time of 2:03.94 (above). Freya Anderson of Great Britain and the Italian Aqua Centurions team, high fives teammates after competing in the women’s freestyle skins race (right).
Minna Atherton from Australia of London Roar celebrates after victory in the women’s 100m backstroke.
Chad le Clos’s hat-trick of victories in the men’s 200m butterfly (above), 100m butterfly and men’s 4x100m medley relay contributed to his award of the match’s MVP (most valuable player) beating his teammate Sarah Sjostrom by half a point. Their efforts helped Energy Standard triumph over London Roar. The result means that just days before Christmas both teams will head to the final in Las Vegas alongside US-based squads LA Current and Cali Condors in a competition that will hand out more than £3m to swimmers.
Le Clos, below being carried by his team, was back at the venue where he so memorably beat Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly final at the London 2012 Olympics. “It was a really emotional night,” said the South African. “I think any other pool and I would probably have lost that race. I was holding back the tears coming out. Remembered the same sensations, with Phelps behind me. It was special – a bit of destiny.”
London are such a great team and they’re going to add a lot more strength and depth to their field for Vegas. But, we were confident in our strategy, I didn’t change my tactics once, and we’ve got a great team – Energy Standard head coach James Gibson
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