Athletes supported by generous endorsements are able to swim well past their college years.
For a former Olympic swimmer like Glenn Mills, a member of the 1980 United States swimming team, Peirsol’s assets are almost beyond comprehension. “When we swam, it was questionable if we could even lifeguard, because that would be using our skill to make money,” he says. In the end, Mills says, he quit swimming because “you couldn’t earn any money in it."
Today, there is enough money for the top athletes to make the sport a comfortable career. In contrast to the days when swimmers could rarely continue beyond college, the three American gold medalists on Tuesday morning were all repeat Olympians well past their college days.
Both Peirsol, winner and world-record setter in the 100-meter backstroke, and Michael Phelps, winner and world-record setter in the 200-meter freestyle, are three-time Olympians. Women’s 100-meter backstroke winner, Natalie Coughlin, is in her second Summer Games. In all, six American swimmers are in at least their third Games.
“The whole dynamic has changed,” says John Lohn, a columnist for Swimming World magazine. And what has changed the most is sponsorship money.
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