Authors: Muireann Duffy and Flavia Festa
Energy Standard captain Chad Le Clos is hopeful that his team can see themselves through the ISL European derby this weekend in London.
“We’re pretty confident, but we’re taking nothing for granted,” said Le Clos at the ISL’s press conference, with his team currently sitting top of the European table.
“I like to try and win every race, but it’s very tough here because there’s a lot of top guys, in my events especially, so you could easily win or come fifth,” added Le Clos.
Despite Energy Standard’s comfort in their position, team Iron will be out to disrupt the current standings at the expense of Le Clos’ side or London Roar.
Iron would need to place first in this weekend’s meet, but they would also need Energy Standard or London Roar to place last, an outcome which is not looking likely given the current form of both teams.
London Roar will also have home advantage in Queen Elizabeth Park, a place where the team’s co-captain Cate Campbell remembers fondly.
“I went and had a look at the Olympic pool for the first time since 2012 and all the memories just came flooding back,” said Campbell, who won gold with the Australian team in the 4x100m freestyle relay seven years ago.
“[Home advantage] always gives you a little lift, when you can hear the crowd roar and it’s a little bit more of an incentive to get your hand on the wall and score as many points as you can,” adds Campbell.
The teams are expecting an electric atmosphere at the sold-out London meet on Saturday and Sunday evening, and London Roar will have to make the most of the occasion to claim their ticket to Las Vegas as Campbell’s co-captain James Guy is well aware.
“It’s going to be hard because we’re missing a lot of our hard hitters, especially some of the lads, but we’ll do what we can, and try to get as many points on the board for the team to make it to that final,” said Guy.
The sixth meeting in the ISL’s maiden-season will decide which two European teams will face the already qualified American finalists, Cali Condors and LA Current.
The new competition format, despite some teething problems, has gone down very well with athletes, fans and sponsors alike, with discussions regarding the expansion of the league next year already underway.
Speaking in a press conference ahead of the weekend’s event, Iron co-captain, Katinka Hosszú said the league has been hugely beneficial for swimming.
“We are pushing the sport forward. If we keep doing the same things over and over again, we will definitely fall behind other sports.
“I think swimming is obviously a great sport for everyone, not just swimmers. That’s what we are trying to do, we are trying to promote swimming. We are hoping that we are moving forward and I think we are doing really well so far,” said Hosszú.
In the press conference, Hosszú also referenced the ongoing battle between the ISL, swimmers and the sport’s governing body, FINA who in the past attempted to block the new competition.
The ISL, dreamed up by Ukranian billionaire Konstantin Grigorishin, intended to give swimmers the opportunity to compete more often and to increase the presence of swimming on the annual sporting calendar, which FINA seemed to oppose.
In 2018, FINA urged their 209 federations not to cooperate with the ISL, stating that athletes who competed in the competition could face lengthily bans for rule infringement and all world records set at ISL events would be invalid.
Despite FINA’s resistance, a number of the sports’ most-prolific fans remained vocal advocates of the league, including Team GB’s Adam Peaty.
“I think what’s most important is the message we’re sending, someone stepped in and decided to grow the sport. I think swimming has been stuck in the same cycle for the past twenty, thirty, forty years and it is just not enough.
“It’s the perfect time for the sport, sport is changing. It’s great to be part of something big and special and have a whole calendar, from September to April,” said Peaty.
Luckily, FINA called off the witch-hunt.
Following legal action mounted by swimmers, including Hosszú, and the ISL, for anti-trust violations and anti-competitive conduct respectively, FINA announced that athletes were free to compete and would not face any penalties.
Adding insult to injury, FINA later decided that world records from ISL meets would be ratified, in order to “avoid further legal action and an escalation of the swimmers’ revolution,” according to a Swimming World source.
Having finally battled its way onto the competitive calendar and attracting sell-out crowds to events across Europe and the US, Grigorishin has his eyes set on where the league can go from here.
“I want to expand the ISL, that is the first step, because seven matches is not enough and eight clubs is not enough.
“Next season, we are planning to organize 27 matches for ten clubs. The season will start in the middle of September and will finish at the beginning of April.
“Each club will participate from ten to 12 matches, so it’s a much bigger competition. I think we need it, because if you want to have more exposure and to be on the [television] screen, we have to compete more often,” added Grigorishin.
The potential of an expanded calendar next season will be welcome news to swimmers, who will benefited from more competitions, according to Hosszú.
“Personally, I’ve been doing this for a few years and I know how much it has done for me and how much I have improved, because I’ve been racing a lot. I am happy that [other swimmers] are experiencing it now and I think swimming is going to be much faster and much better than it has ever been.
“I think a lot of swimmers have not been racing that much before, and they have to swim for the team, sometimes three or four times, and they see that they can do it and they gain confidence. Their fitness levels will be much higher than before and they are going to push swimming to a higher level than before,” concluded the Olympic gold medalist.
The ISL London meet will be televised on Eurosport 2 at 5pm on Saturday and Sunday and Sports Gazette will be keeping you up to date throughout the event on our social media channels.