Obsolescence at sweet 16
Five years ago a woman swimming champion over 20 was a rarity. Today, in any of the finals, 18-year-olds are hard to find. As the records fall, the interval training workouts get longer and harder, but the girls keep getting younger. Why? Largely because it is what the girls—some girls at least—want to do. A mother at poolside in Philadelphia overseeing her daughter, a tidbit-sized 14-year-old, 4 feet 9 inches tall, ruefully observed, "I've tried to get her interested in other things, in dancing and tennis, but so far, no luck."
Quite beyond the zeal that any girl needs to work out lap after lap, swimming coaches now recognize something that few other coaches do: the growing human body will absorb a tremendous amount of physical work. The two-a-day and three-a-day swimming workouts that were considered out of line for college men 20 years ago are today eaten up by 12-year-old girls.
The competitors at a women's nationals today are a chattering and cheerful throng, dressed in shorts and skirts and above-the-knee muu-muus and any sort of outlandish getup. But in their cheerful presence there is always a touch of sadness. As one official watching the stream of youth at Philadelphia pointed out, "By the time the next Olympics rolls around, you may not see any of these girls. They come and go that fast."