Swimming in The Crawl

The Crawl is a thriller film produced by Sam Raimi. The films brings to fore aspects related to swimming and integrates it into the film.

The very first scene of the film “The Crawl” takes us to a swimming competition at the University of Florida, Gainesville. It’s a 400-m freestyle relay, and we get to know later that it is practice trials. Kaya Scodelario as Haley has determination writ over the face as she adjusts her cap/google and takes a stance on the diving board. In a flash she is in the water, the dive was excellent. She starts with a powerful underwater dolphin kick and has a good breakout. Her cadence is decent, and the arms follow a rhythmic pattern.

At the 50m mark, as she takes a tumble, she falls behind. The dolphin on the return is sad, and it seems her ATP is finished. She swims the 100 metres like Katie Ledecky when she should have done so like Sarah Sjostrom. She comes in second, is disturbed and recalls her childhood swimming days when her dad would coach her. “Remember, you are the Apex Predator,” he says in the flashback.

But that contention will severely be tested in the ensuing 90 minutes, as a category-five hurricane hits the Florida coast, and her dad is incommunicado. She decides to venture out in the storm to find her dad. After much struggle and search, she does find her dad Dave (played by Barry Pepper) in what is called a crawl space. Which is a small cellar space underneath the house, it has access to all water and electricity connections. When Haley finds her dad, he is blanked out and wounded. He has been attacked by an enormous alligator, that sneaked in from a nearby alligator farm and settled down in the crawl. As Haley retrieves her dad and tries to drag him out of the crawl, the exit is barred by a giant alligator that attacks them.

Barely escaping the gators, the father-daughter duo finds safety in a small confine bordered with steel pipes that blocks the gators from coming in.

Haley brings her father back to his senses, who is surprised to find her there. It’s apparent they don’t share the best of vibes. On knowing that she is coming from a swimming competition, the first thing that he asks her is her split timings. This is just one of the many instances that reveal how swimming is integrated into this thriller film. For example, time and again, we are reminded about the swimming talents of Haley, as her father urges her to dig deeper and stand firm in times of adversities. In doing so, we are taken to past, where Haley is competing in the races, and her dad is cheering on from the deck.

The crawl has its shares of typical thrills and chills, with the alligators gorging on any human that is available for a munch. Hurricane time is almost like a Superbowl event for them. The film is a reminder of the cult classic Jaws, to which it pays a smart little homage at the start. The film did well on the BO, and even the acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino called Crawl his favourite movie of the year 2019.

Yet, the reason the film stands out is because of its integration of swimming. There aren’t many films made on swimming, and some are downright boring like the Lady in the Water by M. Night Shyamalan. While this is not a film on the sports of swimming, it highlights it many ways. In one of the scenes, the father tells her daughter, “you are faster than the gators,” and she does that. Guess what, swimmers indeed are best suited for survival in these adverse conditions. Imagine is Haley played cricket, basketball, or even soccer, would any of it come handy in such life-and-death scenario.

By the way, the crawl is also the name of a swimming stroke. Freestyle as we call it — the face-down swimming with scissor kick — is called as the Front Crawl or at times the Australian crawl. That’s a little more swimming trivia for you.

Come to think of, would Jaws would have been more fun, if Amity Island’s police chief Martin Brody was an ace swimmer? I doubt that after all, even Michael Phelps falls short of the Great white, how would anyone else fair better. SO, I guess Haley should be thankful in a manner that her home was close to an alligator farm and not a shark-infested lagoon.

The Film is now available on Prime Video in India

Fairplay in Sports: Nike’s Vaporfly vs Tech Body-suits

The Nike Vaporfly Shoes controversy is reminiscent of the Fully-body suit controversy in swimming. Do such ‘innovations’ add to the sports, or bring it down?

The World Aquatics Championship held in Rome, Italy, in 2009, will be forever etched in the history of swimming. It would be a dubious reason why it will be remembered, though. It was the meet at which world records tumbled like there was no tomorrow. Forty-three world records were set at the tournament, out of 40 events. The shocking part was that in the women’s 50 fly event, the world record was broken twice in the space of 5 minutes. In the end, there was hardly anyone that was left. But this meet was not a congregation of swimming mutants. It was your everyday champions that were competing against each other. The difference wasn’t in the swimmers but what these champions were wearing. All the participants except three were wearing the superbuoyant polyurethane suits. The high-tech suits enabled the swimmers to bring their times down in an utterly unbelievable manner.

The best instance of this triumph of technology over talent was in the 200 Metre Freestyle men’s event. German Paul Biedermann not only defeated the reigning Olympian and champion Michael Phelps but also shattered his WR. Bidermann clocked 1.42.00 and shaved off almost a second from the earlier record of Phelps, which stood at 1.42.96. In this race, Phelps came in for silver at 1.43.22.

Guess what the difference was. Paul Biederman was wearing the Arena X-Glide, one of the polyurethane suits that turn the swimmers’ bodies into sleek kayaks. It enabled Biedermann to drop 4 seconds from his earlier best in Beijing Olympics. For comparison, it took Phelps four years to cut the same.

The World Championships were tarnished as a farce, so much so that the USA Swimming National Team Director Mark Schubert dubbed the event as a “plastic meet.”

The outcry forced the world-body for swimming, FINA, wake up and ban these plastic full-body suits.

It has been more than a decade since the Plastic Meet. But the debate over where the line lies between appropriate use of technology and misuse of it still rages on. The latest example is Nike Vaporfly shoes. These shoes have sent shock waves through the marathon circles, with competitors wearing these shoes dropping times, like never before. The shoes have a thick midsole and carbon-fiber plate and provide an extra spring to the runner.

The shoes debuted in the market in 2017, and have caused an upheaval of sorts. The five fastest official marathons ever have come in these shoes, all within the last two years. Two of the five fastest women’s marathons were also in Vaporfly. The Kenyan runner Kipchoge became the first person to run 26.2 miles in under two hour in 2019. The way the records have tumbled have caused an outcry, which forced the world body to review the shoes. As of now, the World Athletics has allowed the shoes to be used at the Tokyo Olympics and World Championships. But the ruling also carried a dissenting note. According to the body, there is “sufficient evidence to raise concerns that the integrity of the sport might be threatened by the recent developments in shoe technology.” The agency also issued a few restrictions on shoe construction and make.

The debate over the use of these super-light shoes is reminiscent of the debate over the use of hi-tech suits in swimming. While many hail these new products as innovation, others dub them as unethical and unfair.

The trouble with these innovations is that they make the games elitist and undemocratic; only the rich will be able to afford and win. Imagine an athlete that has spent 8-10 hours every day practicing hard for years. Only to be beaten by an individual who is not better or skilled, but is wearing a costly suit or a shoe. This is not only unfair to the sportsperson but also detrimental to the sports, as then athletes start taking their performance for granted.

What we need to adjudge in the Nike Vaporfly controversy is whether the shoe affords any advantage to the runner in terms of enhanced performance? According to Nike, it does almost 4.2%, which clear unevens the level-playing field. This compels the runners to go in for these shoes or risk losing races to other contestants wearing such footwear.

The sad part is not only the records such “innovations” engineers but that they stay on for generations. Take Paul Bidermann’s 200 Freestyle record; it still stands there mocking at all the swimmers who wish to attain greatness through merit and hard work.

And if you think that, one is being unfair to Bidermann. Well, post the ban on full-body suits, Bidermann was never able to achieve the heights again. In 2011, he finished 3rd, behind Phelps who was second. In the London Olympics in 2012, he finished 5th in the same event, and then in Rio 2016; he finished 6th. Obviously, without his suit, Bidermann was not the Super-hero. Meanwhile, the real super-hero Phelps won 4 Golds & 2 Silver in London 2012, and 5 Golds & 1 Silver in Rio 2016.

That should settle the debate. For good.