Van Den Hoogenband Comeback: Less Is More, Round II

Pieter Van Den Hoogenband is campaigning to save Ranomi Krowowidjojo's sport from sinking under the weight of events

Pieter Van den Hoogenband, known as the Eindhoven Express on his way to the swim Pantheon, sets the sprint cat among the mid-distance pigeons in his newspaper column in The Netherlands today; three-times Olympic champion calls for halving of the swim program to save the sport in which the likes of Dutch ace Ranomi Krowowidjojo thrives – and he takes to task officials who fail to look beyond the walls they built

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Pieter Van den Hoogenband, known as the Eindhoven Express on his way to the swim Pantheon, sets the sprint cat among the mid-distance pigeons in his newspaper column in The Netherlands today; three-times Olympic champion calls for halving of the swim program to save the sport in which the likes of Dutch ace Ranomi Krowowidjojo thrives – and he takes to task officials who fail to look beyond the walls they built


Bart Drechsel

I for one agree with Pieter van den Hoogenband. The events he proposes to scrap aren’t the most spectacular events anyway. It also seems that none of these events have true specialists, with almost all champions on the 200 meters butterfly and backstroke being very skilled in individual medley or the shorter distance of the same stroke and 400 and 800m winners being very skilled in either the 200m or the 1500m.


I agree with some of his points, but not all. While the programme could use trimming, I’m not completely convinced of the ‘no one cares about strokes other than freestyle’ argument. It seems to me that the key is to make the events distinct from each other with separate skill sets and training approaches, so if I was going to reduce the programme, apart from scrapping the daft mixed relays, I would be more inclined to keep say the 50 and 200 of each stroke as they are much more distinct than the 100 and 200 of strokes (although even there, in fact in Barcelona there weren’t that many gold medallists in a 200 event who also won the corresponding 100).

I’d probably go for 50, 200 of strokes, and 50, 200, and 800 or 1500 free. That should cut down ‘medal inflation’ quite nicely.

Bart Drechsel

You cant drop the 100 meters. They are the most spectacular races


Personally I think that this is a great idea on paper. I like a lot of his points

I disagree about keeping worlds and Olympics the same. There is no need, and I think having fewer events at the Olympics makes it more special than worlds, where there are a plethora of events for each specialist. The Olympics would be restricted to the most highly contested and traditional events

I personally think the 1964 Games had the best schedule (for men). All 3 relays, stroke 200s, 100, 400, 1500 and 400 IM. Maybe a little distance heavy but if you had to pick those would be some of the best 10 events to choose.

The one problem with Hoogie’s suggestions is that we’ve already done he larger schedule for so long that it’s not something you can really change. People aim for Phelps’ 8 golds. Would you want to make the record absolutely unattainable (though Phelps’s theoretical Hoogie hall of 6 golds would still be pretty dang impressive)? I think the fact that we’e already included those events for so long makes it really hard to say “nope, no gold medal for you Daniel Gyurta” or the people who do the excluded events


Taking away some of the longer events might have its benefits in terms of media coverage, but i do not agree that it would be any more entertaining.
Swimming has evolved into a thrilling sport for all, with many swimmers becoming household names worldwide. No 200 butterfly, no magical moments like seeing Phelps dominate for years, or seeing the young pretender Chad Le Clos become the king. No king of the sprint medley, No more Egerszegi moments on 200 back (record that stood for a long period of time, out of this world). Without a wide spread of events, training schedules would be changed, and swimming as a means of physical and mental edurance would be compromised. you would lose your superstars able to get up and race in multiple events.
It would be a shame for me personally


OK, I don’t really want to lose 100s either, but I was just putting out there to make a point 🙂

I just think if you want to increase interest, making even more of the events the same doesn’t seem to be the way to go. If 90% of the events are freestyle, isn’t there even more chance of them being dominated by one or two swimmers? Don’t they look even more the same to the uninitiated observers, the ones we want to attract to the sport? I like the fact that the different stroke events give chances to swimmers of different sizes and physiques. Not everyone is built to be a world class sprint freestyler. I personally like watching say breaststroke and seeing the differences in technique and build between the pure sprint specialists and the endurance athletes, and the physically gifted who can straddle both. It would be a shame to lose that I think and end up with a sport where non-freestylers are increasingly marginalised.


This is about as foolish of comments as i have ever read. He is urging exclusion of phenominal athletes and great events. He really is coming off as a snob. I doubt anyone who won a 50 meter medal ever thought of it as ‘chocolate’. He is not only suggesting discrimination against athletes who have athletic abilities in short sprints but also in mid-distance (200’s and 400). And he throws in age discrimination also. And when i go to big meets that are only 1.5 hours I always think they are far too short. An hour program? Maybe he doesn’t have much of an attention span…but those interested in swimming are likely fine with a 1.5 to 2 hour program. He doesn’t even really know much about timekeeping. Where was he with the Phelps 100 m fly issue in 2008? It is far more complex than just timing to the 1000th of a second. Wow, maybe this was all in jest?

I have suggested going the other way. In track they allow many other world record distances and world best distances besides the Olympic program. I say expand to an 800 IM and 800 medley relay. We have 200 stroke specialists so why not allow them a chance to compete also. We should be about inclusion and not exclusion.

Thank goodness this guy has little influence over these matters.

Craig Lord

JMAN. You make your points well. The last one, though, is mistaken: he may not have the ear of FINA, LEN, his federation… but h does have the ear of some who will vote at IOC level – and in the IOC there is no appetite at all for adding events. If anything, the opposite is true.

Personally, I think Pieter’s suggested cut a cut too far but I think the sport has moved too far in the opposite direction to make the most of the assets it does have and the sport laves itself vulnerable to the often-expressed charge at IOC level (on that carries weight in the decision-making process) that somehow multi-medal results are ‘too easy’. Of course, we all know that no Olympic title ever came ‘easy’ in swimming but should there come a time when swimming must decide which events to keep and which to lose at the Olympic Games (and you can count on that happening at some stage as and when requsts for new events are lodged), it is a good thing for swimming to have had the debate and have thought it all through. As such, Pieter’s views, while many will agree and many with vehemently disagree are part of a process of telling a sport that just moved to a 46-event programme well beyond its Olympic program to stop and have a think about the pros and cons of its decisions.


Thanks Craig. While i am in no way in favor of his ideas, i do not advocate shutting anyones voice. My comment on little influence is that he is not on the FINA board. I’m guessing the FINA board did not make their decision in haste.

I really hate the politics and money of sport…but they are a necessary evil and not going away. But I’d rather move toward expanding and allowing anyone with specific athletic gifts the opportunity to compete. What i noticed about Pieter’s list is that he would not have been affected back in his day. Think of all the greats that would never have been at the Olympics if his system were used. It would be an interesting list.


I agree with points 3, 4,7,8,9,10

How about abolishing the semi finals ?


I agree on many of his points (scrap records, fire old senile men ruling the Fina board like a football club, more advertising and better marketing of the sport, …)

BUT I absolutely disagree that freestyle is the stroke the most spectacular.
Where was Pieter for the 200 fly in London ??? maybe in retrospec one of the most amazing races in a decade, the passing of relay from one champion to the other and the exact opposite of arguably one of the best race of the beijing games when phelps beat cavic !

Did he see Missy swim ?? or Ledecky or sun yang !! or melyutite or hoznu or the new guys in the long medley, ryan in the short, …..

Really I like freestyle but the other strokes are just as good !!

But I agree all 50’s could be scrapped as it’s more a lotery and power game than real swimming skills.
We could also scrap either the 800 or 1500. and only have the mixed relays at worlds.

But a 32 strong event program for the olympics is essential !!

anywayz he might have an extreme view but I’d rather follow him than the nutjob that currently rules (and nearly destroyed) our sport !! But Pieter if you read me lol quit this freestyle addiction please =)


Yes, let’s give federations an easy excuse to fund fewer professional swimmers who have limited sponsorship opportunities compared to many other sports. Brilliant!


50 not being real swimming skills is harsh..

Mastering the best start underwaters and fastest recovery and taking the most of each movement at a crazy speed is not skill?

And as “race of the decade” the 200 free and 400 free from 2004 beats all of them..

Craig Lord

Josh: semis, yes… thy make the program longer than it needs to be and in most cases add nothing to the story that we didn’t already know

Craig Lord



How about getting rid of semis for 200m events? I always thought that was asking a lot of 200m racers, specially multi event racers like Coutts.
So many swimmers and countries don’t take 50s seriously (like Australia for the last Worlds) I would not really miss them.


this is related but not the exact topic, but it was brought up by JMAN

I think they should keep track of WRs in more events than they do, even if they don’t include them in the Olympic or even worlds program. Look at track: they have the 800, 1000, 1500, mile, 2000, 3000 and 5000 just for middle distance running. Of course it would be beyond redundant to have the 800 and 1000 at the same meet, or the 1500 and mile so the official Olympic and Worlds events are just the 800, 1500 and 5000.

If swimming wants to branch out they should ratify new records in new events. The fastest time from 2014 in each event becomes the world record on Jan 1 2015 and then it the time to beat. I would suggest 800 IM, 400s of stroke, 200 relays of long course and short course, 800 medley relay, 1600 free relay and maybe event sprint relays of each stroke. It’s possible to expand the sport without handing out a medal to each and every country that could stand to be best in that event for a year

Craig Lord

Yes, there are lots of interesting things that could be done without swelling championship programs.


If an event had to be scrapped, it has to be the 50 free or the 4×200 free.

50 free (or strokes) works ideally in SCM and is really spectacular, but for general spectators, in LCM it’s just an event that is hard to watch. Although 100 m track&field dash is even much shorter, it is much easier to see/watch for spectators.

and cutting down 4×200 free would also cut down the number of swimmers, which should appease IOC (as in the case of 50 free too).

Also, make both genders to swim either 800 or 1,500 (historically, 1,500 wins). I thought this was in the discussion the past two olympics?

HOWEVER, as a longtime swimfan, of course I’d prefer NONE is scrapped and even want some other events to be added in 🙂 But I need to be realistic.


Scrapping 50 free is an interesting suggestion. However I think that race is one of the best and most entertaining. Sprint specialists are still amazing athletes. Yes, it is a lottery event, but also tactical, and skillful. To be the best on the day requires quick reaction, precision starts, perfectly executed breakouts, perfect technique (the smallest mistake can cost you), concentration, and a great finish. Not to mention nerves of steel. They might not put as many hours in the pool, but they still dedicate a lot of time and effort to creating the full package. Many great results come from those 50 swims (including pieter’s 22.0 in 2000)


50 free may be skillful, but “tactical”???

how would you employ “tactic” in 50 free when its start as powerful as you can, swim splash as fast as you can and hoping your hand touch the pad faster than everyone else.

Giorgio Battistello

Well… 1600 free relay – say 4×400 free. Tell us how many countries in the world have a decent portential to have four top 400 swimmers. This is a USA minded proposal.

While I do agree on some proposals (erase hichtech records, have “younger” people on the FINA Bureau), I think that our friend Pieter has no idea of worldwide swimming and budgets. The task of Federations is to have as many people as possible to jion swimming. Less medals = more difficult to win = less winners = less candidates = less swimmers = less budgets.


“rafael” , you can’t be serious in trying to argue that a 50 is more skillfull and requires to be a better swimmer than a 1500 for example ! 50 swimmers are mainly big, have a lot of power and explositvity. I’m not saying they can’t swim of course but if a choice has to be made, I ‘d go for the scrapping of 50’s !

and regarding the race of the decade. 2004 400m was a done deal same as 200m as soon as thorpey didn’t false started, no suspens. 200 fly in 2012 and 100 fly in 2008 had a LOT of suspens … A lot of big names don’t make a race, but big names and big suspens make a race big !



In 2004 the mens 400 was a VERY interesting race in my opinion. It starred the 2 fastest 400 swimmers ever (at that point) Hackett and Thorpe. Thorpe had controversially been allowed to swim after he false started at Aussie trials, but the race was be no means a lock. Many speculated that this would be a close event, since Thorpe was focusing less and less on the 400 and more and more on the 100, while Hackett remained unbeatable over the 1500

In the prelims Thorpe qualified 6 seconds over his WR and just narrowly ahead of Hackett. The race looked like it would be a showdown and it was. Thorpe won by a few tenths, and two national records were set, including Klete Keller dropping the AR to 3:44 for the bronze



Not necessarily tactical in the sense of swimming the actual race, but in terms of bravado, mind games, best lanes for seeding (not always the middle lanes). The word tactical just means that something was planned carefully. a 50 might be tactical in the sense that all the training and the practice over the years gets done in such a routine that the race does not become splish splash, but rather a combination of raw power and technique.
your comment however does make sense the way you have said it, and it is a view shared by many.


I agree with PDVH on his statement: “less is more”. However, my approach would be saving as many events as possible by differentiating the schedules of short course and long course championships. This might be also a good way to improve the prestige of the short course championships if it were the only place to claim the title for certain events.

As for relays the schedule at the European Championships in Berlin next year went too far. There are too many of them. I’d give mixed relays a try at the highest level but not by adding them on top of current ones but by replacing one of the original ones with a mixed version, resulting in actually fewer relays. As we are getting used to and more experienced in mixed relays, based on what I’ve seen, I’d also restrict mixed relays to freestyle.


And I also agree with Hoogie on point 4. I’ve nothing against experienced people but it may be an issue if these kind of international governing bodies became as a life-time positions for some people. Maybe certain positions should be restricted to one term only.

Maybe a some kind of voting system on internet would be a good way to hear swimmers, or other groups concerned, on issues of their interest.

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