In the water, Mathias was pumping his fist and yelling. Clearly he was excited, but the crowd was silent. It was the 2014 Danish Open, and he had just broken a National record, only no announcement. A few seconds later, the stuttering announcer tripped over a few words alerting the crowd to the swim.
When I announce the the 117th edition of the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships next weekend, this is the kind of moment I will be desperately trying to avoid. I first got a chance to announce the meet seven years ago, for Floswimming 1.0 with Garrett McCaffrey. Now I'm back, older and wiser and reflecting on what it takes to do a great job announcing a swim meet.
First, with all apologies to one man announcing crews who do the impossible, announcing a swim meet is really a two person job. Like any other sports, you need two things: play-by-play, and color.
The play-by-play person is there to make sure everyone watching the meet can follow the action. They will announce who is swimming in what lane, what team they are from, and who got their hand on the wall first. They can also announce awards, spots for finals and generally act as the traffic cop of the meet.
This is an incredibly important job, even at meets where some of the same information is provided via the scoreboard and heat sheets. A running commentary allows people who just tuned in or entered the building to get into the competition right away.
I will not be doing that job- for that I will have my colleague Luke Ryan.
The color is meant to provide context to what is happening. We know someone swam and touched in a certain time- was it a big improvement? Are they on pace during the race for something big? How do certain results affect the team race? The color person creates a narrative for the meet and adds knowledge that is not obvious to the crowd.
For swimming, our most well-known combo is Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines, who have announced the last six Olympics games for NBC sports. Hardcore swimming people love to hate these two- primarily because they know more than the context Gaines provides (most of the audience, however, does not).
There is room for an argument that Gaines should do more to educate the casual fan, that he could reference which side a freestyler is breathing too a little less and explain more of the tactics to the folks back home. After all, fans of other sports have come to like increasingly insightful commentary in their own sport.
Can I pull it off? Give the meet a watch and find out! I've been preparing detailed notes for weeks so I can do my part with Luke to add to the meet experience for swimmers and fans.