Michael Phelps should be getting his thank-you note any day now.
Phelps’s dramatic performance at the Beijing Summer Games, where he won a record eight gold medals, surely drove USA Swimming’s 14.4 percent increase in male members in 2009 and the 11.2 percent bump in overall members.
The overall increase represented the largest one-year jump since numbers were first recorded in 1986 and the increase in males was the highest since the numbers were first broken down in 2000, the organization reported Wednesday.
USA Swimming now has 286,084 athlete members nationwide.
The organization has long sought to close the gap between male and female swimmers. In 2000, there were only 37.4 percent males; in 2008, that figure had climbed to 41.8 percent. This year, with the addition of 15,530 new male members for 123,158 total, the number has reached 43.05 percent.
The previous biggest jump in boys and men came after the 2004 Summer Games, when Phelps won six gold medals; male membership grew by 10.7 percent.
The overall increase in members is remarkable not only because it far surpassed the post-Olympic bumps seen previously, but also because it was recorded during an economic recession that has forced consumer restraint in many areas.
After the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, USA Swimming’s membership expanded by 7.2 percent. After the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, in which track star Marion Jones was the biggest U.S. star, membership grew by 4.9 percent.
The largest previous increase came after the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, when membership swelled by 10.1 percent.
“There is no doubt our sport has gained popularity over the last several years, and the awe-inspiring performances by our Olympic Team in Beijing certainly added to that effect,” USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said in a statement. “While we are excited by this success, we remain committed to working to share our sport with more and more people through exciting domestic events, impactful outreach programs and positive promotion for our sport.”
USA Swimming officials also noted that the organization saw a record high retention rate of members in 2009 — 73 percent — while adding 99 new clubs to bring the nation’s total to 2,679.
Tags: Michael Phelps