(Reuters) – A cavalcade of Olympic and world champions including Katie Ledecky, Florent Manaudou, Sarah Sjostrom and Chad Le Clos joined forces for what they hope will be part of the sport’s future in Indianapolis on Saturday.
The inaugural meeting of the professional International Swimming League (ISL) predictably produced some sizzling times.
More importantly, it showcased a fast-paced team competition more akin to an American university meet than a traditional international competition.
“It was very exciting. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Swede Sjostrom, the Olympic 100m butterfly champion.
“It feels like a world champs final with the people behind the blocks.”
The series, which was televised in various international locations as well as on ESPN’s website streaming service in the United States, has been bankrolled by Ukrainian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin.
It has received lukewarm support from swimming’s governing body, FINA, but that has not kept many of the world’s best away from the circuit less than a year out from the Tokyo Olympics.
The entire meet was wrapped up within two hours.
“I don’t really follow swimming too much during other competitions but now it was so much fun to follow everyone and see everyone’s races,” said Sjostrom.
She won the very first event of the new league in the 25m shortcourse pool, clocking 55.65 seconds in the 100m butterfly.
Le Clos also had a good day in the men’s 100 butterfly, winning in 49.65 seconds.
“It was I think a great day for the world of swimming, the beginning of something special,” said South African Le Clos, who shocked Michael Phelps to win the 200m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics.
The series continues with day two in Indianapolis on Sunday, before moving to Napoli, Italy next weekend.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Richard Chang)