If athletes wearing space suits is what it takes to attract more fans to her sport, Alys Thomas believes it's one small step for swimmers, but one giant leap for swimming kind.
Next month, the 30-year-old Commonwealth Games 200m butterfly champion will make her long-awaited Olympic debut. In May, Thomas and a number of her Tokyo-bound teammates were part of a British swimming delegation who enjoyed a national best 26-medal haul at the European Aquatics Championships in Budapest.
If you weren't aware of the feat, it probably wouldn't come as news to British Swimming CEO and former Olympian Jack Buckner, who on a dramatic, triple-gold night for his team, tweeted: "Hey mainstream British sports media – when are you going to wake up?"
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Thomas has one possible solution. She was one of the athletes featured in the inaugural season of the International Swimming League (ISL), a professional touring competition featuring mixed teams of swimmers from around the world. Like cricket's The Hundred, the electric atmosphere features dramatic lighting and turntables, and the swimmers wore, in Thomas' words, "iridescent space suits."
The butterfly specialist, who was training for Tokyo at the Wales National Pool in Swansea, said: "I remember walking on poolside on one of the first matches and thinking, 'What the hell is going on here?'
"You look at this pool [in Swansea], it's a normal poolside, there's a tiled floor, bland lighting, lessons going on.
"But if you walked on that poolside, literally, it was like walking in a club. There was a live DJ that was playing the whole night, there was strobe lighting, smoke effects, everything.
"But it was a pool. It was a competition. And the whole competition was rigged up for TV. They were telling you where to go out, and you had markers to stand [on].
"But it was good to have that crossover and that mash-up because suddenly you were sort of thinking, well, actually, if swimming is going to get a bigger name for itself and get a bigger fanbase, this is what it needs.
"It needs this TV exposure, it needs to be shown where the fans are going to watch it, and ultimately that is on the media and on TV."
There was something about the whole thing, from the ambiance to the points-based team environment, that made even fierce competitors like Thomas' Team GB teammate and ISL advocate Adam Peaty loosen up.
Thomas, who is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo, recalled: "All of a sudden, all of our serious swimmers were like, do you know what? Let's just have some fun. Let's go back to our youth and just race.
"I think it needs a few years to really get ingrained, but it's definitely going to be the future sort of direction that something has to go in.
"A lot of the countries need to look, especially Britain, at how that setup is—even just take the lighting—make it more of a vibe, and make it a spectacle to watch."
Thomas has entered her name in the next ISL draft, but first: Tokyo.
Those who do stay up to watch Thomas and Team GB are in for a treat. The squad includes 2016 Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Peaty, British record-holding 200m breaststroker Molly Renshaw, and 2021 European medal-hauling 20-year-old phenom Freya Anderson.
And Thomas, who is trying to remain grounded after a decades-long journey finally landed her on an Olympics-bound plane, is just this once somewhat grateful for the lack of poolside pyrotechnics.
She said: "It's still going to be a pool, you know, it's still a 50-metre pool, same size, same blocks, lane ropes, it's all the same. It's just it's got a fancy logo on the sides."
Alys Thomas is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo, with the same amazing home support as London 2012. Visit @PurplebricksUK or https://www.purplebricks.co.uk/team-gb
Sportsbeat 2021
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