SINGAPORE - For all his efforts in the pool last year, Russian swimmer Vladimir Morozov banked in a total of US$332,400 (S$461,500) from the Fina World Cup series, a pittance compared to the US$7.4 million that world No. 3 tennis player Roger Federer won in prize money.
Swimmers have often lamented that the sport lacks the big money that professional tennis and golf offer, but a host of lucrative meets could prove to be the "turning point" for swimming.
World governing body Fina in December announced a US$3.9 million Champions Swim Series comprising three invitation-only meets, which started in April this year. The International Swimming League (ISL), which starts in October and will travel to seven cities across the United States and Europe this year, has a first-year budget of US$20 million. Of that, between US$6 million and US$7 million will be spent on appearance and prize money for the athletes.
Morozov, the top earner in the 2018 world cup, said the ISL is "long overdue".
"Baseball had that... hockey, tennis, they all have the league, this is long overdue for us and I really hope that it works out," said the 27-year-old, who is in town for the Fina Swimming World Cup Singapore.
Agreeing, three-gold Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu, who was the first swimmer to earn US$1 million in prize money, called the new meets a turning point in professionalising the sport.
She said: "We are able to show ourselves a lot more than before. It's definitely a turning point but it's going to take a lot of time to actually make a big change."
Australian freestyle sprint specialist Cate Campbell, 27, believes that giving swimmers more opportunities to make a living will help keep them in it.
"We want to encourage young people to take up the sport of swimming and see that there is a future and that they can earn a living, that they can have of these opportunities that other sports offer," added Campbell, who won two Olympic golds in the 4x100m freestyle.
"We're ushering in a new age of swimming and hopefully, it'll encourage more people to stick around in the sport."
While the competition calendar has expanded with the new meets, the swimmers are keeping focused on performing when it counts, which is at the Olympics and World Championships.
Campbell said that her focus is to taper her training for the two major events, the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships.
She added: "How I plan to use all these extra competitions is to get good race practice... I'm actually going to incorporate this into my training. I'll be using this to make sure that I can peak and be at my best for a World Championships or an Olympics."
For Hosszu, who has been competing in smaller meets in Europe during the season as part of her training, the Olympics is the ultimate goal.
"For us Hungarians, the Olympics is the biggest prize money there is, so I'm peaking there," said the nine-time long-course world champion.
Like Hosszu, Morozov welcomed more racing opportunities as it is "the best training you can get", though he added that some of the events are less competitive as not all the best swimmers choose to compete at the same meets.
The Singapore leg of the Fina World Cup held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre tomorrow and Saturday will also feature Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling, Quah Ting Wen and Amanda Lim, among others.
Fina Swimming World Cup Singapore tickets are available at www.sportshub.com.sg/FINA-SWC-2019