Niklas Stoepel is a 17-year-old German swimmer who happens to be one of his country's top athletes, a national youth champion who has been flatly denied the chance to compete at the upcoming 2012 London Olympics.
The hitch? Oh yes, he's the only male synchronized swimmer in his homeland. You just know Will Ferrell is salivating over his next sports comedy flick, no?
All guffaws and snickers aside, give the dude props for his persistence and tenacity amidst a maelstrom of malice. For two years, he's fought FINA, the international governing body of aquatic sports, and the perpetual perceptions and stereotypes associated with a man competing in what's commonly considered a woman's sport.
We cringe a bit at the notion of a male athlete whose pre-game routine consists of leg shaving and picking the perfect sequined costume, but truth is synchronized swimming really is a demanding sport—a hybrid of swimming, gymnastics, and dance—requiring strength, artistry, and flexibility.
Clear the pool chlorine from your eyes and peer a bit closer to this story. We think you'll find it's just another case of exclusion and discrimination rearing their ugly heads in the sports world. Major League Baseball's Racial and Gender Report Card was released this week, and the league was lauded for the largest increase in African-American players (10.2 percent) since 1995, and the awarding of an A for race hiring while still employing just five minority GM's. Some moves in the right direction—coupled with the honoring of Jackie Robinson in MLB ballparks—but there's still no atoning for the sad legacy of discrimination in our national pastime. Title IX has done well to bridge the gender gap, but much work still needs to be done to achieve a truer sense of equity.
So, London's calling. Give Stoepel the shot to synch swim…sans the sequins.