This article focuses on the structures of elite-performance swimming in order to explore the interdependent relationships among the processes of commodification, commercialization, and modern sport. I use Michael Phelps’s status as a professional swimmer who swims in the Olympics to explicate the roles sporting structures play in the commercialization and commodification of the Olympics specifically and elite sport in general. I trace the eligibility rules of USA Swimming to demonstrate how Phelps’s career coincides with a reformation of the meanings of eligibility over the last four decades that shifts away from the oppositional amateur/professional binary and towards concerns of drug use and personal conduct. This shift occurs alongside an expansion of Olympics as televised spectacle and within the rise of neoliberal social, economic, and political policies.
Matthew R. Hodler is with the Department of Kinesiology & Health, Miami University, Oxford, OH.