Expect The Unexpected

Expect The Unexpected

The Daily News of Open Water Swimming has recently heard talk among swimmers and coaches that the current rules and its on-the-water application of those rules during elite and mass participation competitions are unfair. The disappointment is felt deep by some passionately competitive athletes who are upset that a level playing field for all athletes is unavailable.

We believe this is a healthy expression of perspective and opinion, but we come from an earlier era of open water swimming where ‘Expecting the Unexpected‘ was the norm.

After reading accounts from races as early as 1926 and talking with professional marathon swimmers from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the history of open water competitions has shown that rules of racing have frequently been in flux.

In fact, it is traditional that race directors have the flexibility and authority to determine the rules of the event all the way up to race time. This flexibility is required for safety and logistical reasons due to unexpected course changes, missing buoys, deteriorating weather, lightening, additional prize money, a lack of escort boats, mechanical failures and many other factors.

It this right? Is this fair to all athletes? Perhaps not, but your input and opinions are welcomed. Join one of the many online forums to express your opinions and sway your open water colleagues towards your own opinion (e.g., Open Water Race Directors Forum).

In fact, not only have the rules or procedures of the game changed right up to the start of races, but the dissemination of pre-race information is not always perfect. The sport is getting better, but it is a fact that global information distribution can be improved. With the Internet, email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, online groups and mobile communications, the accuracy and timeliness of information-sharing is vastly improving, but the sport is still not perfect – nor will it ever be.

Like dog sledders in the Iditarod race and surfers in the Triple Crown, open water swimmers have to be flexible. Different applications of rules will, most probably, never completely be avoided as the sport increasingly become global and faces venues, technology changes and differing swimsuit regulations from amateur mass participation events to professional marathon swims.

What kind of flexiblity is needed? We call to mind the wide range of water temperatures that athletes often face. For example, at the recent world championships, water temperatures ranged from 17°C – 24°C (62°F – 75°F). In other races, buoys have moved under rough conditions, meaning those who swim at different speeds have different distances to travel. When races are interrupted by fluctuating weather conditions, the rules can similarly fluctuate.

Is it ideal? No. Is it fair? Not always. Is it different in the pool? Most certainly.

The one concept that is consistent in open water swimming is certainly Expect the Unexpected.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones