Experimentation In The Sport Of Open Water Swimming

Experimentation In The Sport Of Open Water Swimming

We can appreciate how most swimmers want to keep alive the traditions of the sport of open water swimming. The sport has served its enthusiasts well over the last two millennia.

But we like to imagine how the sport can continue to evolve and develop.

When the sport evolves in various ways, the number of swimmers and coaches, and media interest and sponsorship increases.

Now that GPS technology is often used to mark courses and track athletes in the water, it is interesting to see the courses swum by athletes and the effects (both positive and negative) of tidal flows and currents.

We pushed for split times to be taken at open water swimming competitions – and it was used at the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships in Long Beach, California and at the 2010 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in lac St-Jean, Canada. Now that many elite events including the FINA World Championships and Olympics taken individuals split times, it is interesting to analyze the pace and strategies used by the elite athletes.

We used SwiMetrics to test the different drafting positions (behind, at the hip, at the knees, behind a 2-beat kicker, behind a 6-beat kicker, etc.) of open water swimmers and learned the optimal drafting positions between the lead swimmer and trailing swimmer.

We recently listened to a new technology used in the game of water polo at the Volvo Cup in Hungary on February 7th-9th. It was an exhibition match between the Hungarian national water polo team and the USA national water polo team where experimental technology was used. The referees, who are normally expected to blow whistles and make hand signals, were also allowed to narrate the match.

We believe the sport of open water swimming can learn from the experiences and experiments from Hungary, the hotbed of water polo.

Imagine if the USA Swimming and FINA referees (or assistant referees) during a competition could explain what they were seeing and the reasons they called yellow cards and red cards during an open water swimming competition? Imagine how much more transparent and understandable the sport would become. We can imagine experienced and talented referees like Sid Cassidy of the USA, Shelley Taylor-Smith, Jorge Delgado of Ecuador, Andrea Prayer of Italy, and John West of New Zealand could easily and eloquently describe what is going on among the lead pack to entertain and educate fans onshore and online. Or their expertise could be utilized by calling the action from the head referee’s boat.

Just as referees Balazs Szekely, Gabor Vogel and Matyas Petrovics were able to utilize their microphones and earpieces during the international match between Hungary and the USA, we believe the eyes and ears of the referees in international competitions could be utilized in ways that would elevate the sport of open water swimming and at least make the action between athletes and the rules in which they compete more understanding and entertaining for onshore spectators and online fans.

Fans of the Hungary versus USA water polo game had some good impressions of the technology that we can see would be transferrable to the sport of open water swimming:

The announcements of the speaker really helped to understand the signals of the referees. After the first period I could already recognize certain hand signals…after the third period I even started to recognize specific fouls in the water.”

Thanks to the implementation of microphones and the speaker, I learned a lot about the rules of water polo that I never knew before or could only vaguely guess.”

A water polo analyst commented, “During the game it was clear that the officials were making good use of their new toys. They were obviously talking to each other a lot…keeping the audience up to speed on the bigger fouls and errors.”

Referee Gabor Vogel self-analyzed his new responsibilities, “Every game is a challenge, but leading the national team brings extra pressure. It is always a great honor. Those games require a lot more focus and energy. The experiment with the microphones demanded more activity from us and increased the work load with around 10 to 15%, but it was doable. I have not made up my mind yet about the part of explaining our decisions. It was more important for me to be able to talk to my colleague as it was very beneficial for both of us. It works very well. The future will tell which parts of the experiment will eventually make it into the actual sport.”

Matyas Petrovics explained, “Before the game Istvan Gergely and the officials discussed about the ins and outs of the plan. Most important for me was that the announcements were clear and easy to understand for the audience. In the future I hope we can build on what we have learned from this night. Especially the referees being able to communicate with each other will benefit the quality of the decision-making and therefor the quality of the match.”

FINA will analyze the innovation in water polo in Cancun, Mexico.

It would be totally cool in our opinion if the same descriptive action that is explained to water polo fans about their favorite game can be brought and explained to the fans of open water swimming. It would also help athletes and coaches understand precisely what is the thought-process that goes through the minds of the FINA officials during competitive open water swimming competitions.

More importantly, we believe it will help elevate and make more uniform the officiating in the sport.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association