FINA Open Water Swimming Seminar Wrap-up

FINA Open Water Swimming Seminar Wrap-up

At the FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships this week in Roberval, Canada, FINA organized a seminar in collaboration with their Canadian hosts for the assembled team leaders, administrators and national team coaches from over 30 countries who freely shared ideas, concerns, information and proposals with their colleagues from around the world.

Pierre Lafontaine, CEO of Swimming Canada, kicked off the seminar with an inspirational video from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Pierre’s message included proposals for collaboration between nations and appeals for increased communication throughout the entire open water swimming world.

Pierre spoke about the new 5K pool events in Canada that are conducted in short-course and long-course pools and a new national open water 10K circuit that will start with three events in Canada, starting in 2011. He discussed the new coaching educational programs and the proposed joint registration process between Swimming Canada, Triathlon Canada and Water Polo Canada where a mutual registration process becomes streamlined between the three national governing bodies.

Pierre, a passionate speaker and powerful motivator, also shared a message of hope and a message of concern.

Open water athletes are powerful athletes, fit and attractive. We have a great sport and we have wonderful sportsmen and women, but our sport should not become the survival of the fittest,” observed Pierre, a world-renowned coach who has had a remarkable career in the US, Australia and his native Canada. “The roughness of the sport must be managed,” he said referring to the increased physicality of the sport where athletes are often bumped, pulled, pushed and slammed without recourse.

With a desire to clean up the sport, he proposed the increased need to develop officials and more standardization in the sport – ranging from the size, shape and color of turn buoys to course design.

Next, Dr. Jim Miller, a member of the FINA Sports Medicine Committee, spoke of the nutritional and hydration needs of open water swimmers. He advised coaches to take into account everything from their athletes’ feeding plan before, during and after each race and training session. He advised athletes to monitor their hydration through the color of their urine and the proper amount of caffeine on race day. He also made an interesting observation about triathletes who prepare very well their nutritional and hydration needs on the biking and running legs, but they tend to ignore the same on their triathlon swim legs. He left the coaches to ponder various scenarios including situations where their athletes are under-performing in training sessions. He asked if the athletes were over-training, under-fueling or even not getting the proper amount of sleep.

Two panel discussions were conducted where leading authorities from Europe, the Americas, Oceania and Asia were represented. The first discussion centered around promotion of open water swimming. Flavio Bomio of Switzerland, a veteran of the sport, announced the new 5K Team Time Trial that will be launched at the 2011 World Swimming Championships. He also discussed how LEN, the governing body of European aquatics started promoting open water swimming in 1989 with a 5K and 25K LEN Cup and added a 5K pool race in 1993.

Ronnie Wong, Chairman of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, observed how sports can bring different people together and how Asia is still developing the sport through events like the Asian Beach Games and other bicultural events like the Across the Strait Swim where athletes from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau will swim 7K on August 8th.

John West of New Zealand described the FINA Open Water Clinics where the Rules, Risk Management and Competition Management are the three key components that he and his colleagues share with people who want to learn more about open water swimming. The rules section includes what are the specific roles of officials at races and how is the competition conducted by these officials. The Risk Management section includes the infrastructure and procedures to be put in place to avoid or minimize the inherent dangers in swimming in open bodies of water. The Competition Management section includes the need to plan early and what topics to specifically plan for.

Jorge Panchana, a former two-time Ecuadorean Olympian and long-time veteran of the sport, explained about the South American Beach Games where ten countries participated and how the sport, including a series of 5K and 10K races, is developing in South America where television is broadcasting certain events in several countries.

Dr. Sultan Aziz of Bangladesh referred to the unfortunate incidents of drowning deaths in various parts of the world. He provided statistics where thousands of children die annually in countries like Bangladesh which is 60% under water for certain times of the year. “Swimming is not only a sport in certain countries, but a matter of survival for many. Swimming for survival and health are areas which are important to these people – and many others around the world.” While some of the speakers spoke of transitioning pool swimmers to the open water, Dr. Aziz presented a contrary perspective based on his experiences. “In some countries, athletes will move from the open water to the pools. So open water presents a window of opportunity in developing countries.”

Members of the audience shared safety precautions and procedures in large events such as the Midmar Mile in South Africa where over 18,000 people enter the water – and fewer than 14,000 finish – and how thousands are accounted for. The Travessia dos Fortes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was discussed where 2,500 swimmers take to the water in one mass start and thousands of safety personnel from the Brazilian army and navy line the shoreline and are positioned offshore in the Copacabana Beach course. The promotion of such events – including television coverage in Brazil – is essential to the sports’ continued growth as it heads into the 2012 London Olympics.

Sam Greetham of British Swimming who provided the vision and expertise behind the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim course at the 2012 London Games explained about the August 13-14, 2011 test event in Hyde Park in London. “We are doing a number of innovative things to properly deliver the sport. Television is central to the delivery of the event where the position of the start, feeding pontoons and finish are critical. We will have aerial balloons and the turn judges will be elevated so they can easily view the competition. The course is like a cloud that rings the Serpentine where round donut buoys will guide the swimmers around the ends. The buoys will have transponders that will indicate the position of every swimmers as they round the course. Working with our partners, the innovation of our sport is important to showcase the sport to the world.”

Benoit Amyot, the race organizer of the 2010 World Open Water Swimming Championships, offered his perspective about how to establish a win-win relationship between local race organizers and FINA, as the international governing body. “FINA has the credibility while the local race organizers are close to the venue, we have the resources and contacts with the sponsors. We can properly promote this win-win relationship because of promotions by the local organizer and the international presence of FINA.”

Dennis Miller, the FINA Bureau liaison responsible for open water, explained the global racing calendar that is established with the swimmers in mind. “Clusters of events take place in regional areas so we try to minimize the amount of international travel that is required by the athletes.”

In the final session, Olympic coaches Mark Perry of Great Britain and Greg Towle of Australia discussed training and racing among elite athletes along with Andrea Prayer of Italy and Steven Munatones of the USA. The importance of specific training for specific athletes and the exemplary efforts of the athletes who push themselves beyond the reasonable were issues colorfully described by the assembled coaches.

These kinds of frank information-sharing and networking were greatly appreciated by all.

Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association