Leszek Naziemiec On Ice Swimming and its Future at World Championships and the Winter Olympics

Leszek Naziemiec On Ice Swimming and its Future at World Championships and the Winter Olympics

Leszek Naziemiec of Poland, an Ice Ironman and the event director of the Polish Championships in Winter Swimming 1 km IISA [shown above with Marcin Szarpak] talked about his reflections on ice swimming and the recent IISA 5th World Championship in Samoëns, France.

The winner of the longest distance – the one kilometer race – was Marcin Szarpak, whose first foray into the cold water I had the honor of personally supervising. It took Marcin 11 minutes 31.53 seconds to cover the distance in the freezing water. This is the amount of time in the water that a trained person will not succumb to serious hypothermia. Ice swimming as a governed sport is growing rapidly under the leadership of Ram Barkai.

At the same time, the time has come to reconsider what this sport is and what its future will be.

My personal experience in ice swimming includes regular starts in the Czech Cup for many years, then organizing winter swimming competitions in Poland and twice participating in the organizing committee of the IISA World Championships. I’ve always been focused on swimming long distances in cold water. This is how the sport is approached in the Czech Republic, where the system of competitions has been organized continuously since before the Second World War.

The national championships are held over the longest distance separately in breaststroke and freestyle. A distance of 100 meters is reserved in the Czech Republic for children; for competitors of older age groups, the distance is 500 meters.

Ice swimming is developing. In order to make competitions attractive to a wide range of spectators, as well as to attract new competitors, sprint disciplines – 50 meters and 100 meters are held during international competitions. The second feature of competitions in recent years is the construction of swimming pools on natural waters. In this way, the FINA pool competition is replicated as faithfully as possible and departs from the open water formula.

Ice swimming has ambitions to become an Olympic winter sport. If this happens, in the formula that is now used at the World Championships, the best sprinters from swimming pools will more or less repeat their results in ice swimming. The distance of 50 meters, 100 meters, even 200 meters does not really require adaptation to the cold. It only requires a brave decision: “I want to swim.”

What is most important and most beautiful in this sport happens over a long distance, preferably covered on a natural body of water: river, lake and sea. Then, in conditions of really developing slight hypothermia, swimmers must be able to navigate efficiently and not be frightened by the surrounding nature.

Olympic sport, at least in swimming, is going back to its roots.

Appeared not so long ago, back at the Olympics were open water races. In ice swimming, in my opinion, you could follow the Czech path, the path of the pioneers. Long distance should be rewarded, also in breaststroke.

Maybe we should also consider, for example, a longer distance in butterfly?

Certainly return to the open water formula, which would be a return to nature.

Olympic sport doesn’t need pool swimming. It needs a sport that is different, modern, and at the same time, goes back to the very roots of swimming.

Photo of Leszek Naziemiec and Marcin Szarpak, courtesy of Tomasz Woźniczka.

Steven Munatones