Mano-a-Mano Around Manhattan Island

Mano-a-Mano Around Manhattan Island

The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim world record looks to be in jeopardy on September 10th when English Channel record holder Petar Stoychev and Olympian Mark Warkentin will go head-to-head to break the long-standing Manhattan Island record of 5:45:25 set by Shelley Taylor-Smith in 1995.

It is a heated rivalry renewed on two levels.

On one level, the men have to beat a record held by a woman. Shelley’s record was set in a computer-modeled course by the best brains in the business based on her previous attempts. She swam around Manhattan Island a total of ten times and that experience is impossible to ignore. When Shelley set the record, she was the dominant professional marathon swimmer of her era and she went hard from start to finish (with a 4-minute delay due to a passing ferry early in the swim).

Although Petar and Mark will be pushing each other – albeit no drafting is allowed – even a few meters to the right or left in the fast-flowing Hudson, East or Harlem Rivers can have a major impact on their time.

But we know Petar is an extremely skilled open water veteran who has an innate understanding of where to optimally place himself in any body of water. Mark, a California native with lots of experience in ocean swimming and in international competitions, is similarly skilled.

On another level, Petar and Mark have a history facing each other. These two have a short – but fierce – rivalry. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, Petar and Mark finished less than 4 second apart.

1. Maarten van der Weijden (Netherlands) 1:51:51.6
2. David Davies (Great Britain) 1:51:53.1
3. Thomas Lurz (Germany) 1:51:53.6
4. Valerio Cleri (Italy) 1:52:07.5
5. Evgeny Drattsev (Russia) 1:52:08.9
6. Petar Stoychev, 1:52:09.1
7. Brian Ryckeman (Belgium) 1:52:10.7
8. Mark Warkentin, 1:52:13.0

In two longer races, Petar and Mark have closely clashed head-to-head for hours. In a classic 25K race at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships, there was an amazing race between the Olympic 10K gold medalist Maarten van de Weijden, Mark, Petar and the multi-time world champion and third-fastest English Channel swimmer in history Yuri Kudinov of Russia.

That 25K race in Seville, Spain came right down to the end:

1. Maarten van der Weijden, 5:04:01.1
2. Mark Warkentin, 5:04:01.6
3. Yuri Kudinov, 5:04:02.4
4. Petar Stoychev, 5:04:08:0

Similarly, at the 2007 World Swimming Championships, Petar and Mark clashed again in the 25 race in some pretty nasty, cold water off the Melbourne, Australia coast:

1. Yuri Kudinov, 5:16:45.55
2. Marco Formentini (Italy), 5:18:36.80
3. Mohamed Zanaty (Egypt), 5:19:23.23
4. Mark Warkentin, 5:20:42.01
5. Josh Santacaterina (Australia), 5:20:55.89
6. Petar Stoychev, 5:22:55.82

So, over a cumulative distance of 60K (37.2 miles) in three major international competitions, Petar and Mark have been separated by less than 20 seconds total.

We suspect their swim on September 10th will be extremely closer over the 48K (28.5-mile) distance.

We asked Mark a series of questions about the renewed rivalry with Petar, their attempt at the world record and the 2012 London Olympics:

The Daily News: What is the strategy for the race considering the no-drafting rule in effect?
Mark: Long races are always best endured with company. Because the primary goal of the race is to break the record, we’re going to have to put more effort on the line earlier in the race, a concept that goes against the strategy that open water swimmers have grown accustomed to in the last few years.

The Daily News: You will be swimming with the tidal flow and river currents. Do you swim any differently when you swim with the currents as opposed when you swim into chop?
Mark: I don’t strategize or swim technically any different, but swimming into the chop requires a lot of concentration and I’m grateful that adverse water conditions aren’t an issue in this race. Swimming down river is a tremendous joy for an open water swimmer because of the confidence gained simply by swimming fast. One time, I swam a 10K race down the Amazon after a rainstorm and I felt like I was bodysurfing for the entire race – hopefully the currents around Manhatten will be moving fast.

The Daily News: As a Californian, what do you think of the Big Apple?
Mark: As a tourist of New York, I was very confused, lost even, amongst the size and speed of the city as I tried to get from Little Italy to Central Park. This time around I’m looking forward to navigating around it so I can get my bearings and be a less obvious tourist. Manhatten is a tremendously famous American destination, perhaps our country’s greatest, and afterwards I’ll always get to say that I swam around it.

The Daily News: Match races like this happen in other sports. Do you think this is good for open water swimming?
Mark: At select venues, match races may work in the future, but I think open water swimming is a lot like triathlon – everyone wants to compete. Open water swimming is primarily a participation sport, which is different to a spectator sport like football or hockey. In my opinion, our sport should error on the side of more athletes rather than fewer athletes because I love seeing races with thousands of participants. That being said, getting the elites in the country to race against each other in a unique format is very exciting.

The Daily News: Is training any different now that you are a father?
Mark: I try to be more efficient with my time now so that I can spend time with my wife and 1-year-old son, but training for open water is pretty basic – it takes a lot of time. Fortunately I have a very supportive family.
[Note: both Mark and Petar are fathers of young children]

The Daily News: On a slightly unrelated topic, the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim qualifier is right around the corner, July 2011 in Shanghai. How great was your 2008 Olympic experience?
Mark: Being on the starting line of any significant race is a tremendous adrenaline rush, but being on the starting line at the inaugural Open Water Olympic 10K race in Beijing was something different all together. It was one of those life moments that you simply recognize as being incredibly significant.

The Daily News: Olympian Ky Hurst of Australia is making a comeback. Olympic silver and bronze medalist David Davies will also be there in Shanghai. Former 10K world champion Chip Peterson is getting stronger. New guys – like world 25K champion Alex Meyer – are popping up. What do you think of your competition come 2011 and 2012?
Mark: 2011 is going to be a lot like 2008 in Seville – very, very, very fast. The scariest guy in open water swimming isn’t Valerio Cleri, Vladimir Dyachin or Thomas Lurz, it’s David Davies. It makes me nervous just to think about racing against him again. His racing style goes against all conventional wisdom and strategy, and every other open water swimmer must adapt. He takes the race out fast, may not stop for a feed, and never takes his foot off the gas pedal. Hurst isn’t as fast but he’s smart and strong and doesn’t get bothered by a physical race. He’s more of a linebacker than a swimmer in many ways. Putting both of those swimmers back in the mix is going to tremendously change the international 10K races.

Stay tuned for a great match race on September 10th in New York City.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones