Reasons For Swimming In Front

Reasons For Swimming In Front

Eva Fabian, the smallest women at the elite levels of open water swimming with a huge heart, has a good reason for leading races from the front: what happens behind her.

I got hit several times,” said Christine Jennings who placed sixth at yesterday’s 10K world championship where she exited the water with a swollen lip.

My tooth is chipped, too. When I was elbowed, I just thought, ‘Focus. Do not retaliate, do not retaliate.'” Christine, shown above at the 5K 2008 world championship race, does seem to bear the brunt of some hard collisions.

I get pushed down several times during the race,” said Natalie du Toit who placed 25th. “Without a leg, this means I am swimming at times at almost a 90° angle. My hips and other leg drop when they push on my feet and leg. It is really rough out there. People also put an elbow into your shoulder and block you.”

The men’s races are tough, but the women’s races are something else,” commented long-time FINA official Shelley Taylor-Smith who will be the first women to ever referee a FINA world open water swimming championship race today in the men’s 10K and later the Chief Referee in the women’s 5K. “You can hear the women when they get hit [in the water]. As you can imagine, a lot of things go on under the water – just as in water polo. But there is no underwater video to capture these things.”

But the physicality of the sport extends beyond the elite levels. Masterton Masters swimmer Kirsten Cameron said, “There is a lot of pushing and shoving [going on] and nobody wants to give you an inch [while in the water]. You are constantly being battered and whacked and most of it is deliberate. It just goes with the territory“.

When a lot of people want to swim on the optimal course, especially when the tangents from turn buoy to turn buoy can be tricky, collisions happen – even in the front.

In yesterday’s 10K race, Eva Fabian of New Hampshire and Poliana Okimoto were leading in the last kilometer – swimming very strongly – when they collided with one another. “My goggles was filled with water and I tried to fix it, but I had Vaseline on my fingers so it smeared on my goggles and I could not see the buoy [after we collided],” said Poliana. Their collision opened up the opportunity for Italy’s Martina Grimaldi to burst into the lead and win her first world championship going away, also swimming powerfully in her own right.

At the elite levels where medals, sponsorship and a competitive pride are overwhelming motivations, collisions are a frequent occurrence. FINA provided referees who closely watch the athletes from nearby boats where warning whistles, yellow cards and red cards are frequently issued. Like water polo, decisions are made – and questioned.

In a FINA race when an athlete is disqualified, the athlete’s national federation has the option to appeal the decision. The officials of FINA’s Technical Open Water Swimming Committee then convene to carefully review the matter – sometimes taking into account a video tape of the infraction. Like officiating calls in many sports, there is rarely a unanimous decision on the judgment call where the infractions are viewed frame-by-frame. The officials try to get it right. “Fair play and sportsmanship are our priority,” said Ronnie Wong, chairman of the FINA committee.

Those are two admirable goals to shoot for – that occasionally come in conflict with the competitive zeal of athletes at every level.

At the Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim, a popular race in Southern California, the men and women were separated from the first time in 2009. This was good news for many of the women who prefer not to face aggressive men in the same heat. Partly as a result, the number of entries has significantly increased.

Safe, enjoyable and fair … the trio of goals for every open water race.

Copyright © 2010 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones