Shaving Down At The Olympics Marathon Swim

Shaving Down At The Olympics Marathon Swim

Most sports fans know that cyclists shave their legs while pool swimmers shave their entire bodies for competitions.

But what do open water swimmers do?

It depends. One size does not fit all in the open water swimming world. From training habits to feeding, open water swimmers follow an exceeding wide range of parameters.

And shaving down is no different.

But at the Olympics marathon swimming 10km all athletes will shave down. Every last bit of physiological and psychological benefit will be used to the maximum at the Olympics by the 25 female and 25 male finalists in the marathon swim.

No question about it – the Olympic marathon swimmers will be as sleek as a supermodel’s legs.

In other competitions, some athletes like English Channel world record holder Petar Stoychev and Olympians like Mark Warkentin shave down for open water swimming events while marathon swimming world record holder Vicki Keith and double Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming‘s Antonio Argüelles believe shaving is best limited to a few areas.

FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee’s Sid Cassidy believes in both sides of the shaving issue, “I believe shaving can be very valuable in certain situations: the fastest swimmers in the world shave for big events in no small part because it is psychologically comforting. If one believes it will help, it certainly will. I would be willing to bet that every American woman with a dream to swim in the 2012 London Olympics will shave [at the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships] in Ft. Myers.

I am fairly certain all the swimmers shaved at the 2008 Beijing Olympics marathon swim. But as for those of us in the “old days” of professional marathon swimming, I never shaved

Antonio is more representative of most open water swimmers, “I have never shaved my body for an open water swim. It only makes sense in those areas that can cause an irritation. In my case, the hair in my face is the area that I put attention.”

Vicki Keith agrees. And if there is another who has had an excuse to chafe, it is Vicki with several cold-water solo swims over 24 hours. “Shaving down for open water swims – beyond normal shaving – never made sense to me. It is important to be clean shaven in areas you may rub: facial hair on men and underarms on women. For multiple-day swims, I would often use an epilator on my underarms to avoid stubble. Yes it hurt, but not rubbing was a priority. I did shave down for an endurance swim in a pool once, and I found it made absolutely no difference in my physical performance, but I felt cold earlier. Maybe it was psychosomatic, but it felt real to me.”

Some swimmers make different decisions depending on certain situations. American champion Mark Warkentin says, “I always shaved my head and my entire body for big races with water temperatures above 80°F (27°C). On the other side, I tried to grow a beard for 2007 World Swimming Championships in Melbourne [where the water was colder]. In Seville at the 2008 World Championships when the water temp was around 75°F (24°C), I shaved my arms and chest, but since we were all wearing swimsuits that went down to our ankles, I didn’t feel the need to shave my legs. That was the only race that was a bit of a toss-up because the water temperature was just below 75°F and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the cost/benefit of being colder versus the benefits of shaving.

I recommend shaving if the water is hot simply as a matter of keeping your core temp under control. It becomes more of a matter of what each individual swimmer would describe as their point of comfort/discomfort in relation to being cold versus overheating. I would assume that Stoychev and I are significantly different in terms of our temperature comfort levels and thus we would likely have different outlooks on shaving (for overheating purposes). As a pool swimmer, I was faster shaved than unshaved. So it wouldn’t make sense to pass on that obvious advantage, at least psychological, in open water swimming races as well

Part 1 of this 3-part series on shaving down is here. Part 3 of this 3-part series is here. Introduction to this 3-part series is here.

For more information on the Olympics marathon swimming 10km, click here.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones