When Chris Guesdon Changed The Course Of Open Water History

When Chris Guesdon Changed The Course Of Open Water History

Courtesy of Christopher Guesdon.

On September 16th – 18th 1998 in Terracina, Italy, the following members of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee met, made key decisions, and submitted recommendations to the FINA Bureau that would ultimately change the direction of open water swimming and its global growth:

Christopher Guesdon literally and singlehandedly changed the course of history when he laid out his vision for the sport of marathon swimming [see above]. He presented his visionary Olympic marathon swimming model:

  • the race should last around 2 hours
  • the race must be commercially viable
  • the race must have a qualifying system in order to get only quality swimmers
  • the race should not have handlers operating in the event
  • the race must be easy to manage, organize and stage
  • the race must be easy to televise
  • the race must be inexpensive to set up
  • the race must be good for spectators to watch the complete event

Guesdon compared the proposed 2-hour 10 km marathon swim to other Olympic distance events including the Olympic Distance Triathlon (1.5 km swim + 40 km bike + 10 km run), the 42 km marathon run, the 20 km and 50 km Olympic Walk, the 80-110 km and 180-220 km Cycling road races, and the 25 km and 40 km Cycling Time Trial Road racing.

The committee members recommended that FINA change the accepted name of “Open Water” to “Marathon Swimming” because, as Guesdon emphasized, “This [new] definition is more popular, more understood, more powerful, and much better for marketing.”

What was remarkable was that this plan began with a lunch and a napkin. Guesdon recalls the scene, “The plan I wrote on a napkin was in Perth at the 1998 FINA World Championships overlooking the Indian Ocean. Dennis Miller, Sid Cassidy and my wife Sue were the only ones there. Later, the full concept and detailed strategy was presented to the Technical Open Water Swimming Committee at the full meeting later that year in Italy. It was accepted. We had discussed wanting an Olympic event with Sid and others in Evian, France before then.

The 25 km race was then the major race. The 5 km was designed as an introduction to long distance swimming at the Technical Open Water Swimming Committee meeting in 1997 and was first held in Perth in 1998.

The Olympic distance event originally named the 10,000 meters was at embryo stage in Australia in 1996; however, I was hoping we would move it along and have it the Sydney Games in 2000 along with the Olympic distance Triathlon event.”

But Guesdon would have to wait.

On the other hand, the committee members accepted Guesdon’s vision. They concluded that the preferred Olympic marathon swimming distance should be 10 km, a distance that would eventually be officially accepted by the IOC in 2005 with the inaugural event taking place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Flavio Bomio, Honorary Secretary of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, summarized the discussions, “Considered this 10 km distance as the Olympic event, we want to have it included in the Olympic Games program and in order to accomplish the need that an event should be included in the World Championships before being proposed to the IOC, the Technical Open Water Swimming Committee proposes to include the 10 km event as an additional event in the 2000 Open Water World Championship Program.”

Up until that time, the FINA World Championships only included 5 km and 25 km races, but the 2000 FINA Open Water Swimming Championships in Honolulu, Hawaii included the new 10 km distance. And the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games ushered in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim era.

Timing was also critical. When baseball and softball were removed from the Summer Olympic schedule, the sport of marathon swimming was invited to fill the vacuum. Guesdon explains, “The concept, strategy and the detailed competition plan to enter the Olympic Games kicked off in 1998. Some years later, we had an event ready for the invitation. The napkin saga in Perth in 1998 lives on as it was the start [of marathon swimming at the Olympics]. For 50 years, many people talked about getting open water swimming into the Olympic Games until I came along and did something about it by designing a strategy to get us there. It worked.

2000 FINA Open Water Swimming Championships Women’s 10 km Medalists:
Gold: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 2:06:44.44
Silver: Melissa Pasquali (Italy) 2:07:38.85
Bronze: Peggy Büchse (Germany) 2:08:00.30

2000 FINA Open Water Swimming Championships Men’s 10 km Medalists:
Gold: David Meca (Spain) 1:57:10.50
Silver: Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) 1:57:14.44
Bronze: Yevgeny Bezruchenko (Russia) 1:57:15.02

2008 Beijing Olympic Games 10 km Women’s Medalists:
Gold: Larisa Ilchenko (Russia) 1:59:27.7
Silver: Keri-Anne Payne (Great Britain) 1:59:29.2
Bronze: Cassandra Patten (Great Britain) 1:59:31.0

2008 Beijing Olympic Games 10 km Men’s Medalists:
Gold: Maarten van der Weijden (Netherlands) 1:51:51.6
Silver: David Davies (Great Britain) 1:51:53.1
Bronze: Thomas Lurz (Germany) 1:51:53.6

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Steven Munatones