Why Open Water Swimming Needs Instant Replays & TV

Why Open Water Swimming Needs Instant Replays & TV

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Sports fans love last-second shots and game-ending scores. TV audiences love replays of races that end in photo finishes. Books are written and careers are made centered around great competitions that culminate in a heart-pounding finale.

Heroes and legacies are made this way.

When athletes are pushed to their very limits and their competitive spirits are demonstrated to the fullest, sports becomes a great visual. The human drama of victory and defeat are symbolized by those very last moments of a game or a race between athletes.

Which is why women’s competitive marathon swimming remains a story to be told, a drama to be broadcast, a scene to be replayed over and over again.

Whether it was the remarkable comeback sprint of Larisa Ilchenko over Keri-Anne Payne at the 2008 Beijing Olympics or the fingernail touch-out by Éva Risztov over Haley Andersen in the 2012 London Olympics – or many other national and international races around the world, the highest levels of women’s marathon swimming nearly always culminate in photo finishes.

These high-level female athletes swim side-by-side for 2 hours, sprinting and surging along the way, never backing down from a challenge, a kick to the ribs, or an elbow to the face. They put in hundreds of thousands of kilometers training at a high pace year after year, getting faster and faster, stronger and stronger.

And yet it seems to always come down to the very last stroke.

Imagine that: a race where the average professional marathon swimmer takes at least 9,000 arm strokes and it comes down to the final stroke. A final stroke where they have to reach up above the water’s surface to a vertical touch panel with cameras positioned to capture the slim differences between winning and losing.

Imagine a marathon running where no one knew the winner until the very last step. Imagine a triathlon where no one knew the winner until the very last lunge of the athletes torsos. Imagine a cycling race where athletes had to wait around until the race officials reviewed the race video several times, being replayed in slow motion and debated, and then came out with a final decision.

These are the analogous situations with elite female marathon swimmers. And these battles and photo-finishes should be captured and replayed for fans of the sport and fans of endurance sports in general. At least put on YouTube and Vimeo.

This was the exact situation at the Pan American Games where American Eva Fabian and Venezuala’s Paola Perez Sierra were given the exact same finishing time of 2 hours 3 minutes 17 seconds and 0 tenths of a second with Salinas Arevalo of Ecuador one tenth of a second behind and Emily Brunemann 4 tenths of a second behind her. Basically and precisely, it was a race too close to call.

But the race officials had the privilege and opportunity to see the dramatic finish and make the call that Fabian would take the gold.

We only wish that the entire open water swimming community could also see this culmination of great racing and outstanding sportsmanship and incredible athleticism.

Final results of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada:
1. Eva Fabian (USA) 2:03:17.0
2. Paola Perez Sierra (VEN) 2:03:17.0
3. Salinas Arevalo (ECU) 2:03:17.1
4. Emily Brunemann (USA) 2:03:17.5
5. Kristel Köbrich (CHI) 2:03:25.8
6. Zaira Cardenas (MEX) 2:03:28.3
7. Jade Dusablon (CAN) 2:04:36.7
8. Samantha Harding (CAN) 2:04:37.7
9. Cecilia Biagioli (ARG) 2:04:37.8
10. Carolina Bilich (BRA) 2:04:40.3
11. Monserrat Ortuno (MEX) 2:06:28.2
12. Julia Arino (ARG) 2:07:54.1
13. Vera Liliana Hernandez (VEN) 2:09:19.6
14. Fatima Guzman Flores (ESA) 2:14:15.0
15. Merida Toscano (GUA) 2:14:45.6
16. Maria Astorga Perez (CRC) 2:21:40.8
17. Fernanda Archila Salazar (GUA) 2:26:55.0
18. Emma Quintanilla Lizano (HON) 2:27:08.4

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association