Will the 25K Race At FINA World Championships Be Cancelled?
Let’s hope not.
These are seven major reasons for FINA to continue offering the 25 km marathon swim in addition to hosting the 5 km, 10 km and team relay events at its FINA World Aquatics Championships:
- History of the Sport
- Size and Growth of the Sport
- Loss of Control
- Global Awareness + Media Attention
- Television Perspective
History of the Sport
For over 100 years until 1997, the sport of open water swimming officially declared hundreds of World Championships at various distances and global locations, hosted by different governing bodies and organizations.
Throughout these generations, four major international organizations formed to organize, sanction, officiate, and recognize these events:
- International Professional Swimmers Association
- World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation
- International Marathon Swimming Association
- FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur).
These championship races were typically in a natural location (e.g., across a channel or lake, around an Island, or down a river). Much of the media, fan and spectator appeal was centered around the battle against the elements and each swimmer with a dedicated escort crew. While crowd estimates in old newspaper articles can be exaggerated, reports of 200,000+ spectators were recorded.
The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame tried to document and streamline these historical World Championships by defining them as “Majors” (similar to the term’s use in the sport of golf and tennis). For more details, read the IMSHOF definitions here.
Since 1997, the only open water Majors have been exclusively defined as FINA events (i.e., FINA World Championships, Olympic Games Marathon Swim, FINA Marathon Swim World Series, and the FINA UltraMarathon Swim Series.
When FINA adopted the first open water swim at its World Championships (in Perth in 1991), the ONLY open water event was the 25 km. It seems sadly ironic that FINA now wants to turn its back on its first open water event at its own World Championships.
If FINA drops the 25 km competition from its calendar, the event will continue in other venues and under different governing bodies and race directors. The demand for marathon swimming is simply too big to ignore.
Size and Growth of the Sport
The growth of the sport since 2005 has been undeniable, continuously increasing in terms of media attention, participation, and awareness. The growth is demonstrably tracked with numerous metrics. In November 2005, the IOC approved the addition of the inaugural 10 km marathon swim at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. As a result, the number of marathon swimmers, events, solo swims, relays, books, documentary films and sponsorship dramatically increased – and continues to do so.
As a reminder of the size of the community, the Marathon Swimmers Federation has documented over 73,000 sanctioned or individual marathon swims by over 27,100 swimmers from 140 countries. Openwaterpedia has listed 21,968 open water swimmers and 5,499 open water events globally – and these are just two organizations that track the relative size of the sport.
The trajectory of continued growth continues unabated.
In comparison, the size of the water polo community, artistic swimming community, and diving community are not much bigger – if that.
Loss of Control
Over the last several years, FINA has struggled against the pool swimming competition of the ISL (International Swim League). When elite swimmers around the world started to compete in the ISL, FINA had to adapt as an organization and as a governing body as well as increase its prize money.
If FINA stops the 25 km World Championships, it is almost assured that a new international organization will form to organize/regulate their own event.
Does FINA really want to cede another part of its current domain?
Global Awareness + Media Attention
If you consider the number of published books (see examples here), television specials (see example here), award-winning documentary films (see example here), Hollywood feature length movies (see example here), and TED Talks (see examples here) centered around marathon swimming, it is more than likely that the books are written by or about swimmers who have swum long distances versus those swimming in a pool (note: we enjoy watching and reading about both pool and marathon swimmers).
These individuals include both men and women, and those young and older from Lewis Pugh (the United Nations Patron of the Oceans) to Sarah Thomas (breast cancer survivor who captured the world’s media attention with 4 consecutive crossings of the English Channel).
The human interest stories around marathon swimmers often captures the attention and heart strings of many:
- Maarten van der Weijden of the Netherlands is the only Olympic gold medalist to have survived – and he won the 2008 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships 25 km race in Seville, Spain.
- Natalie du Toit of South Africa is the Olympic finalist – in any sport – who is an amputee. While she never competed in a FINA World Championship 25 km race (because she was focusing on the 10 km), she has swum long races.
- Taranath Shenoy, a disabled swimmer from India, swims across the English Channel.
Watching a marathon run or marathon swim on television or on a livecast can be admittedly boring to people who are admittedly not intimately involved or interested in the sport. However, there are snippets of action – intense action – during 25 km marathon swims that ARE exciting to a majority of sports fans and are usually quite hidden from even most aquatics fans.
It is not necessary to television the entire 5-6 hour competition, especially with today’s viewing audiences. Instead a short, action-filled 2-5 minute television special on a marathon swim would focus on the following:
- The start: why do some athletes delay getting into the water?
- The turn buoys: if sports fans want to see physical altercations (elbows, kicking, pulling, and athletes swimming on top or across one another), the bunched-up pack swimming around turn buoys is tactical wrestling in the water
- The feeding station: coaches yelling and positioning themselves on a floating pontoon with swimming jockeying among one another, aiming for their national flags, is like a tire change in a crowded pit stop
- The finish: imagine racing for between 5-6 hours and the race coming down to tenths of seconds as athletes frantically reach above the water surface to the timing pad? Photo finishes are not uncommon [see race results below].
- Yellow and red flags: infractions for unsportsmanlike conduct and impeding are both nuanced and obvious. Catching these infractions and then explaining the nuances of these referee decisions are interesting to most sports fans who appreciate fairness and objectivity in athletics.
- Interviewing exhausted athletes at finish: watching and listening to athletes who have raced in a pack for 5-6 hours and who are physically exhausted shows the ultimate sacrifice that sports fans can appreciate. Their voices are punctuated with fatigue and their words are profound and inspirational.
By all indications, the competitiveness improves among Olympic 10K marathon swimmers. Dropping the 25 km marathon swim would give these elite swimmers one fewer opportunity to develop their stamina and speed and showcase their skills. Examples are numerous:
- Ana Marcela Cunha (gold in 2020) has also won four 25 km FINA World Championship titles (2011, 2015, 2017, 2019).
- Thomas Lurz, the only man to win multiple Olympic 10K Marathon Swims (silver in 2008, bronze in 2012), also raced and won the 25 km World Championship.
- Sharon van Rouwendaal (gold in 2016, silver in 2020), Valerio Cleri (4th in 2008, 17th in 2012), Edith van Dijk (14th in 2008 as the oldest competitor), Angela Maurer (4th in 2008, 5th in 2012), Martina Grimaldi (bronze in 2012), Mark Warkentin (8th in 2008), Anna Olasz (14th in 2016, 4th in 2020), Finnia Wunram (10th in 2020), Yuri Kudinov (22nd in 2012), etc. [see list of FINA World Championship podium finishers below].
There are athletes who are sprinters and athletes who are long-distance specialists. In track, there is 100m sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. They both add to the sport of running – and have different personalities and accomplish different feats that attract different types of fans. In swimming, there is Florent Manaudou of France in the 50m freestyle and Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m freestyle. In the open water, there are swimmers like Pilar Geijo and Britta Kamrau, Petar Stoychev and Trent Grimsey – all great ambassadors of aquatics who can explain the sport of open water swimming eloquently and colorfully – drawing more people and the next generation of children and teenagers to the sport.
While it is easy to watch the 50m sprint in the pool, there are still many fans of the 1500m freestyle. The longer events in either the swimming pool or in the open water may not be as television friendly as the shorter events, but the personalities, tactics and background of the sport are still enticing to many and add to the great flavor of aquatics on a global scale.
The 25 km marathon swim is a beautifully challenging event that must continue and will provide many inspirational back stories for generations to come.
6th FINA World Championships 1991 (Perth, Australia) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Shelley Taylor-Smith 5:21:05.53
- Silver: Martha Jahn (USA) 5:25:16.67
- Bronze: Karen Burton (USA) 5:28:22.74
- Gold: Chad Hundeby (USA) 5:01:45.78
- Silver: Sergio Chariandini (Italy) 5:03:18.81
- Bronze: David O’Brien (Australia) 5:08:53.35
7th FINA World Championships 1994 (Rome, Italy) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Melissa Cunningham (Australia) 5:47:25.04
- Silver: Rita Kovács (Hungary) 5:50:13.76
- Bronze: Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) 5:53:12.82
- Gold: Greg Streppel (Canada) 5:35:26.56
- Silver: David Bates (Australia) 5:36:31.70
- Bronze: Aleksey Akatyev (Russia) 5:37:26.43
8th FINA World Championships 1998 (Perth, Australia) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Tobie Smith (USA) 5:31:20.10
- Silver: Peggy Büchse (Germany) 5:32:19.20
- Bronze: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 5:38:06.90
- Gold: Aleksey Akatyev (Russia) 5:05:42.10
- Silver: David Meca Medina (Spain) 5:07:22.90
- Bronze: Gabriel Chaillou (Argentina) 5:07:52.60
FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships 2000 (Honolulu, USA) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 5:30:04.07
- Silver: Viola Valli (Italy) 5:30:06.06
- Bronze: Angela Maurer (Germany) 5:30:08.06
- Gold: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 4:55:51.12
- Silver: David Meca Medina (Spain) 4:56:11.42
- Bronze: Aleksey Akatyev (Russia) 4:57:03.12
9th FINA World Championships 2001 (Fukuoka, Japan) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Viola Valli (Italy) 5:56:51.00
- Silver: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 6:00:36.00
- Bronze: Angela Maurer (Germany) 6:06:19.00
- Gold: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 5:25:32.00
- Silver: Stéphane Gomez (France) 5:26:00.00
- Bronze: Stéphane Lecat (France) 5:26:36.00
FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships 2002 (Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt) 25 km Podium
- Gold: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 6:11:21.00
- Silver: Angela Maurer (Germany) 6:11:22.43
- Bronze: Britta Kamrau (Germany) 6:11:22.70
- Gold: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 5:39:14.00
- Silver: Anton Sanachev (Russia) 5:41:14.00
- Bronze: Gabriel Chaillou (Argentina) 5:41:16.00
10th FINA World Championships 2003 (Barcelona, Spain) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 5:35:43.50
- Silver: Britta Kamrau (Germany) 5:35:46.10
- Bronze: Angela Maurer (Germany) 5:35:46.50
- Gold: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 5:02:20.00
- Silver: David Meca Medina (Spain) 5:02:20.40
- Bronze: Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) 5:02:20.60
FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships 2004 (Dubai, UAE) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Britta Kamrau (Germany) 5:43:09.60
- Silver: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 5:43:09.70
- Bronze: Natalia Pankina (Russia) 5:43:14.40
- Gold: Brendan Capell (Australia) 5:05:39.60
- Silver: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 5:07:05.20
- Bronze: Evgeny Koshkarov (Russia) 5:07:59.70
11th FINA World Championships 2005 (Montreal, Canada) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 5:25:06.60
- Silver: Britta Kamrau (Germany) 5:25:06.90
- Bronze: Laura La Piana (Italy) 5:25:11.50
- Gold: David Meca Medina (Spain) 5:00:21.40
- Silver: Brendan Capell (Australia) 5:00:23.60
- Bronze: Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) 5:00:28.40
FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships 2006 (Napoli, Italy) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Angela Maurer (Germany) 6:22:46.90
- Silver: Natalia Pankina (Russia) 6:22:47.80
- Bronze: Ksenia Popova (Russia) 6:22:51.30
- Gold: Josh Santacaterina (Australia) 5:47:34.10
- Silver: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 5:48:56.90
- Bronze: Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) 5:49:00.20
12th FINA World Championships 2007 (Melbourne, Australia) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Britta Kamrau (Germany) 5:37:11.66
- Silver: Kalyn Keller (USA) 5:39:39.62
- Bronze: Ksenia Popova (Russia) 5:39:51.51
- Gold: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 5:16:45.55
- Silver: Marco Formentini (Italy) 5:18:36.80
- Bronze: Mohamed Monir El Zanaty (Egypt) 5:19:23.23
FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships 2008 (Seville, Spain) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Ksenia Popova (Russia) 5:27:48.2
- Silver: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands) 5:27:50.3
- Bronze: Natalia Pankina (Russia) 5:27:53.9
- Gold: Maarten van der Weijden (Netherlands) 5:04:01.
- Silver: Mark Warkentin (USA) 5:04:01.6
- Bronze: Yuri Kudinov (Russia) 5:04:02.4
13th FINA World Championships 2009 (Rome, Italy) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Angela Maurer (Germany) 5:47:48.00
- Silver: Anna Uvarova (Russia) 5:47:51.90
- Bronze: Federica Vitale (Italy) 5:47:52.70
- Gold: Valerio Cleri (Italy) 5:26:31.60
- Silver: Trent Grimsey (Australia) 5:26:31.60
- Bronze: Vladimir Dyatchin (Russia) 5:29:29.30
6th FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships (lac St-Jean, Canada) 25 km Podium
- Gold: Linsy Heister (Netherlands) 5:52:13.06
- Silver: Margarita Dominguez (Spain) 5:55:59.29
- Bronze: Celia Barrot (France) 5:57:02.87
- Gold: Alex Meyer (USA) 5:32:39.38
- Silver: Valerio Cleri (Italy) 5:32:40.40
- Bronze: Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) 5:33:50.29
14th FINA World Championships 2011 (Shanghai, China) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil) 5:29:22.90
- Silver: Angela Maurer (Germany) 5:29:25.00
- Bronze: Alice Franco (Italy) 5:29:30.80
- Gold: Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) 5:10:39.80
- Silver: Vladimir Dyatchin (Russia) 5:11:15.60
- Bronze: Csaba Gercsak (Hungary) 5:11:18.10
15th FINA World Championships 2013 (Barcelona, Spain) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Martina Grimaldi (Italy) 5:07:19.70
- Silver: Angela Maurer (Germany) 5:07:19.80
- Bronze: Eva Fabian (USA) 5:07:20.40
- Gold: Thomas Lurz (Germany) 4:47:27.00
- Silver: Brian Ryckeman (Belgium) 4:47:27.40
- Bronze: Evgenii Drattsev (Russia) 4:48:28.10
16th FINA World Championships 2015 (Kazan, Russia) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil) 5:13:47.30
- Silver: Anna Olasz (Hungary) 5:14:13.40
- Bronze: Angela Maurer (Germany) 5:15:07.60
- Gold: Simone Ruffini (Italy) 4:53:10.70
- Silver: Alex Meyer (USA) 4:53:15.10
- Bronze: Matteo Furlan (Italy) 4:54:38.00
17th FINA World Championships 2017 (Budapest, Hungary) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil) 5:21:58.40
- Silver: Sharon van Rouwendaal (Netherlands) 5:22:00.80
- Bronze: Arianna Bridi (Italy) 5:22:08.20
- Gold: Axel Reymond (France) 5:02:46.40
- Silver: Matteo Furlan (Italy) 5:02:47.00
- Bronze: Evgenii Drattcev (Russia) 5:02:49.80
18th FINA World Championships 2019 (Gwanju, Korea) 25 km Podium Finishers
- Gold: Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil) 5:08:03.00
- Silver: Finnia Wunram (Germany) 5:08.11.60
- Bronze: Lara Grangeon de Villele (France) 5:08:21.20
- Gold: Axel Reymond (France) 4:51:06.20
- Silver: Kirill Belyaev (Russia) 4:51:06.50
- Bronze: Alessio Occhipinti (Italy) 4:51:09.50
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