Swimming’s international governing body is in danger of making the wrong call about the use of wetsuits at Rio. We at the Henley Swim are adding our voice to the growing opinion that the use of wetsuits at the Rio Games detracts from the spirit of the 10K open water swim.
Be in no doubt, swimming outdoors in an unheated body of water, in anything under 20 degrees can cause most people to struggle at any distance, let alone the mammoth 10K Olympic distance. But we are not talking about most people here – we are talking about the world’s most conditioned athletes, who have spent a lifetime building their physical and mental condition, culminating in what they hope will be a once in a lifetime performance.
And it’ll need to be. Open water swimming is attracting a much greater depth of talent, and this huge test of endurance is something special, requiring a range of skills including being able to cope with differing water temperatures. In essence, dealing with the conditions is a key element of the event, be that hot or cold. Just like dealing with the ability to feed mid race, or navigating the course effectively – all these elements make the event what it is.
It’s critical that swimmers are able to compete safely, but assuming the safety crews are of the required professional standard, dealing with the cold is standard practice. It’s a given that all concerned will be aware of the conditions beforehand to within a narrow range, so the water temperature should come as no surprise, just like all the other variables they deal with on a regular basis. From personal experience, if one uses a wetsuit at around 18 degrees, the problem will be heat.
I’m not privy to the inner workings at the headquarters of world swimming, but it’s starting to feel uncomfortable that these sorts of debates are happening this close to the Games. We all know that swimmers handle the cold differently, but that is what it’s all about. At Henley Swim we love wetsuits and the way they are drawing more and more people into the sport, but equally, we appreciate the “purist” side of the sport.
About the author.
Tom Kean is co-founder of Henley Swim Events, and has been a swimmer for as long as he can remember. His first competitive swim was at the age of ten, and possibly as a sign of things to come, it was indeed out in the open water – a one mile swim in the sea.