A New Day for Open Water Swimming in the USA

  17 Mike Lewis | August 09th, 2012 | Featured, London 2012 Olympics, Open Water, Opinion

It’s a new day for open water swimming in the United States.   Haley Anderson’s silver medal performance at the London Olympic games means that open water swimming has officially arrived on the main stage.   Sure the USA has competed in this event at an international level for many years – and we’ve done very well:  World Champions, World Cup winners and the nation was represented in the inaugural 2008 Olympic 10K swim. Yet now we have an Olympic medal in this event and that changes everything.

When most age group programs fire back up for the start of the ‘fall’ season more young swimmers and their coaches will be tuned into the prospects of the open water event.   This can only mean good things for the USA distance program overall.   But now we as a nation can begin to capitalize on this awareness by investing our time and resources into developing even better assets for open water swimming.

We need more events.  We have so many amazing bodies of water in our nation – in both urban and rural settings – now is the time for local organizers to put together events that are fun and exciting for age groupers, senior level swimmers, and masters and triathletes.    We could also easily dovetail open water pool events (box course without lane lines) at the end of many of our regularly scheduled swim meets.

It’s a good time to take our can do attitude and innovation to new levels and think outside the ‘lane’ lines about how we can be the undisputed best in all the technical and tactical aspects of open water swimming. There will certainly be openings to build upon our strong knowledge base in developing new training methodologies and protocols.

There’s no want for talent in our open water word – just look at the field of swimmers at our nationals – and each year more and more top flight ‘pool’ swimmers are joining the ranks.  Haley is great swimmer and no stranger to open water success.  She’s also an accomplished pool swimmer:  the current NCAA champion in the 500 free and her time of 8:26.6 would have placed 7th in this year’s Olympic final in in the 800m free.    Competition is the mother of improvement and it’s great to see the competitive talent base growing each year.

Looking toward the future it’s exciting to see the development of American open water swimmers.   Our current national and junior national rosters are strong.   Over the next 4 years these athletes, as well as those in the pipeline, will push each other to new heights.   It’s not inconceivable to envision 4 medals for Team USA in Rio.  Sure it’s a tall order – but why not dream big?

These are great days to be a swimmer in the United States – today the greatness of our elite programs blurred the line that once separated pool and open water on the biggest stage of all – the Olympics.    I’m glad there’s still another race to come from London. Gotta love this sport!

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Comments

  1. W3TAlum says:
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    Fantastic article, and I’ve really enjoyed your open water coverage. One small quibble – unless the rules are changed for Rio, nations are limited to one entrant per event (if they qualify), which would make the max number of medals the US could win 2, not 4.

  2. Bow Swim says:
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    Very true and what a finish today. Go USA

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    I was stoked to be up early west coast time and see the last ~30 minutes of this race. To get second in this fast field is nothing short of amazing. I’m looking forward to watching the men’s events now.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your point about more events. USA Swimming needs to get behind OW in a directive way to their LSCs. Outside of OW Nationals, I see little push or effort at the local level for USA swimming to put on more OW events. As USMS does seem to be doing a good job of sanctioning and staging OW events, I see OW as a perfect place for USMS and USAS to partner on events. Heck, the more the merrier, so get USAT in there, as well, to pump up the numbers.

    • Mike Lewis says:
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      Nice observations Patrick. OW does seem like a great avenue to bring swimmers from various organizations and walks of life under one umbrella. OW festivals are fun. It could even be taken a step further, in my town of San Clemente there’s a summer ocean festival that brings swimmers, lifeguards, runners, sand castle builders and classic car enthusiasts together for a weekend of fun. The same could be done with open water events.

      Hopefully USA Swimming/USMS/USA Triathlon and community based organizations will see how everyone can win when we work together.

      • Braden Keith says:
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        Mike and Patrick – a question. Do you think that LSC’s are afraid to run open water events? Too much liability, too much fear of what could go wrong, too much fear of punishment if they screw something up? Maybe USA Swimming needs to spearhead more events until the comfort level and expertise percolates further into the swimming community? Just thinking out loud of the responses I could imagine getting in my LSC if I brought it up.

        • Mike Lewis says:
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          Hi Braden, I don’t think it’s an issue of fear, it’s more likely, it’s a function of education and expertise possibly inducing apprehension on the part of some LSC that have not done many OW events. Safety is paramount, obviously, and there has been a lot of work, debate and analysis to make sure events are run in a safe consistant manner and currently the sanction is decentralized and left to each NGB’s. So some top down oversight may be a logical way to move things along.

          There’s also big differences in how sanctioning is handled between organizations:

          see USA swimming:

          see US Masters:

        • WHOKNOWS says:
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          Maybe find out what OW events already exist in the LSC and then try to partner up with those events. Starting from scratch is very fearful. There are many ordinances or lack of ordinances from cities, park districts, counties, etc. that can drive you crazy!

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            Braden, Mike and Whoknows,

            I can mostly speak from personal experience with my kids swimming in AZ. I don’t think it’s fear so much on the part of the LSC as just lack of interest; I haven’t seen any push from the LSC, but I hope we can change that as new leadership comes into play. For the swimmers/parents, I think it’s a combination of fear, lack of awareness and lack of opportunities.

            On the awareness side, many of our OW events locally are open to 18 & unders (thanks to USAT sanctioning) and I’ve seen kids’ participation growing, but more through word of mouth. Even if the coaches/LSC just decided to “latch onto” existing events and promote them (without dealing with sanctioning), that could be a good first step. My kids’ club did partner with DCB Adventures (www.dcbadventures.com) last fall to create a kids-only wave during one of their OW events, but the turnout was primarily limited to our team and one other courageous coach in town.

            On the fear front, many parents and kids simply fear the unknown. I think we can overcome that by starting with events even with 10 & unders. I absolutely love what the La Jolla Rough Water swim does with their ~250M race for the 14 & unders. I introduced my daughters to OW through that event 6 years ago and now they both love it … to the point where my oldest will probably kick my butt in the Gatorman this year!

            I guess the other organization that it would be nice to see adopt OW swimming would be the NCAA. If you could add an OW NCAA championships, there would definitely be a trickle down effect to club swimming.

  4. morrow3 says:
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    Congratulations to Haley, her club coach Jeff Pearson and the Sierra Marlins! As well as her college program.

    I’m excited that both sisters came home with a medal.

    • newswim says:
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      Nice article….I do believe its more of an education issue. It’s easy to subcontract some of the safety logistics to experienced parties and the officiating is fairly straightforward once you have some experience. (Its a lot more fun observing swims from a kayak than on a hot pool deck).
      Here in New England our swimmers, both age group and masters, crave open water events, no doubt because we have so few opportunities to swim outside in the other three seasons. This popularity is not a new thing since the Boston Light Swim is the oldest open water swim marathon in the US (since 1907) but no doubt the success of local OW swimmers on the international stage has boosted the popularity among age group swimmers.

      • Mili Fabian says:
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        A very nice article, though the Hungarian winner’s EVA RISZTOV’S name should have been mentioned, since the OLIMPIC SPIRIT would require it.

  5. Dan Simonelli says:
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    Great article, Mike!
    I’m pumped too!
    Ready for a fun future in this sport…and, feel like going for a swim!

  6. NHGuy says:
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    Nice article Mike and thanks SS for your Olympic coverage.

    I agree that there is a huge opportunity to expand the open water event program in the US. But I think the UK’s experience is useful to review in considering how the US might develop. British swimmers won 3 medals in OW in Beijing, providing that extra profile and push for the popularization of the sport. But the swimming associations have not been leading the development of events (outside a limited range of elite events) – instead Running and Triathlon event entrepreneurs were quick to seize the mass participation/festival opportunities. Here are 2 examples:
    http://www.greatswim.org/
    http://swimseries.humanrace.co.uk/
    These events were instantly popular and very well attended.
    (Swimming associations are not naturally entreprenuerial/risk taking and seem inherently very conservative about open water, perhaps because so much of the sport is about age groupers, while mass participation triathlon and running are largely adult sports.)
    This suggest to me that the more promising route to expanding the open water events is likely to be by encouraging event entrepreneurs who are already comfortable with mass participation outdoor events to expand into open water. London’s open water venue, which used the same venue and temporary infrastructure as the triathlon, is a great model for how OW and triathlon could develop a strong symbiotic (and mutually profitable) relationship.

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    Super Article Mike! Jacee has been pushing the envelop here in Arizona creating her own non-profit to promote the sport of Open Water Swimming [Jacee for Kids]. Jacee also swims with the Open Water Swim Academy, La Jolla Cove Swim Club. Read her blog keeping up with her destination open water! Each year she has swum in many open water events in Arizona and California. Generating many other exciting articles in open water swimming for the Arizona folks, getting the pulse on the excitement of Open Water Swimming! Keep living the dream, others will follow!

    • Mike Lewis says:
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      That looks like a cool mission Jacee is on. I hope more people continue to get out there at the grassroots level to keep this segment of swimming vibrant, safe and fun!

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About Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis is a freelance commercial, sport and lifestyle photographer based in San Diego.  Mike began making photos in the early 80’s and immersed himself in all aspects of the photographic arts.  Mike’s professional career in in photography began after 12 years working within the United States Olympic movement; he …

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