Blueseventy Swim of the Week: When a two-hour race comes down to .006 seconds


Disclaimer: BlueSeventy Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The BlueSeventy Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks some as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.

Swimming constantly drives home the huge significance of tenths, even hundredths of a second. But even in a sport where the tiniest details make all the difference, we rarely see a race as close as the one last weekend.

At USA Swimming’s Open Water Nationals in Miromar Lakes, Florida, the race for the final men’s spot in Kazan, Russia came down to not hundredths, but thousandths of a second.

In the featured 10K race, which determined nearly all the U.S. entries into this summer’s World Championships, Sean Ryan and Alex Meyer brought the race as close as it could get.

Northwestern pool standout Jordan Wilimovsky powered away with the win in 1:54:27.928 – that’s one hour, fifty-four minutes and twenty-seven seconds – clinching the first transfer spot to Worlds. But behind him, Ryan and Meyer showed down for the second spot, going stroke for stroke in a dead sprint after nearly two hours of racing.

As they crossed the finish line, the race was too close to call. In fact, though pool swimming typically only measures times down to the hundredth, open water swimming measures to the thousandth. And it was just 6 of those thousandths – a margin so tiny the sport of swimming as a whole almost never measures it – that separated the two.

Ryan got the edge, going 1:54:40.334 to Meyer’s 1:54:40.440 and earning the second U.S. entry in this summer’s World 10K Championship.

To Meyer’s credit, he will still go to Kazan and will have the opportunity to swim the 5K, 25K or both. But that second place position had huge ramifications internationally that will stretch out for the next two years.

Worlds in Kazan will serve as the first qualifier for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. If a nation places two athletes in the top 10 at Worlds, those two athletes will be nominated as the Olympic bids from that country. Based on the Olympic selection procedures, Ryan is now in line for an Olympic bid, provided he finishes in the top 10 this summer, while Meyer is very likely out of the running.

Almost never has so much hinged on so small a margin. It’s that constant knowledge that the tiniest fractions of seconds make all the difference that makes swimming such a compelling sport at its highest level. And this week’s Featured Swim of the Week drives home that point in a way perhaps no other race can.

Check out our feature on the qualifying procedures for Worlds, the Olympics and more here.

Full US Nationals 10K results here.

About blueseventy

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5 years ago

I don’t know a lot about Open Water….how is the final time determined? is there a touch pad? is there a chip in there a timing chip in their cap? why does open water times go to the thousandth of a second and in swimming only to the hundredth?

CT Swim Fan
Reply to  DOUBLED
5 years ago

I watched some of the trials last weekend. The only one of your questions I can answer is that as the swimmers got to the finish line they all reached up and touched a sign over the finish line that said finish. Not sure if hitting that sign first was the determining factor or not.

Reply to  CT Swim Fan
5 years ago

CT Swim Fan – that’s correct. The time is considered by hitting the touchpad suspended over the finish line.

DOUBLED – while I don’t know if I’ve ever heard an “official” explanation, it’s partially due to the fact that swimming a 10k swim-off would be next to impossible to do fairly. They also have cameras (I believe they’re gopros) fitted all over the touchpad that allows them to slow the finish way, way down and use FPS calculations to verify to the thousandths.

Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

I agree on the near impossibility of a swim-off in a 10K, but where in the USA Swimming rules does it allow a race to be decided to the 1000th of a second? In comments in the other thread that DANJOHNROB mentioned I quoted the section of the rules that specifies that timing go to the 100th, with any 1000th digits dropped with no rounding. I also quoted the section that is in the Open Water rules that states “When Automatic Officiating Equipment (microchip technology) is used for timing of the race, the official time for the finish shall be recorded in tenths of seconds. Actual finish placement shall be determined by manual finish judging and/or video replay of the… Read more »

Reply to  Barbotus
5 years ago

Barbotus, Unfortunately it doesn’t look like any of the staff paid attention to our comments under the initial report of this race or this one. I’m disappointed, because I would really like your question to be answered! 🙁

5 years ago

I asked the same question under the article about the results of this race. I think CT Swim Fan is essentially correct; rather than relying on a touchpad, there was a photo-finish that determined Ryan touched before Meyer. I guess it’s similar to the way they decide who wins a 100 meter dash run.

It seems like there is a lack of confidence in the accuracy of touchpads to decide pool swimming races past 0.01. Even though electronic timing DOES measure to 0.001, the rules stipulate that the thousandth place measurements will be dropped and disregarded in determining placement.

I think it would be interesting if SwimSwam wrote an article on this topic. 😉

5 years ago

I guess it. Was used to a thousandth because it was for a position on the worlds and swim off would be unreasonable. To Dave Berkoff as I said last week on this it was the IM result in 72 look it up with McKee and Larsen that they used a thousanth. Later it was discussed the tolerance in building a pools walls in one lane to another that a thousanth was unfair. I am not sure what year it was finally done but FINA doesn’t meet that oftenm. McKee was second again but no tie in 76 to Strachen. The open water qualifying for the Olympics is the toughest to be able to get to the games and if… Read more »

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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