Olympic Medalist Markus Rogan Breaks World Record for Longest Swim Under Ice (111.2 Meters)

by Riley Overend 13

March 03rd, 2024 News

Gazing across the frozen Lake Weissensee last month in the Austrian Alps, two-time Olympic silver medalist Markus Rogan prepared to swim the length of a football field under ice with one question dominating his thoughts.

Why the f**k am I doing this? Do I really need this?

Rogan, now a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles, searched inward for an answer as he walked the 111.2-meter route — a distance chosen in honor of his son’s birthday on November 12.

“The reason I keep coming up with is there’s this thing that we as men have where at some point as a little boy we’re told to man up and put on this armor,” said Rogan, a 41-year-old Stanford graduate from Vienna, Austria. “Why do you think I went to the Olympics? Why do you think I became a doctor? Because I’m so secure in myself? No — I needed a lot of external validation to feel good about myself.

“We put on so much armor all the time,” he told SwimSwam. “Why do we buy nice cars and do all these things if not to finally feel good about ourselves? What happens in these long breath holds and these long, edge-of-life experiences is for a brief moment afterwards you get to take the armor off and be that good-enough little boy. And that just feels so good, to be able to cry in my friend’s arms afterwards and just thank him for being alive. You feel like, wow, it’s really just about this beautiful breath. The first breath you take when you come up is the first breath of the rest of your life.”

Adding to the risk was Rogan’s decision to forego a safety rope to maximize the glide on his stroke, though he did have a team of world record free divers in scuba gear supervising his attempt. He said the last 30 meters felt like swimming in peanut butter because the blood from his hands and arms withdrew to protect his lungs and heart. “If you had seen me at 90 meters and asked me, ‘What’s 5+3?’, I would not have been able to give you an answer,” Rogan said.

After almost a minute and a half under the frozen lake, Rogan emerged conscious and triumphant as the new world record holder for longest swim under ice without fins or a wetsuit — 19 years after he first broke the world record in the SCM 200 backstroke back in 2005. The global standard for longest swim under ice without fins or a diving suit was only 80.99 meters until Swiss free diver Peter Colat went 106.25 meters last February.

Rogan credited 84-year-old entertainment lawyer Michael Donaldson as his inspiration throughout training. He spent this past winter watching Donaldson swim three lengths of his unheated 25-yard pool without coming up for a breath and hearing him quote Socrates: “It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” Last month, Donaldson joined Rogan in the Austrian Alps and broke four ice swimming world records in a new senior category created by Guinness World Records.

Looking back, Rogan wishes he would have taken ice swimming more seriously during his professional career because of the benefits for his breath work. He can now hold his breath for six minutes thanks to a bit of training, almost double the 3 ½ minutes he could muster at his athletic peak.

“I really encourage all professional swimmers to take a serious look at what breath work can do for them,” Rogan said. “If you do it with proper supervision, I think you can really discover what your mind is capable of; it’s much more than you think. There’s no reason any swimmer should ever come up before 15 meters on any race.”

In his private practice, Rogan also recommends cold water exposure for his non-swimming clients to help them recognize that reactions — even panic — are closer to active choices than we think.

“In general, the big thing is that most of us live our life always having to react to something,” Rogan said. “There’s a text message, there’s some requirements, the kids want something, the wife wants something, the mom wants something. We’re constantly running around reacting. And that, clinically, demands the sympathetic nervous system to be hyperactive. We end up just running around most of the time doing something that we have to do — or that we tell ourselves we have to do. So we are conditioned, more or less, that there are all these things that we have to do and all these conditions that we have to react to. One of these conditions that we automatically assume is that when you jump into ice, you’re going to be short of breath, you’re going to be freezing cold, and you’re going to want to get out. You just assume those are givens, you never really think about or question that that reaction is a choice. Even panic is a choice.

“That’s when you realize that being in ice water doesn’t necessarily lead you to that panic breath,” he added. “You are, on some level, making a choice to panic. You can actually look at that neurologically: the cerebral cortex grows thicker. There is actual change in people who meditate. Most reactions are just actions — they are active choices. In ice swimming, you realize very quickly that you can control much, much more than you think. That’s the part that I just love. I’m a psychologist, and I put a lot of my patients in ice baths just to help them learn that lesson that panic is a choice. Then once you realize that, you realize how much choice you actually have over every single one of your stress reactions.”

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 months ago

Do we know water temp?

Reply to  SCCOACH
2 months ago

Guessing between 32.5 and 33.5 F
When they do many of those ice swim competitions, that is often the temperature.

2 months ago

Stud, win one for the old guys! Glad to see a couple people push the record past 100m finally.

Great quotes too.

2 months ago

Quite the feat and story!
I have the same feelings about trying my hardest in life and needing validation for everything I do.
I hope to make the best of life and have fun which seems like what Markus strives to do.

Tea rex
2 months ago

Wow – where do people go to learn “breath work”? I hear people talk about it sometimes like it’s just an obvious thing

Reply to  Tea rex
2 months ago

Start with Wim Hof interviews or his book. Humans have so much untapped potential. The book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” is less instructional, but gives insight into why breathing matters as much as it does.

2 months ago

Rogan, now a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles, searched inward for an answer”… After swimming 100m under ice, he may not have found the answer, but I suspect he found his genitals…..

Swimmer I.M
2 months ago

I needed this, I miss Markus’s post-race interviews they were so funny

Human Ambition
Reply to  Swimmer I.M
2 months ago

He was a ball to hang out with at the international meets.

Last edited 2 months ago by Human Ambition
2 months ago


Reply to  Swimpop
2 months ago

You’re gross.

Sun Yangs Hammer
2 months ago

What’s his 75 with fins tho

The Original Tim
Reply to  Sun Yangs Hammer
2 months ago

45.8 and 1:41.4 in the 100/200 free at USMS Nats last spring, I bet he could still throw down a wicked 75 with fins

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

Read More »