The two most prominent organizations in open water swimming — the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) and the Marathon Swimmers Federation (MSF) — seem to be at odds about whether to ratify Diana Nyad’s Cuba-to-Florida crossing in the “assisted” category ahead of the upcoming ‘Nyad’ biopic hitting Netflix on Nov. 3.
Both organizations agree that Nyad’s 110-mile journey shouldn’t count as an unassisted swim because the then-64-year-old didn’t follow English Channel rules (wearing a stinger suit for protection from jellyfish, for example) and was touched by crew members at times throughout the 53-hour trek. But since an extensive 2022 analysis of the swim found no evidence of cheating, MSF believes it should fall in the “assisted” category. Meanwhile, WOWSA argues that there are too many lingering questions related to a “nine-hour gap in the logs, …the absence of photo/video evidence and inconsistencies in crew statements” to offer any ratification.
For the past decade, Nyad only sought ratification in the “unassisted” category, but last month she told the LA Times that she would now accept the “assisted” stamp of ratification. Then a couple weeks later, WOWSA released its Sept. 9 ruling denying ratification as either an assisted or unassisted swim. Nyad’s swim was removed from the Guinness Book of Records database after WOWSA flagged its lack of official ratification.
“The suggestion was made, following the undertaking of the swim, that the swim had been completed in conformity with rules and procedures promulgated by an organization, the Florida Straits Open Water Swimming Association (FSOWSA), which did not formally exist at the time of the swim,” WOWSA CEO Quinn Fitzgerald wrote. “Additionally, there were contradictory statements from crew members during critical hours when observer logs lacked entries for over 9 hours.
“After careful consideration and review, members of the WOWSA Advisory Board have decided to deny the ratification of Diana Nyad’s record attempt for the swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013.”
MSF co-founder Evan Morrison claims that WOWSA is denying Nyad’s ratification to “generate controversy” and “clicks” two months before the major motion picture featuring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster.
“MSF has not traditionally considered Assisted swims for ratification, but since the new WOWSA owner is using Diana’s lack of official ratification as a cudgel to target her listing in Guinness World Records and generate further controversy (read: clicks), we may reconsider this policy,” Morrison wrote. “What the new WOWSA management doesn’t seem to understand, since they weren’t around at the time, is that in 2013, there was no system of ratification for independent solo swims, or generally accepted standards of documentation.
“Is it fair to hold Diana accountable to standards that shifted beneath her feet in the years following her swim?” Morrison continued. “In any case, if 2023-style ratification is what will help the sport move on from this unrelenting embarrassing debacle, then let’s define an appropriate category and ratify it.”
Fitzgerald called the accusations “surprising and baseless.”
“38 members of our advisory board took time out of their lives to review all the documentation from the swim,” Fitzgerald said. “The resulting statement reflects our focus on upholding the sport’s integrity.
“In 2022, Evan Morrison was supportive of our efforts to locate the documentation which led to our comprehensive report,” he added. “The 2022 Nyad report not only brought clarity to the issue but also fostered a potential collaboration between MSF and WOWSA on rules. Our efforts, especially under new management, were fostering a working relationship between MSF and WOWSA. The recent accusations by Evan Morrison are both surprising and baseless, given our concerted efforts to bring clarity and resolution to this long-standing issue.”
WOWSA advised Netflix to include a disclaimer emphasizing the film’s dramatized nature, but the recent trailer still markets the movie as an “extraordinary true story.” WOWSA founder Steven Munatones served as an advisor for ‘Nyad,’ but he split from the organization as part of a vague restructuring earlier this year, leaving Fitzgerald in charge.
In spite of their disagreement, both parties seem to have the same goal: bring closure to a saga that has dominated the conversation in marathon swimming for a decade.
‘Nyad’ is the first scripted feature directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the Oscar-winning team behind Free Solo (2018). The pair said they looked into criticisms of the swim and found that they were not valid.
“Our film is not about a record,” Varsarhelyi told the LA Times. “Our film is not about how many times someone was touched. It’s about how a woman woke up at 60 and realized she wasn’t finished, even though the world may be finished with her.”
Ratification aside, Nyad’s swim was still a first. Walter Poenisch was the first to successfully complete the Cuba-to-Florida crossing with a shark cage and fins, Susie Maroney became the first to achieve the feat without fins, and Nyad became the first to do so without a shark cage.