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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2 Seconds Of Pressure On Coaches And Athletes

In the Olympic 10km Marathon Swim at the upcoming 2012 London Olympics in Hyde Park, each athlete will be assisted by one coach of their choice. What is it that the coaches do? Why is it so important? And, why is there so much pressure?

The history and responsibilities of open water swimming coaches goes back as far as the escort crew of Captain Webb, who was the first person to swim across the English Channel in 1875. Open water swimming coaches not only guide their athletes' training and nutrition on a daily basis, but also formulate race strategy, serve as their eyes and ears and, very importantly, serve them fluids during their swims.

Open water coaches, like their pool counterparts, typically spend hours walking up and down the deck of a pool training their swimmers and oversee their training in a gym for dryland exercises. Additionally, they spend hours walking up and down shorelines or sitting in kayaks, paddle boards or motorized escort boats following their athletes in open water. All these thousands of hours of devotion, strategizing and coaching boil down to a race of less than two hours. And - at least for the coach - this 2-hour race boils down to a few critical seconds.

During the 2-hour Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, the swimmers will pass their coach, standing on a floating feeding station, four times. Only 4 times. A total of maybe 8 seconds. The coaches will yell, whistle and cheer for their swimmer on every loop. Each time the swimmers pass the floating feeding station, the coaches will arm themselves with a feeding stick and the athlete's favorite drink. These drinks include Gatorade, fortified water and as many concoctions as there are swimmers. Many athletes are fed different formulations during the race due to varying physiological needs.

During the first loop, some swimmers may not stop. However, during the next 3 loops, the swimmers and coaches must perfectly synchronize their timing. Any error in timing, a critical change in positioning (especially on the compact Serpentine course in London) and the swimmer's chances of medaling drops considerably.

As the coaches lean, kneel and stretch out as far on the race course as possible, the swimmers swing by in order to cruise pass the feeding station. The swimmers have just one shot at grabbing their cups that are delicately cradled on the coaches' feeding stick. Observers have equated the frantic swimmers to hungry sharks leaping for one last bloody piece of a sea lion carcass. Unlike race car drivers who know where their pit crews are located, the swimmers do not always know exactly where their coaches are positioned until they see them on the first loop.

As the swimmers fight for position coming into their first feeding, they expect the end of their feeding sticks to be slightly above the water's surface, facing just at their preferred angle, so they can quickly reach up and grab their own cup without breaking their stroke rhythm. A missed stroke means losing valuable ground to their competitors where the difference between gold and bronze can be seconds - or tenths of seconds.

If the coach-swimmer teamwork is successful, the swimmers reach up for their cup, roll on their backs, gulp their drink and resume swimming - all without losing momentum - within 2 seconds.

Meanwhile, the coaches themselves are being pushed and jostled by other coaches trying to reach their own athletes at the optimal position. Like a Tokyo subway train, there can be only so much space and too many people. In other words, the coaches have no more than two seconds to position their feeding stick at the water's surface, hold and release the swimmer's cup at the optimal position, and then retrieve their feeding stick without hitting any competitors - which could be cause for a yellow or red card called on their athlete.

So, unlike the running marathons, where there are frequent water stops along the race course and all kinds of volunteers and cups of water to aid the runner, the swimming marathoners have only a few opportunities to get fluid during a two-hour marathon swim.

Despite the coach's best efforts and years of experience, when a large pack of swimmers come flying into the feeding station together, the coaches face additional problems. Sometimes, swimmers may grab or inadvertently hit other swimmer's feeding sticks or spill their competitor's cups. In these cases, no apologies are made...both swimmers and coaches simply chalk it up to bad luck and poor timing.

Secondly, if a pack 3, 4 or 5 swimmers wide come into the feeding station together, the feeding stick simply cannot reach the swimmer who is positioned furthest from the feeding station. In those cases, the swimmer usually turns up the course and accepts the unfortunate situation.

Thirdly, when a very large group of swimmers heads towards the feeding station, all splashing and swimming very close to one another, the only thing that can be positively identified is a...very large group of swimmers splashing and thrashing close to one another. This is especially true with the men, who often remove their swim caps during races. Occasionally, as coaches stretch the feeding stick out to the thrashing pod of athletes, they notice their swimmers are in a different position and swimming away from the feeding station.

Occasionally, tempers flare and expletives in numerous languages can be heard; sometimes directed at others, sometimes direct at themselves. Yet, an unwritten gentleman's code of conduct is strictly followed at the feeding stations because every open water coach knows that if he or she were to fall in the water and disturb another swimmer, his or her own swimmer would be immediately disqualified.

The coach's formula is pretty simple. 3 feeds x 2 seconds each x 100% accuracy = potential for Olympic gold.

In other words, 4 years of standing on pool decks, 4 years of walking along shorelines, 4 years of plotting strategy, 4 years of traveling the world to competitions - and the coach's best efforts can go up in smoke within 2 seconds.

So the pressure is on - the coaches.

Photo by Dr. Jim Miller at the 2007 World Swimming Championships in Montreal, Canada on the Olympic rowing course feeding pier.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source

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The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE CONFERENCE

The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

The 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Programme

Wednesday, September 17th
Leave Glasgow to commence 2-day tour of Scotland [closest international airport is Glasgow]

Thursday, September 18th
Stay Mainland, North of Scotland

Friday, September 19th
14:00 - Swim Loch Lomond
17:00 - Head to Isle of Bute
19:30 - Scottish Banquet
21:30 - Dinner Dance

Saturday, September 20th
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
12:20 - Lunch and WOWSA Awards
13:40 – Speeches
15:40 - Round Table
19:00 - International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony

Sunday, September 21st
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
14:30 - Swim in St Ninian's Bay on the Isle of Bute

The luminaries of the open water swimming world who will be honored in Scotland will include:

* Sandra Bucha (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Jon Erikson (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Claudio Plit (Argentina), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* David Yudovin (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Mercedes Gleitze (Great Britain), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* George Young (Canada), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Dale Petranech (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Contributor
* Melissa Cunningham (Australia), 2013 Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award winner
* Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* James Anderson (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Dr. Jane Katz (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Indonesian Swimming Federation, , International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Organisation
* Elizabeth Fry (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* Olga Kozydub (Russia), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* Bering Strait Swim (international team), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* International Ice Swimming Association (Ram Barkai, founder, South Africa), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

For additional articles on the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, visit:

* Olga Kozydub To Be Honored In Scotland
* Pádraig Mallon To Be Honored In Mount Stuart Castle
* Mount Stuart House, Splendid Setting For Swimming
* Colleen Blair To Kick-off Global Open Water Swimming Conference
* The Man Who Swims Better Than He Walks
* Joining In The Sea Goddess At The Hall Of Fame
* Mercedes Gleitze To Be Honored In Scotland
* The Incredible Career Of Merceded Gleitze
* Jon Erikson To Be Honoured In Florida
* The Incredible Career Of Mercedes Gleitze
* St Ninian's Bay To Host International Swim Conference

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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