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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Doctor Is In, Quietly Confident Around The Water

Cecil Gordon M.D. (standing on boat in middle of 3 officials on left) has a quiet, professional demeanor that is well-suited for his role as one of the leading pool and open water swimming officials in the United States.

He was initially drawn to competitive aquatics when his children got involved in swimming. He has traveled the country as a volunteer working his way up from local swim meets to the highest echelon in the sport of American swimming.

In addition to his work on the pool decks and on officials boats at the open water swimming competitions, Dr. Gordon was formerly the chairman for the Diversity Committee and is now the chairman for the Safe Sport Committee at USA Swimming, the governing body of swimming in America.

Over the course of his relatively short career, he climbed up the ranks quickly and has been selected to serve as a 3-time starter at the NCAA Swimming Championships, a starter and referee at several USA Swimming national championships, an official at the 2008 USA Swimming Olympic Trials, one of six Chief Judges at the 2012 USA Swimming Olympic Trials, and a FINA open water swimming official.

He was also the first person of color chosen to be the head referee at the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships.

To be selected to officiate at these competitions where athletes' careers and Olympic berths are on the line is a result of his professionalism and competence and is an honor well-deserved. Open Water Source asked Dr. Gordon about his officiating career:

Open Water Source: When did you first get involved in officiating?
Dr. Gordon: My interest in swimming developed when my children began to compete competitively. I began officiating around 2001 or so. My son, Clifton, is now 19 and completing his freshman year at the University of North Carolina as a member of the swim team. My daughter Cecily also swims and will enter Georgetown University this fall.

Open Water Source: When did you first get interested in open water?
Dr. Gordon: In 2007 at my first meet in Indianapolis. Initially, I went to my first open water competition between pool competitions. The open water competition was held on Sunday, which was the off day between the the Senior Nationals and Junior Nationals that summer. I was looking for something to do and thought I’d give it a try. As a kid growing up in North Carolina, hunting and fishing were always activities I enjoyed with my father and grandfather. So being outside on a lake in a boat was natural for me. I’ve been hooked and have been working as an official in various competitions ever since as frequently as possible.

Open Water Source: Are pool and open water swimming officiating any different?
Dr. Gordon: Staying focused is a part of the challenge and a part of the enjoyment of both open water and pool officiating. The length of the open water races and the amount of time required are certainly different. Fortunately, however, as an official I find that the degree of focus required varies at certain parts of the race. When a pack of swimmers is tightly bunched and contact is inevitable, my focus is at its peak. At other times when the swimmers are spaced neatly and the pace is comfortable, I allow myself to relax somewhat and enjoy the surroundings. As a good official, one never completely loses focus or awareness at any point, whether in the pool or on a lake. But there are times when the intensity does diminish somewhat, both for the athlete and the official.

Open Water Source: Are you looking for anything in particular in open water races?
Dr. Gordon: During open water competitions I’m not necessarily looking for anything. More so, I’m observing to see what is happening around me. Certainly I’m watching the swimmers for any potential violation, such as interference, illegal contact, missing a turn. But I’m also constantly trying to think ahead, anticipating where I will need to position myself to better be able to see what might happen next. Because we are on boats, maneuvering is not as simple and as quick as being on a pool deck. Safety is paramount, too. One has to be aware of the positions of all swimmers when a boat makes a move. Any injury would likely not be a minor one. And, there are other boats on the water, too, which increases the possibility of an accident.

Being aware of the positions of all of the boats and officials on the water is absolutely necessary. It is choreography on water. There has to be a balance so that the entire field is covered by the officials as much as possible at all times. And eyes must be maintained on all swimmers at all times. The swimmers must be accounted for.

Open Water Source: Have you had to make difficult decisions or encountered difficult situations?
Dr. Gordon: There are always difficult decisions to be made for any official. Officiating in swimming requires split-second decisions that can result in an athlete being disqualified from that competition. That is a severe penalty, unlike in most other sports. That decision cannot be taken lightly. If there was one decision that perhaps caused me the most consternation, it was canceling the final day of a fairly large meet because the pool water temperature was simply too high. The pool staff was unable to effectively lower the temperature. Swimmers had come from several surrounding states. They wanted to swim and their coaches wanted them to swim. As Meet Referee I felt it was not safe and decided that the only recourse was to cancel the competition. No one was happy, including my own children.

One particular open water event that I’ll never forget was the Manhattan Challenge Swim in 2009. We started out with four swimmers on a late September afternoon swimming around Manhattan Island. The currents were a challenge, as expected. But I never anticipated the difficulty we would face swimming at night. The lack of visibility, the commuter traffic on the Hudson, the tour vessels…it was unbelievable. The night views of the island were unforgettable for me. But the rest of the experience was very challenging and quite scary.

I cannot leave out my experience at the 2011 Open Water Championships in Fort Lauderdale. On Friday for the 10 km swim, the weather was brutal. There were high winds, tough surf, and a number of swimmers struggling with fatigue and dehydration…it was an official’s nightmare. But on the other hand, it illustrated some of the difficulties we all encounter with the unpredictability of open water conditions. In retrospect, it was an outstanding learning opportunity.

Open Water Source: During an open water swimming event, where do you position yourself?
Dr. Gordon: There is no one place where I position myself during any race. My position constantly varies, depending on the situation. I try to give myself the best vantage point to be able to see all that is going on around me…the swimmers, the boats, the other officials, the safety personnel, etc. I find myself constantly adjusting. Usually, however, I am stationed somewhere near the front of the boat.

Open Water Source: What do you try to do while you are officiating?
Dr. Gordon: My goal is always to have a quiet confidence on deck. In addition to being knowledgeable, looking neat and dressing sharply are especially important to me. I also try to maintain a constant calm demeanor throughout the race. Sometimes that can be hard. I would like to believe that other officials and athletes see me as a person who demonstrates a rather calm personality whenever I’m officiating. To me it’s critical to have sound judgment and good common sense when making a tough decision. I feel it is difficult to achieve that goal when one loses control of his emotions. Becoming frustrated and yelling at others have never worked for me, neither on deck nor in real life.

Open Water Source: Tell us about these recent national championships in Fort Myers.
Dr. Gordon: The 2012 USA Open Water National Championships were extremely gratifying to me. I felt that the event went well and that was what was most important. The swims were great and there were few issues throughout the weekend. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. My one goal that can never be compromised is that 'all swimmers must return safely'. Thankfully, once again we were able to accomplish that. Everything else is a bonus to me.

Photos of Cecil Gordon in the referee boat at the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships by Sarah Coward.

Copyright © 2012 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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The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

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2014 Open Water Swimming Almanac



An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

An almanac is essentially a body of knowledge which is so complete that it enables people in different fields to make predictions about the future of their respective industries.

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