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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Should Extreme Swimming Be In The Olympics?

One of the most fascinating topics at the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference in Long Beach, California will be the discussions on how to get extreme (ice) swimming into the Winter Olympics.

In a contrast to the higher, faster, stronger motto of the Summer Olympics, the events of the Winter Olympics have a high element of daredevil feats and inherent risk that Summer Olympic sports do not have.

Whether it is flying down a mountain in downhill skiing or navigating turns in luge, bobsled or short-track speed skating, the athletes of the Winter Olympics are frequently sliding, falling, bumping and putting their bodies at significant risk as the world's television audience looks on in wonder.

If there is another human activity where a select few athletes can dazzle the world's audience with daring, athletic prowess and the austere beauty of a winter wonderful, it is ice swimming or extreme swimming in water temperatures of 5°C (41°F) or below. No wetsuits, no neoprene, just pure guts and bioprene.

"With skin showing and ice flowing, the sport will be glowing," imagines Steven Munatones of the Daily News of Open Water Swimming. "To compete on a world-class level in 5C water, it takes years of hardening. Ice swimming is not something that a young athlete can simply go in and show up older athletes. No, it is an activity that favors a slow, careful, methodical approach to preparing the mind and body. A 1km swim in a mountain lake in water under 5°C would provide the ideal location for the addition of ice swimming to the Olympics.

It would be scenic, sexy and startling for television viewers.

Swimmers won't be climbing on a block like in the pool or on a floating pontoon as in open water swimming. No, they will be walking barefoot to a snow-covered lake shore, perhaps with snow flakes falling on their unprotected shoulders. Olympic sports fans will marvel at the courage of these extreme swimmers - and they can easily imagine how difficult this sport is

Held in mountainous regions, often with frozen lakes in the proximity, each Winter Olympics would have an indigenous venue for ice swimming. No infrastructure and minimal costs would be involved while each Winter Olympics site would love to show off its natural features. The organizers can simply line up the athletes, set them off and perhaps even strap on body monitoring devices that would be transmitted to television viewers.

Ram Barkai, who has trained himself to swim in near freezing temperatures in Cape Town, South Africa, is the founder of the International Ice Swimming Association and the organizer of Ice Swims. He has the experience and know-how to safely host such an event. With his entrepreneurial spirit and visionary goals for the sport, he will explain the concept and next steps to the international swimming community at the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference.

In addition to being one of the his mental and physical abilities to swim in lethally cold water temperatures, Barkai understands that a safe environment is critical to the sport's long-term success. As he has organized Antarctica swims, mid-winter swims in Lake Zurich, the Patagonia Extreme Cold Water Challenge at the tip of South America, the Cadiz Freedom Swim, and the Ice Swims in Africa, Scotland and Ireland, he has established an event formula that works.

Ram Barkai has a dream and knows well that the Winter Olympic Games have evolved since the first winter sports celebration in France in 1924. Barkai, Munatones and others know that the Winter Olympics will continue to evolve as it plays to growing television and Internet audiences around the world. From its incorporation of sports that push the envelope like luge to sports that require risk-taking artistic flair like the snowboarding's half-pipe, Winter Olympic viewers love seeing the athletic daring of its Olympic heroes.

Whether it is flying down a mountain at incredible speeds or ski jumping off large hills, the daredevils of the Winter Olympics are different than the athletes of the Summer Olympics whose motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius (Latin for Faster, Higher, Stronger).

While the Summer Olympics has Michael Phelps, the Winter Olympics has snowboarding Shawn White, The Flying Tomato. While the Summer Olympics has Mark Spitz with a mustache, the Winter Olympics has speed skater Apolo Ohno with a soul plate.

Without a doubt and showcased on a white background of snow, the Winter Olympics are filled with colorful characters. And those will inhabit the nether regions of the open water swimming world (i.e., under 5°C) are among the most colorful in the aquatics community.

So adding an extreme swimming event in a mountaintop lake where icemen and icewomen take to a short 1km swim of under 5°C (41°F) without neoprene is a great made-for-television, inherently risky event that truly requires mental and physical preparation with a sufficient bit of athletic flair. And, most probably, youth may not be served in this sport: age, years of hardening and a savvy wisdom that come with years on this planet will be some of the advantages used by all.

Chapter 1, article 6 of the 2007 edition of the Olympic Charter defines winter sports as "sports which are practised on snow or ice" so there may have to be a modification to sports which are practised IN snow and ice.

But with ice swimming growing about the world, as commemorated by the World Winter Swimming Championships and the International Ice Swimming Association, Olympic dreams of ice swimming have the potential to come out from the cold and into the Olympic family.

To join in the conversation and become part of this lobbying effort, interested parties can participate in the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference. Among many different topics on the sport of open water swimming, extreme swimmers of every persuasion can discuss, debate and decide related issues here in Long Beach).

To vote on whether ice swimming extreme swimming should be in the Winter Olympic Games, visit the Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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