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Saturday, January 30, 2016

No Wetsuits Now, But Expect Wetsuits In Future Olympics

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

FINA announced today during its FINA Bureau meeting in Hungary that it decided to keep the current open water swimwear equipment rules until the conclusion of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

"During this competition, FINA, together with the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, will take all necessary measures to ensure the maximum possible levels of security and safety for all athletes in the men’s and women’s 10 km races," stated FINA.

But starting in September 2016, new rules will apply for FINA open water swimming events (Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup, FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix, FINA Junior Open Water Swimming Championships). The new rules were instituted due to concerns that the FINA Bureau has regarding conducting events in low temperatures:

– The lowest possible water temperature allowable in FINA races should remain at 16°C (60.8°F)

– Between 16°C and 18°C (60.8°F and 64.4°F) wetsuits + bathing cap are mandatory

– Between 18°C and 20°C (64.4°F and 68°F), wetsuits are optional

– Over 20°C (68°F), wetsuits are not allowed

At least for the rest of the FINA season and the Rio Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, it seems entirely reasonable and fair that swimmers should continue to adhere to the commonly accepted FINA swimsuit rules. In a previous commentary (see here), the World Open Water Swimming Association believes that allowing wetsuits in future FINA's professional marathon swimming events is a misplaced decision for several reasons. 1. 100% of the professional marathon swimmers already wear tech suits that almost completely cover their body with the exceptions of their arms.

These tech suits offer a significant level of skin protection and even a level of warmth that is not available if the swimmers swam in traditional porous swimsuits. These tech suits provide sufficient protection against the cold for professional athletes who train and acclimate specifically for different conditions (both warm and cold).

2. Swimmers can also wear ear plugs for additional level of cold water protection as well as two swim caps in the open water competitions.

3. While there are a handful of elite marathon swimmers who cannot handle water temperatures under 18ºC, all of these athletes have the opportunity (least we say obligation) to acclimate themselves to the chosen venue.

4. Open water swimmers are not triathletes. Open water swimmers - unlike triathletes whose majority of racing is done on a bicycle and with running shoes - are entirely focused on handling the various conditions of open water venues. We understand that 18ºC may be considered cold by triathletes, but 18ºC is - and should not - be considered outside the capabilities of world-class open water swimmers.

5. FINA's currently allowable water temperature ranges are 16ºC - 31ºC. Professional marathon swimmers have been competing in cold water competitions for generations. Why should FINA change now? Does FINA's decision imply that the previously held FINA races held in water under 20ºC were dangerous and risky?

6. In the event that wetsuits are approved, this changes the nature of open water swimming in profound ways. If 18ºC is considered too cold and potentially dangerous, who made this determination? The FINA Bureau? TOWSC (Technical Open Water Swimming Committee)? Do these officials and administrators have hard data showing the dangers of swimming in water temperatures under 20ºC? While the swimming community knows and readily acknowledges that FINA's upper limits of 31ºC is too warm, a vast majority of the swimming community knows that water temperatures in the 18ºC - 20ºC are entirely reasonable. Cool for some, but not dangerous for the elite, world-class, competitive swimmers who are professionals.

7. Professional marathon swimmers compete for money, have sponsorships, and are supported by their teams and/or national governing bodies and benefit from the guidance of full-time coaches, experienced trainers and sports scientists. Their team of supporters can easily educate the athletes on how best to acclimate and how to swim fast in water temperatures between 18ºC - 20ºC.

Photo shows Olympic 10K marathon swimming gold medalist Maarten van der Weijden in a TYR tech suit at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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