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Friday, June 23, 2017

Eva Fabian Speaks Out And About Wetsuits

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In the year when FINA institutionalized the use of wetsuits in its competitions where the water temperature drops below 20°C [see here] and the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee chairman oversaw a FINA competition where the water temperature increased over 31°C [see here], the regulations governing international open water swimming is confusing and a mesh of contradictory messages for athletes, coaches and governing bodies.

To its credit, FINA asked for input from swimmers about its regulations regarding wetsuit usage prior to the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup to be held this weekend in Setúbal, Portugal.

American Eva Fabian took the effort to explain her position in a public manner that summarized many thoughts of her colleagues and competitors.

The young Yale University graduate, now following her professional career dreams in New York City, has years of elite competitive experience to fall upon in developing her opinions.

Fabian has represented USA Swimming on the international level every year since 2008. The 23-year-old intellectual and musician has participated in more FINA competitions during that time than any other American swimmer, racing in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Over the course of her career, she raced in the following international competitions in lakes, river, seas and oceans from the cold freshwater of Canada to the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea:

2016
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Hong Kong, 17th in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Balatonfüred, Hungary, 11th in 10 km marathon swim

2015
* Pan American Games, 1st in 10 km marathon swim

2014
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Lac St-Jean, Canada, 4th in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix in Lac St-Jean, Canada, 4th in 32 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Setúbal, Portugal, 6th in 10 km marathon swim
* Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Queensland, Australia, 2nd in 10 km marathon swim
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 3rd in 10 km marathon swim

2013
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Lac Megantic, Canada, 4th in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA World Swimming Championships in Barcelona, Spain, 3rd in 25 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Cancún, Mexico, 2nd in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Santos, Brazil, 2nd in 10 km marathon swim
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 3rd in 10 km marathon swim
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 6th in 5 km marathon swim

2012
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Lac Megantic, Canada, 3rd in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Lac St-Jean, Canada, 1st in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Viedma, Argentina, 1st in 10 km marathon swim
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 4th in 10 km marathon swim

2011
* FINA World Swimming Championships in Shanghai, China, 12th in 5 km open water
* FINA World Swimming Championships in Shanghai, China, 30th in 10 km marathon swim
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 1st in the 10 km marathon swim

2010
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Hong Kong, 1st in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Shantou, China, 1st in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Lac St-Jean, Canada, 2nd in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in Lac St-Jean, Canada, 1st in 5 km open water swim
* FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in Lac St-Jean, Canada, 2nd in 10 km marathon swim
* FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Viedma, Argentina, 3rd in 10 km marathon swim
* Flowers Sea Swim in the Cayman Islands, 1st in record time
* Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, 2nd in 10 km marathon swim

2009
* FINA World Swimming Championships in Rome, Italy, 10th in 25 km marathon swim
* FINA World Swimming Championships in Rome, Italy, 27th in 10 km marathon swim
* RCP Tiburon Mile in San Francisco, California, 2nd
* Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Guam, 4th in 10 km marathon swim
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 2nd in the 10 km marathon swim
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 1st in the 5 km open water swim

2008
* USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships, 1st in the 5 km open water swim

Her opinions and observations are as follows:

An Open letter to FINA World Cup Race Officials who asked for athlete feedback regarding the use of wetsuits for FINA 10K open water races:

The Technical meeting for the FINA World Cup Race in Portugal today indicated that FINA is unprepared to make a decision about how to use the temperature information obtained at a venue in conjunction with their new Wetsuit rule.

1) For example, when there are different temperatures at different places in the course, do they use an average temperature, or select the lowest? This scenario was presented by coaches to officials, who said the lowest temperature is the deciding value. The coaches then stated their concern about a situation where the majority of the course was too warm to use wetsuits, but one spot might be cooler. Coaches and athletes were in shock to hear that in the hypothetical scenario with 6 temperatures taken on different locations in the course, if 5 measurements were 28°C but 1 measurement (the lowest) was 18°C, then FINA would adhere to the lowest temperature and declare a wetsuit mandatory race.

2) Coaches asked to see this ruling, and were told that the rule didn't exist, but that nevertheless the official was making the decision to use this format for determining whether it was a wetsuit race or not.

3) The coaches unanimously agreed that using the average temperature would be the most safe method of determining the temperature of the course. FINA resisted and declared that 6 temperatures were to be taken, and the lowest used as the determining factor. For example, the majority of the swim tomorrow will take place under the hot sun with an air temperature of 28-30°C, and will be swum in water that will likely be above the optional wetsuit temperature range (at or above 20°C) with only a very small segment within the optional wetsuit range.

4) The coaches believed overheating was the most overriding health concern for the athletes. The only known incident in the sport came from overheating, not cool water. In 2010, American athlete Fran Crippen died during a FINA world cup circuit race in the UAE, a race that was held under extreme heat conditions. It is demeaning and insulting that FINA is ignoring the concerns of coaches and athletes pertaining to overheating yet again.

5) One coach said it was disgusting that FINA would ask athletes and coaches to choose between athlete safety and professional success, as a wetsuit "option" isn't an option if you want to be competitive. As FINA officials stated in the meeting, wetsuits are a major buoyancy advantage and swimmers simply swam faster in them.

6) There is another aspect of FINA races potentially involving wetsuits that has not been well thought out: pre-race numbering. Athletes and coaches were informed that the wetsuit needed to be worn when athletes were receiving numbers on their body prior to the race. This is a potentially dangerous plan in that it requires athletes to put on and wear their wetsuits for approximately 45 minutes to one hour before the race in the 28-30°C weather. There will be no air conditioned tents available. This could contribute to a potential situation with overheating before the athletes even begin the competition.

7) Air temperature is also an important factor in athlete safety during races. Wearing a full body covering suit made of neoprene, especially in 30°C weather, is a safety concern. FINA did not agree to take the air temperature into consideration even though it can contribute to overheating in a 2 hour marathon event.

8) FINA stated that this race was to be an "experiment" with how wetsuits affect the physiology and performance of athletes when the water temperature is borderline too warm for wetsuits (or above the wetsuit range in 5 out of 6 temperature measurements) and the air temperature is hot. "Experimenting" on professional athletes during important races in their careers, putting their lives in danger... that isn't what sports are about. That isn't a standard to aspire to.

I agree and am glad that FINA is seeking feedback from athletes and coaches about competitions involving wetsuits. However, after the technical meeting today, it is apparent that there are a lot of untested variables that potentially impact athlete safety that were not considered when making this new wetsuit rule. I hope FINA will address these concerns and put athlete safety first.


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