Should event organisers list the results for wetsuit and non-wetsuit swimmers separately or together? The default, at least for many organisers in the UK, is to bundle all the results together. The occasional concession is to mark the names of non-wetsuit swimmers with a star or some other symbol. Prizes are usually awarded to the first over the line, regardless of what they are wearing. This irritates some non-wetsuit swimmers, but should they be bothered? Or just grateful the organiser has allowed them to swim without a wetsuit when in many events they are compulsory?
If you enter a cycling race and choose to ride your shopping bike you wouldn’t expect your result to be listed in a different category to those on slicker machines. In triathlon, no distinction is made between those who ride a specialist time trial bike and those on road bikes. Nor would anyone expect separate listings for those who choose not to wear wetsuits during the swim portion even though neoprene is optional in standard distance triathlons for water temperatures between 14 and 22 degrees. So why should people in swimming races expect different treatment? If you wore a drag suit in a pool race against competitors wearing the latest technical racing costumes people would think you were stupid. If you’re in a race, surely you should make use of every time saving device allowed by the rules? If wetsuits are allowed, you’re just missing a trick by not wearing one. It’s your choice so don’t complain that people who are normally slower than you finish higher up the rankings.
From an organiser’s perspective there are also logistical issues. It’s additional effort to record what people are wearing, and some swimmers (and I’m guilty of this) don’t like to make their mind up until the last possible moment and they’ve had a chance to assess the conditions. There’s also a safety issue. Wetsuits do provide warmth and buoyancy. It’s much harder to lose a wetsuited swimmer, as happened in the non-wetsuit Midmar Mile earlier this year. If you have a lot of non-wetsuit swimmers in your race, you may have to review your risk assessment and safety procedures, and possibly check with your insurance company.
For organisers, the biggest argument in favour of listing results separately is that it’s what (non-wetsuit) swimmers want. If they are paying customers then race organisers have a commercial incentive to respect their wishes. Perhaps more swimmers would take part if they could be recognised, and possibly win prizes, as non-wetsuit swimmers.
The other reason, though harder to define and justify, is that there is something special about non-wetsuit, cool-water swimming. The reason skins swimmers can be so evangelical about what they do is that they love it, and they’d like other swimmers to share the joy. If results were listed separately, perhaps some of those more competitively inclined wetsuit swimmers would be persuaded to shed the black stuff.
Finally, apart from a little extra work for the organiser and time keeper, what harm is done by providing a separate listing for non-wetsuit swimmers? We’d like to see it more often and believe many swimmers would too.
If you’re interested in finding out for yourself how much difference a wetsuit makes, why not take part in Henley Swim’s Suits versus Skins challenge as part of the Henley Mile on 13 July 2014?