“Swimming’s international governing body is in danger of making the wrong call about the use of wetsuits at Rio according to one of the UK’s most popular open water swimming events,” says Henley Swim co-founder Tom Kean.
Organisers of the famous mid-summer dawn swim, The Henley Classic, have added their voice to the growing opinion that the use of wetsuits at the Rio Games detracts from the spirit of the 10K open water swim.
The response follows a report on SwimVortex that FINA, swimming’s international governing body, will later this month consider draft rules proposing that wetsuits be allowed in the Olympics if the water temperature is below 20 degrees Celsius. FINA has not yet responded to requests from H2Open for more details on this or the report from Portsmouth University that prompted the consideration of these new rules.
“Be in no doubt, swimming outdoors in an unheated body of water, in anything under 20 degrees can cause most people to struggle at any distance, let alone the mammoth 10K Olympic distance,” says Kean. “But we are not talking about most people here – we are talking about the world’s most conditioned athletes, who have spent a lifetime building their physical and mental condition, culminating in what they hope will be a once in a lifetime performance.”
Kean goes on to say that dealing with the conditions, including the temperature, is what makes marathon swimming such an alluring test of endurance.
“It’s critical that swimmers are able to compete safely, but assuming the safety crews are of the required professional standard, dealing with the cold is standard practice,” concludes Kean. “It’s a given that all concerned will be aware of the conditions beforehand to within a narrow range, so the water temperature should come as no surprise, just like all the other variables they deal with on a regular basis. From personal experience, if one uses a wetsuit at around 18 degrees, the problem will be heat.
“I’m not privy to the inner workings at the headquarters of world swimming, but it’s starting to feel uncomfortable that these sorts of debates are happening this close to the Games. We all know that swimmers handle the cold differently, but that is what it’s all about. At Henley Swim we love wetsuits and the way they are drawing more and more people into the sport, but equally, we appreciate the ‘purist’ side of the sport”.