Team Ireland sent 34 swimmers to the fifth edition of the International Ice Swimming Association World Championships
International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) Ireland is a growing extreme-sports group and part of the global IISA family. Between 12 and 15 January 2023, Team Ireland sent 34 athletes to the 5th International Ice Swimming World Champions in Samoëns, France, to race in sub-5-degree water.
Previous world championships have been hosted in Ireland, Murmansk, Germany and Poland, with Ireland represented at each of the games. The location chosen for 2023 was Samoëns, France, a picturesque Alpine ski resort at an altitude of 1000m, which welcomed over 500 swimmers from across the globe for the occasion. The organisers built a temporary ice swimming competition pool in Lac aux Dames. The average water temperature was 3.7 Celsius.
Qualification for these championships requires rigorous training as safety is of paramount importance. Each swimmer representing Ireland practised in local lakes, seas, rivers and even home-made ice baths to acclimatise, alongside training in heated pools for speed and fitness. In addition, every participant had to pass a strict medical, ECG, fitness tests, and swim qualifiers to reach the standard for entry.
The swim events were hosted over four days with various swim distances in all four recognised competitive swim strokes: freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke. The blue-ribbon event is the 1000m endurance swim with a cut-off time of 22 minutes.
On the first day of the event, specialist divers had to break the ice on the pool before swimming could start. The air temperature was 1°C and the water temperature 3.7°C. Swimmers started trembling even before they heard the starter’s orders to ‘take off your clothes’ and ‘enter the water’. Only a standard swimsuit, silicone hat and goggles are allowed for swimming. In addition, swimmers wear a safety belt to facilitate an emergency extraction from the water if one were needed.
By nature of the sport, cold is the enemy and speed is your friend. A swimmer’s speed can drop over the distance. Swim speed, stroke rate, and lap times are closely monitored; sometimes, a competitor is stopped for safety reasons. Each swimmer is assigned a ‘second’; a person who knows the swimmer well, can monitor their progress, and assist post-swim with the journey to the recovery tents for rewarming. Post swim, a controlled rewarming takes place with the use of heated bubble tents, saunas, and jacuzzi to ensure the core temperature increases slowly and the afterdrop effect is minimized.
The atmosphere was always electric during the welcome parade, during each event, and at race HQ. The IISA Ireland team met many friends and forged new friendships with a common bond. The reception from the people of Samoëns was heartfelt. The camaraderie among the Irish team was reflected throughout the athlete’s village, with swimmers/competitors wishing each other well, true to the IISA International slogan one sport, global friendship. The IISA Ireland Team performed with fortitude, drive and style but never forgot joy, delight and fun. As with any competition, there were highs and lows; the few days were a rollercoaster of emotions.
Special thanks are due to the team leads Brian Dillon, William Murphy, Sarah O’Malley Daly, and Martin McDevitt who coordinated event schedules, relays, and communications with race organizers. Without them, IISA Ireland couldn’t have achieved its numerous age group podium placings and personal best times. It’s also noteworthy that Ireland was represented by two of the youngest competitors at the championships, Oisín O’Sullivan and Alex Stewart, along with para-swimmer Nicola Doran. To cap it all, Grace McLaughlin set a world record, and Ger Kennedy (Ice Sevens achiever) and Ian Conroy (Wild Water Armagh) were announced as inductees to the Ice Hall of Fame for their contribution to the sport.
Ice swimming under IISA rules is in its infancy and is an emerging extreme sport. Ireland’s waterways and its people’s passion for swimming is a pedestal for the sport to grow in Ireland and provide an opportunity to compete on the world stage. The IISA Ireland team and IISA Ireland board are thankful to IISA France for the fantastic experience at Samoëns, Compliments to the event management team, event organizer, and “petit Angie” Clémence Bégue.
Team IISA Ireland’s medal haul
- Nicola Doran: 3 Gold 3 Silver
- Liz Ryan: 2 Gold 1 Silver
- Grace McLaughlin: 2 Gold & 1 World Record
- Dominic Mudge: 1 Gold 1 Silver 1 Bronze
- Deirdre Cross: 2 Silver 1 Bronze
- Brenda Cosgrove: 3 Bronze
- Jean Sparling: 2 Bronze
- Alex Stewart: 1 Silver
- Oisín O Sullivan: 1 Bronze
- Ger Purcell: 1 Bronze
- Sarah O Malley Daly:1 Bronze
- Patricia Heffernan: 1 Bronze
- Rae Doyle: 1 Bronze
- Kevin McHugh: 1 Bronze
Thanks to Jacqueline McClelland from IISA Ireland for this report. All images (c) Dierdre Power