On 20 March 2015 the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) will hold its first World Championship in Murmansk, Russia. The event will take place in a man-made ice pool carved out of a frozen lake some 200km north of the Arctic Circle. Water temperature will be 0 degrees C and air temperature is expected to be around -10. Because of the short days in the Arctic Circle the pool will be floodlit and some swimmers will also have to compete in the dark. In the words of IISA founder Ram Barkai: “What a wonderful madness.”
The Championship has already attracted amazing interest, with over 30 Russian swimmers and over 30 international swimmers having already applied for the competition. Competitors will swim 1km in the ice, a shorter distance than the traditional IISA “ice mile”. Barkai says there are two reasons for the shorter distance: “The IISA 1km event was initiated for two purposes. One, to allow newcomers to increase their winter swimming experience to longer and more challenging swims before plunging into the ultimate ice mile. The second reason was to be able to start ranking the swimmers out there… [S]wim in the same place, same conditions and the best ones will win.”
The IISA was founded six years ago and now boasts almost 100 ice swimmers from 18 countries around the world and over 130 certified ice swims. An ice swim is defined as a distance of 1 mile (or more) in open water of 5 degrees C or less, swum unassisted with one swimming costume, one pair of goggles and one silicone swimming cap. It has been described as one of the most difficult and challenging extreme sports in the world. It is a combined challenge of both body and mind. Speed is important to cover the distance in as short a time as possible because of the cold, but mental endurance plays a huge role in this extreme sport. Barkai says that the mental aspect of the challenge favours older swimmers: “They have some extra padding in the right places that adds some protection from the ice, but their mind is their true weapon. They have been around the block a few times, they learnt to deal with pain, endurance and not panic when things get seriously tough.”
The fastest IISA ice mile swimmers are Christof Wandratsch from Germany and James Bridges from the UK. Both are over 50 years old and both completed ice miles in under 22 minutes. The oldest women to have completed ice miles are Margot Anderson and Jackie Cobell, who are both over 60 years old.
For more information on the IISA World Championship seehttp://www.internationaliceswimming.com/championship/