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Learn all about world-class open water swimming.
For additional articles, visit www.10kswimmer.com.

▪ Olympic Opening Ceremonies - 10K Flag Bearer
▪ Olympic 10K Marathon Swim Gold Medalist Picks
▪ Chloe's Corner - with her Olympic Teammates
▪ Three Strikes and You're Out
▪ Chloe's Corner - At the Feeding Station
▪ Pro and Amateur Open Water Swims in Varna
▪ The Mamas and The Papas
▪ Billy Mills Redux
▪ Friends and Enemies
▪ Santa Barbara Channel Swimming
▪ Locating Swimmers in the English Channel
▪ Time Magazine picks Mark Warkentin as an Athlete to Watch
▪ America's Favorite Open Water Swims
▪ The Will and Skill of Champions
▪ County Swimmer Searches for Gold in Open Water
▪ NBC Nightly News with Chloe Sutton
▪ Good Turns vs. Bad Flip Turns
▪ FINA-approved High-tech Swim Suits
▪ Ocean's Seven
▪ David Davies and Mike Read, Stars of the U.K.
▪ Edith van Dijk - Mother and Olympian
▪ Great Pool of China
▪ Cross-over Swimmers
▪ What's a Parent to Do?
▪ The Day the English Channel Record was Set
▪ A Giant of a Man - Maarten van der Weijden
▪ Championship Finish
▪ Chloe Sutton, a Star Fish
▪ Lean and Mean Open Water Swimmers

Previous Articles | More Articles


Olympic Opening Ceremonies - 10K Flag Bearer

Olympic Opening Ceremonies - 10K Flag Bearer
Photo by Dr. Jim Miller of Petar Stoychev winning the
Traversee Internationale du Lac Memphremagog
(FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix in Lac Magog) in Canada last week.

Rumors are swirling that Petar Stoychev has been selected to carry the flag of his native Bulgaria in the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies.

This honor given to Petar Stoychev is just another feather in the cap of open water swimming.

Besides the worldwide attention being paid to Natalie du Toit as the first amputtee to qualify for an Olympic final, several open water swimming articles were written in the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine selected 3 open water swimmers as the Top 100 Athletes to Watch in Beijing.

Despite being perhaps the least known sport in the Olympic program, open water swimming is making a nice splash in Beijing.

Watch the women's race in its entirety on NBCOlympics.com at 9:00 pm ET on August 19th and the men's race in its entirely live online at NBCOlympics.com at 9:00 pm ET on August 20th.

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Olympic 10K Marathon Swim Gold Medalist Picks

Olympic 10K Marathon Swim Gold Medalist Picks
AP photo of Mark Warkentin eyeing his competition at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships
in Seville where he, Dyatchin, Davies, Lurz and van der Weijden all qualified for the Olympics.

Swimming World Magazine picks Vladimir Dyatchin of Russia to win the inaugural Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. The BBC picks David Davies of the U.K. to win the gold. Sports Illustrated Magazine picks Thomas Lurz of Germany to win. The Dutch favor Maarten van der Weijden of the Netherlands. This blog's readers voted Mark Warkentin as the gold medalist favorite.

Watch the race live online in its entirety at NBC Olympics at 9:00 pm ET August 20th to find out who will capture the gold.

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Chloe's Corner - with her Olympic Teammates

Chloe Sutton

Chloe Sutton of the Mission Viejo Nadadores was asked a series of questions prior to departing for Beijing for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. Here are her first-person answers.

Q2. Your female teammates are a talented bunch: Dara Torres, Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin. Do you ever talk open water swimming with them? If so, what do they ask you? Do you think any of them could become great open water swimmers?


A2. They are all so amazing! It is totally cool when Dara, Amanda and Natalie sit around and ask questions about open water. I really didn’t expect to be asked so many questions. At the Olympic Trials, I was able to hold Dara’s daughter when she was being interviewed. I remember seeing them on TV and now I am their teammates. Amanda asks me questions like, “How does open water swimming work” and “Do you eat during the race? How do you do that? They are just like the other pool swimmers who have never seen open water swimming before. They are curious and so nice. I remember asking Natalie for her autograph and now I am her teammate.

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Three Strikes and You're Out

Three Strikes and You're Out
Photo by Javier Blazquez of Christine Jennings in the
5K race at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships.

As reported by Michael Church of PA Sport in Beijing, David Davies and Cassandra Patten, two leading British marathon swimming medal contenders gave a clear explanation of what they expect in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.

"You are all swimming in a pack and you don't have a lane to yourself so it is a very physical sport and you do swim on top of each other and get the odd fist in the face and that sort of thing," said Davies.

"But I do really enjoy it. It's a very demanding event, a very hard, endurance-based event and it deserves to be in the Olympic programme because the athletes who do it are very hard working and endurance-based athletes. So it's good it's in the programme this time and I've got the chance to not only do the pool event but the open water event as well."

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done. Adapting to the tactics of it and the physicality of it and learning to swim in a straight line without having a blue line at the bottom of the river is obviously the biggest challenge."

"I've got scope for improvement but there's no pressure on me because I'm a novice at this and it's just a good thing for me to do after the pool swimming has finished."

Patten also explained the physicality of the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.

"You've got 20-30 girls in close proximity and normally I'll give them 'three strikes'. I'll let the first two go but if I get hit a third time I might give them one back. I can look after myself."

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Chloe's Corner - At the Feeding Station

Chloe Sutton
Photo of Chloe Sutton in Beijing after the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim
qualification race on May 31, 2008. Photo by Pei Qingsheng.

Chloe Sutton of the Mission Viejo Nadadores was asked a series of questions prior to departing for Beijing for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.

Here are her answers:

Q1. Open water swimming is the one of the few sports at the Olympics where your coach actually helps you during the race by handing you water bottles from a floating pontoon. Do you get nervous when you are approaching the feeding station? What are you thinking about when you are at the feeding station?

A2. Yes, everyone always gets more physical in the last 25 yards coming to the feeding stations. You always have to establish the need for your own space. It is always a race to get in a good position at the feeding [pontoon]. Paul Asmuth has fed me in my major races in Seville and Beijing. I trust him and he knows what I like.

First, I find him [on the floating feeding pontoon] and I also listen for his voice [as he yells my name]. I also look for the USA flag at the end of the feeding stick. We put a USA flag at the end of the feeding stick so it is easier to find from the water.

It is now so natural, but in the beginning [of my career], I used to get nervous and be shaky. Now, I can get to Paul, grab my bottle filled with Gatorade and 2 gel packs. We mix the gel packs with the Gatorade so I only take a few seconds to drink everything.


Q2. What happens if you and Paul do not have a good exchange?
A2. Then I will take the gel packs that I put inside my swim suit before the race.

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Pro and Amateur Open Water Swims in Varna

Pro and Amateur Open Water Swims in Varna
Photo of start preparations at the Varna Swimming Marathon from xpucmo.

Varna is a seaside resort city on the west coast of the Black Sea in Bulgaria. It is considered to be the 'Sea Capital of Bulgaria'.

For 67 years, Varna has hosted the Galata-Varna 4.4K Swimming Marathon. Petar Stoychev, the current English Channel record holder, has won this event numerous times.

In addition to hosting the Galata-Varna 4.4K Swimming Marathon on August 8th, 2009, Varna will host a pro Petar Stoychev, FINA 10K Marathon Swim World Cup event in 2009 on August 9th with the support of the local and national governments when Bulgaria annually celebrates its Black Sea Navy Day.

The start and finish of both races will be held in front of Varna's main beach where thousands are expected to cheer on the world's best marathon swimmers. With an average water temperature of 23°C (74°F) and air temperature of 28°C (82°F), the conditions are expected to be nearly ideal for amateurs and on the warm side for the pros who will be competing for US$20,000 in prize money.

The competition will give country hero Stoychev the chance to perform in front of a partisan home crowd. As Stoychev said, "Open water swimming has given me a great opportunity to travel the world. As a young child in school studying geography and looking at maps of the world, I never dreamed I could one day go to Canada, Asia and South America to swim. It is a great experience."

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The Mamas and The Papas


Photo by Javier Blazquez of van Dijk with her daughter after winning a bronze medal
in the 25K World Open Water Championships in Seville.

Although several teenagers qualified for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, there are 2 mothers and 3 fathers who also qualified for the historic event. This blog previously reported incorrectly that there was only 1 father (Petar Stoychev) and 2 mothers Angela Maurer and Edith van Dijk).

In addition to Stoychev, Maurer and van Dijk who are all pulling double-duty as parents and world-class athletes, Rostislav Vitek of the Czech Republic and Gilles Rondy) of France are also proud fathers of young children.

A French-language interview of Rondy can be heard here.

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Billy Mills Redux

For those who remember the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, the incredible 10K run of Billy Mills is still considered one of the greatest individual efforts in Olympic history. Odds are that there will be another Billy Mills who will emerge in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.

For those too young to remember Billy Mills, here is a short synposis of his life and his Olympic race:

Billy was raised in South Dakota and orphaned at 12 years old. A Native American of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe, his given Lakota name is Makata Taka Hela which means "love your country" or more traditionally translated, "respects the earth". Although he was a 3-time NCAA All-American cross-country runner and considered to be an excellent domestic runner who qualified second in the U.S. Olympic Trials, he was not considered to be an Olympic medal contender by anyone’s stretch of imagination.

Especially since no American had ever won the 10,000-meter run before – and no one has since.

The overwhelming 10K run favorite was Australia’s Ron Clarke who held the world record and would eventually set 12 world records in his illustrious career. The other medal contenders were the Russian defending champion and the 1960 5000-meter run Olympic champion. Mills was easily an afterthought, if he was thought about at all. But, like all true heroes, he knew in his heart what his goals were.

In front of a partisan Japanese crowd, Clarke set the pace early on and picked up the pace every other lap. By the 5K, the lead pack included four runners: Clarke, a Tunisian, an Ethiopian, a Japanese and Mills. As the race progressed, the Ethiopian and the Japanese fell off the pace. With 800 meters to go, Clarke was in control with only Tunisia’s Gammoudi and Mills hanging on. While Clark held the world record in 28:15, Gammoudi and Mills had never run faster than 29 minutes. The gold medal appeared to be Clarke’s for the asking.

At the bell lap, Mills and Clark were running together with Gammoudi right at their heels as they lapped the slower runners. As 10K marathon swimmers can appreciate, the men were sprinting while fighting for position as Clarke was boxed in. Mills was in a great position down the backstretch, but then Gammoudi pushed them both and surged into the lead as they rounded the final curve. Mills appeared to be out of the running for the gold as they rounded the final curve. Clarke recovered as they weaved in and out of a mass of slower runners. It was to be a final sprint between Clarke and Gammoudi while Mills appeared to be too far back to be in contention. Incredibly, As Clarke failed to catch Gammoudi, Mills sprinted past them both, with an incredible spurt of energy and speed. With a kick that will forever remembered in Olympic track history, Mills won in 28:24, almost 50 seconds faster than he had ever run before.

I have a very strong feeling that there will be a modern-day Billy Mills in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in Beijing.

Someone - be it Chloe Sutton, Natalie du Toit, Mark Warkentin or Maarten van der Weijden - in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim is going to have a tremendous surge at the end of the 10K swim and go down in OIympic history at the first Olympic 10K Marathon Swim champion.

Hollywood recreated Billy Mills’ feat when Robby Benson starred in the 1984 film Running Brave:


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Friends and Enemies

Friends and Enemies

Britain will be well-represented in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. Only Britain and Brazil qualified two athletes for the female marathon swim to be held on August 20 in the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park venue.

In addition to their Olympic 10K Marathon Swim duties, Cassandra Patten, 21, will also swim the 800 freestyle and Keri-Anne Payne, 20, will swim both the 200 and 400 individual medleys.

Their 10K strategies will most probably be quite similar to David Davies, their British open water teammate and 2004 bronze medalist in the 1500-meter freestyle: take it out hard, get into the lead and avoid the physical contact of pack swimming.

Payne talked about her qualifying race in Spain, "I planned to stick to the front of the pack. I started well and I was in the top three for a long part of the race but there was a lot of fighting and I slipped back a bit, but I do think I should have stayed closer to the leaders." She qualified eighth.

Although there is talk about how teammates work together as cyclists do, there appears to be a healthy, friendly and respectful rivalry between Patten and Payne.

Says Patten about the rivalry, "I think there is always an element of competition between sportspeople, you can’t avoid it. My old coach Mr. D used to say to me, 'They can be your friend out of the pool, but in it, everyone is your enemy.'"

In either case, they will have stiff competition against Russia's Larisa Ilchenko and Chloe Sutton.


AP photo shows Patten (right) swimming against Ilchenko (left).

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Santa Barbara Channel Swimming

Santa Barbara Channel Swimming

The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association is a rapidly emerging and professionally run open water swimming organization that supports, trains, escorts and sanctions swimmers who want to attempt Channel crossings and organizes open water events in the Santa Barbara Channel region. Click here to locate a map of the Channel.

Founder Emilio Casanueva annually organizes 3 well-run marathon swims in September.

On September 4-5, Santa Barbara Channel Swim 6x6 Relay will be held. $1,000 will be awarded to the winning team in the challenging 6-person 26-mile relay from Santa Cruz Island to the California mainland (East Beach in Santa Barbara). Water temperature is expected to be around 70ºF (21ºC), although the tides, currents and winds can be strong.

On September 12-13, Santa Barbara Channel Relay Swim will be held. Known as THE BIG SWIM, it benefits the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in support of ocean conservation at the Channel Islands and Heal the Ocean. THE BIG SWIM was beautifully filmed by Michael Hanrahan of The Ocean Channel in a special documentary and is open to anyone comfortable swimming in the open ocean.

On September 21, solo swimmers can participate in the Pier to Pier 10-mile Race will be held. Sanctioned by the Southern Pacific Masters Association, swimmers can compete in the no-wetsuit or wetsuit divisions. The race is from the Goleta Beach Pier to Stearns Wharf and runs parallel to the beautiful Santa Barbara shoreline.

Water temperature in the Channel can be monitored in real-time here.

In addition to the races, Emilio Casanueva recently reported on the latest solo swim where 15-year-old Nick Caine of Atherton, California broke the 10.8 nautical mile Anacapa-to-Oxnard crossing record by completely the swim in 5 hours and 3 minutes.

Photo shows Seth Streeter in the Channel.

Ned Denison who has done the English Channel and unprecedented swims in Ireland commented on his 20-mile solo swim from Santa Cruz Island to the California mainland, "My wife and I were absolutely taken in by the city and hosted in fine fashion. On the day, the sun was fantastic and the playful seals and majestic manta rays were the best aquatic life I have even seen on a swim. I was 15 pounds heavier before my English Channel swim - so the colder water in Santa Barbara made this the tougher of the two swims."

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Locating Swimmers in the English Channel

Locating Swimmers in the English Channel
Photo of Chris Guesdon of Australia.

If your teammate, friend or family member is swimming across the English Channel and you want to know where they are, you can locate them on the following English Channel Map.

That is, go to SHIPASIS.com and click on England, then Dover. The map will give you up-to-date information on Channel shipping. When the English Channel swimmers are out in the Channel, SHIPASIS.com will give the names of their boats, which are updated regularly.

So find out the name of the boat and follow your teammates, friends or family members as they cross the English Channel.

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Time Magazine Picks Mark Warkentin as an Athlete to Watch

Olympic Swimmers

Time Magazine's August 4th issue picked Mark Warkentin as one of the Top 100 athletes to watch at No. 45. Russia's Vladimir Dyatchin and South Africa's Natalie du Toit were also selected among the Top 100 Athletes.

3 open water swimmers in the top 100 athletes to watch in Beijing.

Not a bad start for a new sport in the Olympics!

Other swimmers included Dara Torres at No. 2, Michael Phelps at No. 3, Australia's Stephanie Rice Stephanie Rice at No. 17, France's Laure Manaudou at No. 27, Italy's Federica Pellegrini at No. 27, Aaron Peirsol at No. 41, Ryan Lochte at No. 57, Australia's Libby Tricket at No. 62, Poland's Otylia Jedrzejczak at No. 65, Natalie Coughlin at No. 66, Katie Hoff at No. 67, Zimbabwe's Kristy Coventry at No. 83, Eric Shanteau at No. 84, Russia's Olympic 10K world champion Vladimir Dyatchin at No. 89, and South Africa's incredible Paralympian and Olympic 10K Marathon Swim medal favorite Natalie du Toit at No. 100.

Time Magazine noted, "Mark Warkentin, 28, will be the first American to swim in the new 10-km open-water event. It's four laps around a 680,000-sq-m freshwater lake." Although it is not a lake, getting coverage in Time Magazine is a real step-up for open water swimming.

Time Magazine also noted, "Natalie du Toit swims without the aid of a prosthetic limb and is unlikely to win a medal." Although Natalie is a Paralympian, there are many sport insiders who believe Natalie has an excellent shot at medaling.

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America's Favorite Open Water Swims

Based on the informal www.10Kswimmer.com poll, the Top 20 results of the top open water swims in the U.S. are as follows:

1. Manhattan Island Foundation races: 214 votes
2. Alcatraz Challenge: 120 votes
3. Waikiki Roughwater Swim: 79 votes
4 La Jolla Rough Water Swim: 78 votes
5. Trans Tahoe Relay: 68 votes
6. Great Chesapeake Bay Swim: 57 votes
7. Maui Channel Swim: 54 votes
8. Swims Not Listed: 46 votes
9. Catalina Channel crossings: 44 votes
10. RCP Tiburon Mile: 29 votes
11. North Shore Surf 'n Sea Swim Series: 27 votes
12. Swim Across Long Island Sound: 27 votes
13. Death Valley Open Water Swim: 25 votes
14. July 4th Fire Cracker 8000: 23 votes
15. Big Shoulders 5K Swim: 22 votes
16. Lake Berryessa Open Water Swim: 19 votes
17. American Swimming Association Series: 18 votes
18. Molokai Channel: 18 votes
19. Swim Around Key West: 17 votes
20. Pennock Island Challenge: 15 votes

Please note there are many other swims that were not initially listed and this informal and non-scientific poll was just for fun.

But it does give you an idea of the great number and variety of outstanding open water swims held across America.

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The Will and Skill of Champions

David Davies

Muhammad Ali once said, "Champions are made from something they have from deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. They have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."

David Davies of Great Britain showed tremendous skill and an unbelievable will at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships.

Unlike his 1500 meter pool rival, Grant Hackett of Australia, Davies held nothing back and took off right from the start, leaving nothing to chance.

Davies set off on a pace unprecedented in the marathon swimming and challenged the world-class field to keep up with him.

Unlike his more experienced competitors, Davies simply swam past the feeding stations. Around every turn buoy, Davies looked up, took a guess as to where to swim and led the field of 55 men on a path he blazed.

Only at the end was Davies just out-touched by 2-time 10K world champion Vladimir Dyatchin. But he qualified for the Olympics in an event he has only swum twice.

His 10K rival, Dyatchin, has dozens of major open water swims under his belt and was fortified by 3 different kinds of hydration formulated by the experienced and scientically-oriented Russian coaching staff. In contrast, Davies "went dry" throughout the entire race.

In Beijing under humid, hot and smoggy conditions, wearing an over-the-shoulder Speedo LZR, Davies looks to avenge that loss.

But, will he take it out and "swim dry" again, challenging everyone to maintain his punishing pace? Is he willing to sprint past the feeding stations in Beijing like he did in Seville? If there is a will, there is a way.

Stay tuned for a classic race in Beijing.

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County Swimmer Searches for Gold in Open Water
Chloe Sutton, 16, has qualified for Olympics in distance event but hopes to show her speed at U.S. trials

Chloe Sutton

By DAN ALBANO
The Orange County Register

MISSION VIEJO – Chloe Sutton has fulfilled her dream of becoming an Olympian. Now, the Ladera Ranch teenager wants your attention, and hopefully, your respect.

The 16-year-old hopes to earn both at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, which begin Sunday in Omaha, Neb.

Sutton has already qualified for this summer's Beijing Olympics in marathon swimming, also known as the open water 10K.

But the Mission Viejo Nadadores' freestyler is far from being one-dimensional. She will compete in three events during the trials and is a strong contender to reach the finals in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles.

And while few are predicting that Sutton will join the likes of Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin on the U.S. team, she still plans to make a splash.

"I want to get open water more respect," she said after a recent workout. "I want people to know that open water swimmers can swim fast, too."

A RISING STAR

Sutton is riding a hot streak into Omaha.

On May 31, she qualified for the Olympics by capturing the 10K at the Beijing Test Event.

Racing in the same man-made, outdoor pool that will play host to the race at the Olympics, she led by about 50 yards during one point and finished in just more than two hours.

Earlier in May, Sutton claimed the bronze medal in the 5K at the FINA World Open Water Championships in Seville, Spain.

Both finishes make her a strong medal contender in Beijing.

"If she's on, the opportunity is there, and she is smart … she can swim with anybody," Nadadores coach Bill Rose, who will be part of the U.S. coaching staff in Beijing,

Sutton has reached the lofty status swiftly. She competed in her first open water race in 2006 after attending an introductory camp in Fort Myers, Fla.

Sutton earned the invitation to the camp with her distance times in the pool. Then, during her first swim in the open water, she dove in and came up with a starfish.

"She was very much at home in the open water," said open water guru Steven Munatones of Huntington Beach, also one of the coaches at the camp.

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

Not everything in open water swimming has come easily to Sutton.

At the U.S. qualifying meet for Seville, she finished a surprising third to Kirsten Groome and Nadadores teammate Micha Burden in a competition at Fort Myers in October.

"That was really shocking," Munatones said.

Sutton's finish seemingly crushed her hopes of swimming the 10K in Beijing. Only the top two finishers earned the chance to swim the 10K in Seville, which was an Olympic qualifying event.

Sutton called the experience "heartbreaking" but said it gave her added motivation for training.

As it turned out, she needed to stay sharp.

In Seville, Groome and Burden each could have qualified for Beijing but they finished a disappointing 21st and 31st, respectively.

"I thought they would make it for sure," Sutton said.

With the United States still seeking to qualify an open water swimmer for the Olympics, the Beijing Test Event became the final option, and Sutton seized her second chance.

TOUGH GIRL

Sutton's mother, Wendy, believes her daughter showed her character in overcoming the struggles.

"She's very strong," Wendy said. "I think she's more mature than me in some ways."

Wendy attributes the strength to their family's experiences in the military. Sutton's father, David, is a colonel in the Air Force.

The family, which also includes Sutton's 13-year-old brother, Colin, has moved about a dozen times because of the military.

"I've had to be able to catch onto things really quickly all my life," said Sutton, who started an independent study program after the eighth grade.

The Suttons' past two moves, however, were swimming related. About a year ago, Sutton left her club in Northern California because her coach retired. Prior to that, the family lived in Virginia and Sutton swam for the FISH, the same club that includes U.S. distance star Kate Ziegler.

Sutton said the club wasn't a fit for her and moved on. The family landed in Orange County about a year ago. The plan now for David is to retire from the Air Force and for the family to finally settle down.

"God had a plan," Sutton said. "But my work isn't done.

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NBC Nightly News with Chloe Sutton

Chloe Sutton on NBC Nightly News

NBC Nightly News posted an online story on Chloe Sutton, America’s representative in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim to be held in Beijing on August 20, 2008.

Entitled "16-year-old to Swim the Great Pool of China", Chloe can be seen on NBC Nightly News

 

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Good Turns vs. Bad Flip Turns

Good Turns vs. Bad Flip Turns

Around the pool deck, it is rumored that open water swimmers have bad turns. While that may be true, turns are defined differently by open water swimming community.

Great pool swimmers know how to quickly get in and out of the walls. World-class swimmers gain momentum as they streamline off the wall with maximum velocity. The incredible power of Michael Phelps and the beautiful grace of Natalie Coughlin off the walls are truly something to watch.

Do open water swimmers really have bad turns? Pool turns, maybe. What is considred a good open water turn? How are these turns executed?

There are 5 major distinctions.

1. TIME TO EXECUTE
A pool swimmer focuses on a good turn once he or she reaches the backstroke flags. In and out of the walls in a flash, the world’s best swimmers tuck tightly and propel themselves with powerful underwater kicks.

In contrast, the world’s best open water swimmer are thinking about their turns at least 200 meters before they hit the turn buoys. They are either pushing the pace to gain optimal positioning or moving around their opponents so they will not be squeezed as the pack swims around the buoy.

While pool swimmers only take seconds to traverse between the backstroke flags and wall, the “turn” time of an open water swimmer can be 2-3 minutes, a strategist's dream.

2. SOLO vs. PACK
In a controlled environment with an 8-foot lane and multiple lane lines separating them from the nearest competitor, pool swimmers focus entirely on their own technique in and out of the walls where every tenth counts.

In stark contrast, open water swimmers must always be cognizant of their competitors. They must protect their head, arms and body with aggressive or inexperienced swimmers all around them. One errant elbow, one kick of a heel or a tangled set of arms can quickly lead to a sudden loss of 2-5 meters.

While a pool swimmer can lose precious of tenths of a second to a competitor, an open water swimmer can lose several meters or be injured at the turns. If this physical contact forces the swimmer out of the racing pack, they may never be able to regain their position in a fast-moving group. Tough turns equal tough luck.

3. 180º vs. 90º
A pool swimmer swims in one direction, turns and swims back in the opposite direction. They practice and master these 180º turns every day in practice.

In contrast, open water swimmers face a number of types of turns throughout their career. Some races require turns going in the clockwise direction, which are generally harder for a right-handed swimmer. Other races require turns going in the counter-clockwise direction, which are generally harder for left-handed swimmers. Some races have different types of turns even within the same race. Many races require a combination of turns in both directions.

Some races have 180º turns where the swimmers make U-turns around the turn buoys. Some races have 90º turns where heels and legs can hit swimmers following behind. Some races have 45º turns that require different techniques. Some races in windy or wavy conditions, especially when the buoys are anchored in deep water, have MOVING turn buoys.

Like individual medley swimmers who master four different types of turns in the pool, open water swimmers must master innumerable different types of turns that come only with years of practice.

4. SINGULARITY vs. MULTIPLICITY
The turn efficiency of pool swimmers is entirely their own responsibility. In and out of the walls, the pool swimmer is an individual swimming alone.

In contrast, when a large pack of open water swimmers enters the turn area, everyone except the lead swimmers get squeezed. For those swimmers in the back of the pack, the loss relative to the leaders becomes multiplied. The leader can extend his or her lead to a greater extent over the fifth-placed swimmer than over the second-placed swimmer.

This is one reason why the Russian open water swimmers, who are considered to be master tacticians, always position themselves no further than third fourth in a major race. If an open water swimmer falls behind to positions beyond fifth, the loss around the turn buoys is generally multiplied.

5. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Pool swimmers practice their turns every workout. Swimmers can be confident that their turns will be the same in a pool in Los Angeles and a pool in London. The backstroke flag, the black cross on wall and the vertical concrete surface are the same in every pool.

In contrast, open water swimmers usually only get to practice turns at the race course within a couple of days before the race. In many local races, the turn buoys are anchored on the race day morning.

Also, each turn must be navigated with different sightings and, occasionally, with or against different currents.

Some races have large orange marine buoys; other races have small buoys that are partly hidden behind swells, the sun's glare or escort boats within the swimmer's line of sight.

SUMMARY
Open water swimmers may have less efficient flip turns than their pool counterparts, but they still have a lot to think about when navigating in and out of their own turns in the open water.

Photo by Dr. Jim Miller at the 2007 World Swimming Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

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FINA-approved High-tech Swim Suits

FINA-approved High-tech Swim Suits

Given the anticipated heat, humidity and smog levels in Beijing in August, and the tremendous pace that the swimmers will be maintaining for two hours during the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, it will be very interesting to see what swim suits the open water swimmers will use at the Olympics.

As is well-documented, the new high-tech suits not only compress the body, but they also retain body heat extraordinarily well. In a 100-meter freestyle or a 200-meter butterfly in a pool in a well-ventilated air-conditioned facility, these suits have obvious significant benefits.

In the open water event, a two-hour race under high-humidity, high-heat and high-smog conditions held outdoors, the compression and increased body heat may require some athletes to hydrate more often and in greater amounts. Just a guess.

To date, FINA has approved the following suits:

1. TYR Tracer
2. Speedo LZR
3. blueSeventy Pointzero3
4. blueSeventy 3+
5. blueSeventy Nero 10k (openwater)
6. blueSeventy Nero Comp (pool)
7. XTERRA Velocity .02

On the right is a picture of Captain Matthew Webb, taken in 1875, after he became the first person to successfully cross the English Channel.

On the left is a picture of Mark Warkentin who is America's representative in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim to be held in Beijing on August 20, 2008.

Judging from the pictures of these two men, who are the elite of their respective eras, swim suit styles for open water swimmers do not seem to have changed much over the past 133 years.

 

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Ocean's Seven

Chris Guesdon

The Seven Summits are the highest mountains in each of the seven continents. Successfully scaling these mountains is a mountaineering challenge attained by only the strongest. As of 2007, 198 climbers have achieved this expensive and physically demanding goal.

Open water swimming’s version of the Seven Summits is the Ocean’s Seven.

The Ocean’s Seven include (1) the Irish Channel between Ireland and Scotland, (2) the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, (3) the Moloka’i Channel between O’ahu and Moloka’i Islands in Hawaii, (4) the English Channel between England and France, (5) the Catalina Channel near Los Angeles, California, (6) the Tsugaru Channel between Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan, and (7) the Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa.

No human has yet to complete the Ocean’s Seven.

Achieving the Ocean’s Seven requires an ability to swim in both very cold and very warm seas. It also demands the swimmer is physically and mentally prepared to overcome every condition known to defeat open water swimmers, from strong currents to stiff winds.

Like its mountaineering cousin, the Ocean’s Seven requires a tremendous amount of planning and expense and a multi-national support team of knowledgeable local experts.

A description of the Ocean’s Seven follows. Note the distances listed are the shortest straight-line distances from point-to-point, but the actual distance covered by swimmers is significantly greater due to the tidal movements and currents.

1. Irish (North) Channel (www.irelandtoscotland.com)

Location: Channel between Ireland and Scotland.
Reasons for Difficulty: Heavy seas, cold water, thunderstorms and strong currents are among the natural elements that must be overcome in the 33.7-kilometer channel (21 miles).
Window of Opportunity: July through September.
Hazards: Widely considered to be the most difficult channel swim in the world with the water temperature 54ºF (12ºC), normally overcast days, and tremendous difficulty in accurately predicting weather and water conditions. Swimmers face large pods of jellyfish if conditions are calm.
Description: Has been attempted at least 73 times since 1924, but only 8 successful solo swims and 5 relays have been achieved to date. Most of the attempts have been abandoned due to difficult conditions and hypothermia.
Additional Information: Swim crossings are governed by the rules set by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association. First attempt was made in 1924 and the first success was 1947.

2. Cook Strait (www.cookstraitswim.org.nz)
Location: Channel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
Reasons for Difficulty: 16 nautical miles (26 kilometers) across immense tidal flows in icy water conditions among jellyfish and sharks are extremely stiff challenges for only the most capable and adventurous swimmers.
Window of Opportunity: November through May.
Hazards: 1 in 6 swimmers encounter sharks on their crossings. Sharks only come around to be nosey. No one has ever been attached during a swim. Both sides of the strait have rock cliffs. Cold water (14ºC-19ºC or 57ºC-66ºF) over 26 kilometers and heavy chop.
Additional Information: To date, only 71 successful crossings have been made by 61 individuals from 8 countries. Hypothermia and change in weather conditions during a race are the most common reasons attempts fail.

3. Moloka’i Channel (or Kaiwi Channel)
Location: Channel between the western coast of Moloka’i Island and the eastern coast of O’ahu in Hawaii
Reasons for Difficulty: 27 miles across a deep-water (701 meters) channel with extraordinarily strong currents in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and aggressive marine life.
Window of Opportunity: As conditions permit.
Hazards: Extremely large rolling swells, strong winds and tropical heat and very warm salty water offset the incredibly beautiful views of the Hawaiian Islands and deep-blue underwater scenery.
Additional Information: Deep-water channel with beautiful views of the Hawaiian Islands was first crossed in 1961 by Keo Nakama in 15 hours and 30 minutes and has only been crossed by 8 individuals to date.

4. English Channel (www.ChannelSwimming.net and www.ChannelSwimmingAssociation.com)
Location: Channel between England and France with the narrowest point being in the Strait of Dover between Shakespeare Beach, Dover, England and Calais, France.
Reasons for Difficulty: An international waterway of 34 kilometers (21 miles) at its narrowest point, cold water temperatures, strong currents and ever-shifting water and weather conditions.
Window of Opportunity: June to September.
Hazards: The world’s most famous channel crossing with nearly 1,000 successful swimmers to date, but thousands of failed attempts due to strong currents and tidal flows, strong winds and whitecaps caused by changing conditions and hypothermia.
Additional Information: Considered to be the standard for channel crossing with the rules and traditions significantly influencing the worldwide open water swimming community.

5. Catalina Channel (www.swimcatalina.org)
Location: Channel between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Reasons for Difficulty: Cold water (especially near coast), strong currents, potential for strong winds, marine life and distance. Shortest point-to-point course is 33.7 kilometers (21 miles) from Emerald Bay on Santa Catalina Island to the San Pedro Peninsula.
Window of Opportunity: June to September.
Hazards: A deep-water channel that is comparable to the English Channel in terms of water conditions, difficulty, distance and the physical and mental challenges to the swimmer, although the water temperature is a bit warmer (mid-60°F water). Marine life seen on occasion, including migrating whales and large pods of dolphins.
Additional Information: First successful swim was in January, 1927 when Canadian George Young won $25,000 in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim in 15 hours and 44 minutes.

6. Tsugaru Strait
Location: Deep-water channel between Honshu, the main island of Japan where Tokyo is located, and Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Closest points are Tappi Misaki in Honshu and Shirakami Misaki in Hokkaido.
Reasons for Difficulty: An international waterway, 19.5 kilometers (12 miles) at its narrowest point. Swimmers must cross a strong current, large swells and abundant marine life between the Sea of Japan with the Pacific Ocean. English and other western languages are not widely spoken in area. Water can be between 62-68ºF (16-20ºC).
Window of Opportunity: July and August.
Hazards: Swimmers are swept long distances due to the extraordinarily strong currents flowing from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean. Swimmers face large blooms of squid during the night. Swimmers are challenged by occasional patches of cold water that flow up from the depths and are caused by the screws of the large oil tankers from the Middle East travel through to the West Coast of the U.S. Only four confirmed solo crossings and one confirmed double-crossing have been achieved to date.

7. Strait of Gibraltar (www.acneg.com)
Location: Strait between Spain and Morocco that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Shortest point is between Punta Oliveros in Spain and Punta Cires in Morocco.
Reasons for Difficulty: 14.4 kilometers (8 miles) across an eastern flow of water from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea with an average of 3 knots (5.5 km per hour). Heavy boat traffic, logistical barriers and surface chop confront swimmers throughout each attempt.
Window of Opportunity: June to October.
Hazards: Its boundaries were known in antiquity as the Pillars of Hercules. The currents remain of Herculean strength. Combined with the unpredictability of the water conditions and high winds, only 185 successful one-way crossings and 7 double-crossings have been made to date.
Additional Information: Most attempts are made from Tarifa Island due to the influence of strong currents, a distance of 18.5-22 kilometers (10-12 miles).

Who will be the first to achieve the Ocean’s Seven? Who will be the first to try?

Footnote: The Seven Second Summits is another mountaineering term that refers to the second-highest peak of each continent.

What swims might be included in the Ocean’s Second Seven, open water swimming equivalent of the Seven Seven Summits?

A very small smattering of candidate swims would include the Straits of Magellan in Chile, Skagerrak Strait between Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope both in South Africa, Lake Baikal in Russia, Beagle Channel between Argentina and Chile, Lake Titicaca from Bolivia to Peru, Gulf of Aqaba (or Eilat) between Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Rottnest Channel in Australia, circumnavigation of Yonaguni Island in Okinawa near Taiwan, Loch Ness in Scotland, circumnavigation of Isle of Wight, Lake Tahoe between Nevada and California, U.S.A., Capri to Napoli, Italy, Majorca to Minorca, Spanish Balearic Islands, Santa Barbara Channel in California, U.S.A., Five Lakes of Mount Fuji in Japan, Lake Balaton in Hungary, Lac St-Jean in Quebec, Canada, Jeble to Latakia in Syria, circumnavigation of Manhattan Island in New York City, U.S.A., or the Gulf of Toroneos in Greece…although there are innumerable other swims to be discussed, proposed and attempted.

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David Davies and Mike Read, Stars of the U.K.

Mike Read
Mike Read

David Davies of the U.K. is considered to be one of the gold medal favorites in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. On August 21st in Beijing, Davies will dive into the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park to face 24 other world-class open water swimmers, all of whom have significantly more open water experience than him.

But Davies has heart and a plan. His strategy is to begin the race at furious pace and challenge his competitors to keep up. It is a risky strategy, but one that works for him and his unbelievable aerobic capabilities.

Upon his broad shoulders, Davies will carry with him the long illustrious history of British open water swimming.

As we look back on some of renowned British swimmers who made their mark in open water swimming, Michael Read is among the first on any historian’s list.

Read was the King of the Channel® from 1979 –2000, a title he received from the Channel Swimming Association Ltd. for successfully crossing the English Channel more times than any other man - 33 times to date. 1979 was a remarkably productive year, when Read completed 6 crossings. 29 of his swims have been in the traditional England-to-France direction.

Read’s road to the record books has rarely been easy. On October 28th, 1979, Read made the latest swim of the English Channel season. Upon his departure from the British shore, there was frost on the pebbles as he walked into the Channel. His crossings have also included five unsuccessful double-crossing attempts. One admirable attempt was his final double-crossing attempt in 1975 where Read raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Lions International Club of Great Britain, despite the fact the swim was aborted one mile from the finish after Read spent a valiant 29 hours and 5 minutes in the water, struggling five mind-boggling hours to finish the last mile.

Back on land, Read has served the Channel Swimming Association in the capacity of Chairman and/or Vice Chairman for over 30 years and was elected President in November 2007.

Before hitting the shores of Dover, Read qualified for the 1960 Rome Olympics as member of Britain's 4 x 220 yards freestyle relay, but he damaged his knee just 5 days before the Olympics and served as an alternate.

He has completed more than 110 swims greater than 16 kilometers, including winning the British Long Distance Swimming Association’s 21-mile Lake Windermere championship on 9 consecutive occasions.

Over a swimming career spanning six decades, including a quadruple-crossing (42 miles) of Lake Windermere, 60 miles around the Isle of Wight, a grueling 24-mile crossing of Loch Ness in 14 hours and 23 minutes in 42.8-44.6F water (6-7C). He completed the 22-mile Loch Lomond in Scotland, a double-crossing of Lake Sursee in Switzerland (18K) and swims in the Nile River, Syria, Czech Republic, Greece, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Tunisia, Yugoslavia, and the U.S. (Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and an escape from Alcatraz Island).

Outside of the pool and waterways of the world, Read has received several Honorary Citizen awards from municipalities around the world and was invited to the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Wedding and to the state banquet at Windsor Castle to mark the “Entente Cordial” with President Chirac and other receptions hosted by the Queen.

Davies can take to heart Read's words in not only the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, but also throughout his post-career, “I never saw obstacles or boundaries, only opportunities."

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Edith van Dijk - Mother and Olympian

Edith van Dijk and Child

One of the most successful and versatile open water swimmers is making an Olympic comeback after the birth of her daughter.

Edith van Dijk of the Netherlands, who retired after her child's birth, qualified for the women’s Olympic 10K Marathon Swim at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships in Seville, Spain. Edith recalled, “Coming around the last turn buoy, I knew I had to hold off the other Europeans. There was a group of swimmers behind me (Teja Zupan of Slovakia, Alice Franco of Italy, Marianna Lymperta of Greece and Margarita Dominguez of Spain) and I knew I just had to finish in front of them by a touch to qualify for Beijing. I am so happy."

The personable, multi-lingual 35-year-old started her open water career in 1990. Between the 1998 World Swimming Championships in Perth and the 2005 World Swimming Championships in Montreal, Edith was the world's dominant professional marathon swimmer. In addition to the numerous professional race victories throughout Europe, South America and Canada, Edith won two gold medals in the 10K, four gold medals in the 25K, two silver medals each in the 5K and 25K, and a bronze each in the 5K, 10K and 25K races over seven world championship events during that period.

These races were held in every kind of open water swimming environment: from the shores and swells of Waikiki in Hawaii to the flat waters of a Montreal rowing basin. She also won in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Barcelona, in a river flowing through Dubai, and in the ocean along the Japanese coast in Fukuoka.

Edith also swam across the English Channel in 2003 and tried to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in the 800-meter freestyle. In 2005, she was named Swimming World Magazine's Long Distance Swimmer of the Year and the Top Sport Female of the Year in the Netherlands.

As one of the greatest ambassadors of the sport, we look forward to watching Edith in Beijing on August 20th.

Photo by Javier Blazquez showing Edith on the left with her daughter after the 25K race at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships. 

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Great Pool of China

Great Pool of China

The Olympic 10K Marathon Swim will be held in one of the most spectacular and impressive aquatic venues in the world, the renowned Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park venue outside of Beijing.

It is absolutely HUGE. The open water competition course has lane lines over 1 kilometer in length, anchored to the bottom, and the water is continuously filtered through a gigantic filtration system.

YuPeng Shen, one of the bilingual managers at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park, provided the following data on the open water pool:

Total Length of Pool: 2,200 meters
Total Length of Open Water Competition Course: 1,153 meters
Width of Open Water Competition Course: 162 meters
Estimated Amount of Water: 1,134,000 tons
Depth of Open Water Competition Course: 3.5 meters
Total Water Surface Area: 6.35 million square meters
Total Seating for Open Water Competition: 37,000

It is interesting to compare this open water swimming venue with the famous Water Cube of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the world’s largest pool in Chile.

At the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Grant Hackett and the world's greatest swimmers will compete in front of 17,000 fans at the gorgeous National Aquatic Center, known as the Water Cube.

At the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park, the world's best open water swimmers will compete in front of an estimated 37,000 people (1,200 permanent seats + 15,800 temporary seats + 10,000 standing room only “seats”).

It is also interesting to compare the Beijing open water venue with the world’s largest swimming pool located at the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Algarrobo, Chile. The Chilean resort pool has 250,000 cubic meters of water (or 66 million gallons of water) and is 1013 meters in length with a 115-foot deep end. The Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park is not only longer and bigger, but also has an impressive 6.35 million square meters of water surface area.

It is truly the Great Pool of China.

 

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Cross-over Swimmers

Cross-over Swimmers

Of the 50 athletes who will be competing in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, there will be several who will pull double-duty. That is, the following swimmers not only qualified for the Olympic 10K finals, but are also entered in pool events.

  • Cassandra Patten (Great Britain - shown above left): 800 freestyle
  • Keri-Anne Payne (Great Britain - shown above right): 400 individual medley
  • Marianna Lymperta (Greece): 200 freestyle
  • David Davies (Great Britain): 1500 freestyle (a bronze medalist in the 1500 at the 2004 Olympics)
  • Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria): 1500 freestyle
  • Gianniotis Spyridon (Greece): 400 and 1500 freestyles (a finalist at the 2004 Olympics).
Thomas Lurz of Germany was asked by the German Swimming Federation to focus on the Olympic 10K, although he is also capable of representing Germany very well in the 1500.

Davies is typical in his outlook as he bridges the gap between world-class pool and open water swimming. “It’s nice to do both (the 1500 and 10K). It’s a nice mixture. I am fit enough to do both and I’ll train for both. I’ll do a bit more (open water) racing and gain (more) experience in the 10K before Beijing. A year ago, I wasn’t even thinking about doing the 10K. But this swim [in Seville at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships where he qualified for the Olympic 10K] was very encouraging.”

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What's a Parent to Do?

Chloe Sutton

During the pressure-packed Olympic 10K Marathon Swim qualification race, live updates were posted from the Beijing venue and viewed by thousands of people in the open water swimming community. Because the qualification race was not televised or streamed online, friends, fans, teammates, coaches and family members read the real-time Twitter updates on their computers or mobile phones over the course of the 2-hour race.

Imagine the worry of a parent when waiting for these live updates. What is a mother thinking? While Chloe Sutton was trying to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in China, her parents were in Southern California waiting anxiously to hear the results of the qualification race.

So what did David and Wendy Sutton do?

They went out for a Mexican dinner (the race started on a Friday at 6 pm PT). Before leaving the house, Wendy sneaked a peek at the first few updates and knew the athletes were heading to the start. “My stomach sank,” recalled Wendy.

David, motioning her to the car, said "C’mon, let’s go, please don't torture yourself.”

At the restaurant, they ordered and then waited in silence, both lost deep in their own thoughts and fears. The bread basket came, then drinks and then the main course. The first half of dinner was quiet as they wondered what was going on in Beijing. They knew Chloe and her competitors must be in the second half of their race by now.

Suddenly, the phone rang and Wendy jumped. Chloe’s 72-year-old father was on the line with an update. “Chloe’s in the lead,” he explained calmly.

But the update did not result in relief – just additional anxiety. As they pecked away at their main course, a close friend called with another update. The lead pack was on their third loop of four and Chloe was just behind the leader. “I was glad she was drafting and resting, but I still worried,” said Wendy smiling as she recalled the moment. “But David knew I needed a margarita – even thought it has been years.”

Another call came before the margarita was served. The update was from Chloe's aunt. “Chloe has a strong lead," she screamed into the phone. Wendy couldn’t wait any longer, so she called Chloe’s coach, Bill Rose of the Mission Viejo Nadadores. “Have you heard where her competition is?” asked Wendy as she repeated the information provided by Chloe’s grandfather and aunt to Bill

“On the last lap, Chloe fed and is looking strong,” relayed Wendy to Bill who was still on the phone. “Don't count your chickens just yet”, counseled Bill, causing Wendy to turn pale. “My husband got me a second margarita and I have never had two. I just had to hear what was going on during the final lap.”

There would be no ordering of dessert that evening. Wendy and David simply worked the phones and set up a daisy chain among family and friends. While Wendy’s friend from Sacramento and Chloe’s grandfather dad kept updating her about the final lap, David was on the phone with his sister who was concurrently on two phones updating their four other brothers and sisters and Chloe’s paternal grandmother. The stress was unrelenting as the race neared its climax.

Around the last turn buoy, Chloe built up an insurmountable lead, but the tension was still apparent in the airways among Chloe’s family and friends sprinkled around the country.

400 meters to go. 200 meters to go. Chloe was entering the final finish chute.

When the live update came through that Chloe hit the touch pads to win the gold, cheers and yells were being relayed across dozens of phone lines.

The moral of the story?

One’s child can be a half a world away, but with modern technology, parents can feel like they are right there in the same venue.

And, Chloe will be swimming the Olympic 10K finals on August 19th at 6 pm PT. Stay tuned!

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The Day the English Channel Record was Set

Petary Stoychev

Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria set the English Channel record in August 2007 in 6 hours, 57 minutes and 50 seconds. The personable and outgoing Stoychev became the first person to cross the Channel (formerly called the Dover Strait) in less than 7 hours. Stoychev's historic swim is an example of the determination possessed by all successful English Channel swimmers.

Two months before, in June, Stoychev and his support team patiently waited on the English shore for the right conditions. With funds, patience and time running out, Stoychev returned home after ten straight days of cold, windy and rainy weather.

Disappointed but undaunted, Stoychev told his boat captain, the renowned Michael Oram, Honorable Secretary of the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, to call him if the conditions look favorable after the 2007 pro marathon swimming season was over.

Like the six previous years, Stoychev competed on the FINA Open Water Grand Prix tour and captured his seventh world professional marathon swimming title. After the pro circuit, Stoychev went on vacation to the Black Sea with his pregnant wife and set his sights on the Olympic 10K event for 2008. “I was relaxing, just enjoying the beaches and only swimming a little.”

On Tuesday afternoon, August 21st, Oram unexpectedly called Stoychev and told him the conditions looked favorable for a Friday swim. Excited, he started to call around for air flights to England as soon as he got off the telephone with Oram. However, no tickets were available for a few days. He was also worried that he had not been swimming enough for a record attempt. “I had to find five tickets on short notice, including tickets for my wife, sponsor and a cameraman. We finally arrived around mid-day on Thursday and met Michael in Dover,” said Stoychev.

“Tomorrow looks good,” advised Oram who was getting his boat prepared.

Stoychev went for a warm-up swim at a nearby pool in Dover and unexpectedly met long-time rival, Yuri Kudinov of Russia. “Yuri told me he was also getting ready to swim,” recalled Stoychev. Earlier in 2007, Kudinov handily beat Stoychev at the World Swimming Championships in Melbourne in the 25K race. Kudinov was acknowledged by many as one of best marathon swimmers after compiling three 25K victories at the 2001, 2005 and 2007 World Swimming Championships, beating Stoychev each time.

“On Friday morning, I woke up and had breakfast and coffee,” said Stoychev. “Then I went down to Shakespeare Beach to get ready [for the Channel].” Stoychev started at 10:11 am under fair – but not perfect – conditions.

Unbeknownst to Stoychev, Kudinov started 25 minutes behind him and started to chase him down. “After the second or third feeding, I was told [Kudinov] was closing in on me,” remembered Stoychev. “I imagined that I would set the English Channel record and then only have it for a few minutes before it would be broken by Yuri.”

Stoychev took it as a challenge and the race for the record was on. All day long, Stoychev surged and Kudinov responded. Back-and-forth the battle went between the two finest marathon swimmers in the world...in the most famous channel in the world. The athletes were wasting no time at their feedings and constantly maneuvering their course. It was clear that the conditions were made for a record attempt, but the Channel would have to hold up for a record to be set – no matter what pace Stoychev and Kudinov were swimming.

"It was like a race. The distance between us was almost constant throughout the Channel." Towards the end, Stoychev pulled ahead. "Over the last 2 hours, I was considerably faster and was able to finish 8 minutes faster than Yuri." Stoychev finished at Cap Gris Nez at 6:08 pm with Oram at the helm and Alison Streeter, the “Queen of the Channel”, as one of the official observers.

“I will always be the first man to complete the Channel in under 7 hours,” said Stoychev as he talked about swimming the 1500-meter freestyle and the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in Beijing. “If I do not get a gold medal or place in the top 3 at the Olympics, then no one will remember me. In some ways, the Olympics require some luck because it is a race that happens only once every four years...but people always remember the English Channel.”

“Continuing my career will depend on my results at the Olympics,” continued Stoychev. “I have a 3-month-old daughter now and I must work for my family. Ultimately, I want to become a member of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee and work to develop marathon swimming around the world. Back in 1993, I did my first race. I wanted to have a chance to travel all around the world and meet different people. I have been to beautiful and exotic places because of marathon swimming. When I studied geography in school, I could never imagine that I would be able to travel to places like Canada, England and Asia.”

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A Giant of a Man - Maarten van der Weijden

A Giant of a Man - Maarten van der Weijden

At the Beijing Olympics, one of the most engaging and interesting personalities will be open water swimmer Maarten van der Weijden of the Netherlands. Maarten just posted his story at [MAARTEN VAN DER WEIJDEN].

At 6'-8", Maarten is a giant of a man for more than his open water exploits (shown with his Netherlands identification - NED - written on his head to the left).

Maarten's incredible story is well-known in the open water community. In 2001, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukaemia and had to undergo chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant at the age of 20.

"In Lance Armstrong's book, he talks about fighting the cancer and being desperate to get back on his bike, but I didn't feel like that. I was lying in my hospital bed feeling at peace with which ever way it would go. I didn't think I would ever swim again. After my treatment, I lost [28.6 pounds], I couldn't sit, stand or anything. Two weeks after getting out of hospital my mother persuaded me to go swimming again, to enjoy the feeling of being in the water and start to get back into some sort of shape again. I hadn't even thought about a come back at that stage. I would look at my body in the mirror all the time and wonder if I was getting better or whether the cancer would come back, but in the pool I didn't feel any fear that the cancer would come back. I felt relaxed and happy in the water."

An article about Maarten's most recent 25K world championship swim can be found at [SWIMMING WORLD MAGAZINE].

Maarten looks forward to competing in Beijing. "The Olympics will be great. I am looking forward to it."

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Championship Finish

Championship Finish

The finish at the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in Beijing will be extremely close. The athletes will be separated by tenths or hundredths of a second in exciting photo-finishes. Like other world championship events, the medalists may be decided by the collective judgment of the finish referees who will need to review the video-tape.

There is good reason why Petar Stoychev is considered to be one of the most experienced and best open water swimmers in the world. Look at his finishing touch at the qualification race at the Beijing Olympic venue. This classic finishing form will serve him well at the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim finish on August 21st.

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Chloe Sutton, a Star Fish

Chloe Sutton

While the U.S. national anthem was being played during the awards ceremony at the Beijing Olympic 10K venue, Chloe Sutton proudly stood at attention as the gold medalist. Chloe, a 16-year-old from Mission Viejo, California, will represent the U.S. at the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim on August 20, 2008.

I first met Chloe at the 2006 USA Swimming National Open Water Select Camp. As one of the coaches, I took a group of young, up-and-coming pool swimmers to the beach in Ft. Myers on a beautiful sunny day. I gathered the impressionable and incredible fit group near the shoreline and explained the workout for the day. Many stood in ankle-deep water looking tentative; others were fidgeting with their goggles, hesitant to proceed further.

Suddenly, I heard some splashing, turned around and saw two feet sticking out from the water. "A starfish! I found a starfish!" yelled Chloe in delight as she came up to breathe. "I've never seen a starfish before. Look at this!"

Right then and there, the coaches knew Chloe had the potential for being a great open water swimmer. She did not fear the ocean. Rather, she looked at the ocean as a venue to enjoy, embrace and demonstrate her great physical capabilities and mental strengths.

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Lean and Mean Open Water Swimmers

Everyone knows that swimming more than 6 miles in the open water takes incredible endurance, especially when it is done at the world-class level.

But, why is it that open water swimmers can look a bit soft and pudgy when they get out of the water?

Before they take the plunge, whether it is in the English Channel or in the Olympic distance of 10 kilometers in a rowing basin, many open water swimmers appear to be the epitome of health with a typical swimmer’s physique: wide shoulders tapering down to narrow hips and strong legs.

The easy answer is that the body naturally swells from prolonged exposure to salt or brackish water. As a result, their bodies appear bloated when they exit the water, especially when the swimmers are in the water for over two hours which is just a bit longer than the world’s best open water swimmers take to complete 10 kilometers.

Physiologically there is a phenomenon called “third spacing” that can also cause the open water swimmer’s body to appear waterlogged or swollen. This third spacing can be caused by a loss of electrolytes. In turn, this results in extracellular fluids going out of the blood vessels and into the skin tissue that normally is not perfused with fluids. Third-spacing occurs in the brain, lungs, abdomen and extremities when fluid is trapped in the interstitial spaces.

The third-spacing effect becomes even more noticeable with an increase in water salinity and the duration of exposure.

As experienced open water swimmers know well, they know they can appear out of shape, especially around the hips, stomach and thighs, and are always less photogenic after a long swim. This is why many swimmers like taking pictures of themselves, their teammates and colleagues BEFORE open water races rather than after.

Swimming World Magazine reported the effects of third-spacing on Grant Hackett at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships. The article is at [SWIMMING WORLD MAGAZINE].

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