Saturday, October 11, 2008

Elevating the Sport to Another Level

Personable pro open water swimmer Alan Bircher has retired. His last swim was the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere, but his effect on the sport of open water swimming has been under-reported and significant.

The 27-year-old Bircher finished fourth behind Olympic 10K medalists David Davies, Thomas Lurz and Maarten van der Weijden in the Great North Swim, but he first burst onto the international open water scene in 2004 when he won silver medals at the FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in Dubai and at the European Open Water Swimming Championships. Bircher has also been a fixture on the pro FINA World Cup circuit and was always in the mix at World Championships.

Bircher was a trend-setter from the start of his open water swimming career when he made the switch from the pool at the University of Bath to the open water. His courageous "attack" style of swimming - taking it out hard and challenging his competitors to keep up - was gutsy and helped elevate the sport of open water swimming. British Swimming has adopted his approach to open water swimming which helped the three British athletes in Beijing to win Olympic 10K medals.

"My career highlight will always be the 2004 season. Pretty much a novice to the sport, I won silver at both the World Championships and European Championships that year. I started my career in the pool but open water offered something different. When I first moved to the sport I knew very little about it but it's something that I took to and achieved a lot with over the past five years. I'd like to think that I helped to raise the profile of the sport in [the U.K.]. World and European medals weren't something I'd ever imagined but I can take them away with me and I'm very proud."

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