Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking Under the Surface

Back in April, an alarming story from Australia about a 5K race at the 2008 Australian Age Open Water Swimming Championships in Lake Kawana caught the hit the attention of concerned adults and open water swimming enthusiasts worldwide (see photos from finish at left).

The headlines blared 'Six Teenagers Collapse after Lake Kawana Swim'. After reviewing the race results and learning that hundreds of 13-18 year old boys and girls completed the swim, we asked Australian National Team Open Water coach Greg Towle, a very experienced waterman and open water coach, for his comments about the actual swim.

"All the swimmers had to qualify in an approved open water swimming meet to compete and all had swum the [10K] distance prior to the event. All the qualifying times were checked and submitted by their respective state associations. Additionally, all swimmers had to have coaches and/or their guardians agree to their fitness and ability to compete."

"There was adequate water safety support and planning was in place, with first aid on site. It was our National Age Championships. There was a swimmer who suffered a dislocated shoulder (see photo on left), but it will not be the first or last [injury] in the sport."

"The majority of the swimmers participated the day before in the 5K km in perfect conditions. On the day of the 10K, we experienced strong winds on the same course with the same swimmers. Even the strongest and eventual winners swam well over their times from the day before on the way through the 5K. The final times were well off their best and all swimmers found the course extremely tough."

No swimmers were forced to compete or finish the race unless it was of their own accord. To the swimmers’ credit, there were very few DNF’s.

Most importantly, there were no serious health concerns and the swimmer with the dislocation was appropriately treated by medical staff.

The swim was won by Kane Radford who is one of the favorites at the upcoming Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Guam.

The headlines and photos certainly caught our attention, but it appears that the organizers had the race under control, despite the tough conditions, with adequate safety measures and procedures that were up to par with the expertise and experience commonly demonstrated by Australia beach safety patrols.*

* At the 2007 World Swimming Championships, there was a squall that hit during the women’s 25K race, and we observed first-hand how the Australian life saving staff performed professionally and quickly, rescuing dozens of swimmers in the water and dozens of staff on flooting pontoons and in small escort boats.

Yvonne Mooyman of the Black Rock Icebergers can also attest to the fast-action of Australian water safety patrols and race officials who rescued her from a shark during a swim. Just a few examples of the professionalism of our Australian colleagues.

Photos from the Australian Age Open Water Swimming Championships were taken by Che Chapman. Additional photos of the race can be seen here.

Photos of the Melbourne squall during the 25K race were taken by Dr. Jim Miller.

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