Rebecca Soni pulled off arguably the greatest upset at the 2008 Olympics with a gold-medal victory in the 200-meter breaststroke. According to one of the USC coaches, Catherine Vogt, she is also 'awesome' in the open water.
Most recently, the 3-time Olympic medalist and world record holder wrote Ten Tips for a Great Swim for the Waikiki Roughwater Swim:
1) Preparation is everything. Elite level distance swimmers who are in reasonable shape may be able to get through the 2.384 mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim without months of race specific training. All others should find a qualified coach and training group to assure that they are in shape to finish the race regardless of the conditions (wind, waves, current). Stretching, cross training and strength training are all helpful tools but perhaps the most important thing is an efficient stroke and good conditioning. By race day you should be able to swim 4000 meters comfortably without stopping or touching the bottom.
2) If there is any doubt that you can finish the race stay on the beach and train for next year.
3) There are no lane lines in the ocean. Practice sighting buoys and landmarks (twin towers, Rainbow Hilton). Learn to read the ripples in the sand on the bottom. They can help you stay on track. You should be able to 'look stroke' while swimming freestyle every 20 strokes or so. Even an Olympic Gold Medalist in the breast stroke swims head down freestyle in the ocean.
4) Wear a comfortable (and stylish) swim suit with minimal drag, a brightly colored swim cap (lime green, and pink are my favorites) and goggles that fit you and will not fog up.
5) Vaseline and sunscreen are key. Vaseline areas that might chafe such as your neck and underarms. Use a high SPF sunscreen and find a friend to get your back. Reapply sunscreen after the race.
6) Honolulu tide charts can help give you an idea of what the currents will be like on race day but for the best indication, swim part of the course (with a friend) the day before the race at the same time that you will be swimming that section of the course. It helps to practice navigating both the start and the finish. The Roughwater Swim Committee offers free clinics and I advise you to take advantage of this great opportunity.
7) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. On the day prior to the race avoid soda, caffeine and alcoholic beverages. Drink lots of water and/or sports drinks. Don't overdo it but keep sipping up until race time. Rehydrate as soon as possible after you finish the race. There are no aid stations out in the ocean.
8) Eat what you feel comfortable with the day before the race. Avoid foods that you are not used to or that may cause you discomfort. In the morning eat a light but balanced breakfast that you are used to eating. Don't skip breakfast but don't visit the all-you-can eat buffet either.
9) Arrive at the beach at least 45 minutes to an hour before the start. Prior to the start, line up where you expect to finish in your heat. If you know that you are among the fastest swimmers in your heat get right in front and at the gun take off in front to take advantage of the open water. If you are not going to lead the pack, or you are not sure, then take a few steps back, wait a few seconds after the gun and draft the pack out the channel. You will save energy and avoid faster swimmers pushing to get around you.
10) Enjoy the race. If you are in shape and have prepared properly you will have a blast, regardless of the conditions. If you are not prepared, it may not be so much fun. Stay on the beach. While you are on the course, look for turtles, fish and dolphins. It is usually more efficient to stay with a pack where you can draft and share navigation duties than to swim on your own but when you can outsprint or outsmart the competition go for it! Ocean swimming is all about enjoying the environment, getting in great shape and navigating and swimming your best.