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FINA considers wetsuits for Olympic 10 Km swim

FINA is considering use of wetsuits at the 2016 Rio Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.

Apparently, the reason for this rule change is safety.

FINA, the International Triathlon Union (ITU), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) consider water temperatures less than 18ºC – 20ºC (64.4ºF – 68ºF) to be unsafe.

FINA’s leadership will meet in Budapest on January 30 to consider the new ‘wetsuit’ rules given that water temperatures off the coast of Rio during the Olympic Games are likely to be lower than 18ºC.

Cornel Marculescu, the director of FINA, has informed federations that, in the wake of the research, ‘the only solution is to allow the use of wetsuits’.”

The highly respected Daily News of Open Water Swimming, says the recommendations of the ITU and FINA’s appointed experts are off-base for the following reasons:

1. 100% of the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim finalists will already be wearing tech suits that will almost completely cover their body with the exceptions of their arms.

These tech suits offer a significant level of skin protection and even a level of warmth that is not available if the swimmers swam in traditional porous swimsuits.

Swimmers can also wear ear plugs for additional level of cold water protection.

2. If FINA would like to make a change, why are they not considering allowing the swimmers to wear two swim caps in the open water competitions like FINA swimmers can wear in pool competitions?

Theodore Yach has done nearly 100 Robben Island swims - wearing just a speedo type costume. Photo: Dirk Erasmus

Theodore Yach has done nearly 100 Robben Island swims – wearing just a speedo type costume. Photo: Dirk Erasmus

3. While there are a handful of elite marathon swimmers who cannot handle water temperatures under 18ºC, all of these athletes have the opportunity (least we say obligation) to acclimate themselves to the chosen venue.

[Note: Poliana Okimoto was the only swimmer who DNF’ed during the 2012 London Olympics in the Serpentine due to cold water temperatures, but she is from Brazil and can very easily train in Copacabana Beach to acclimate herself to possible water temperatures under 18ºC.]

4. Open water swimmers are not triathletes. Open water swimmers – unlike triathletes whose majority of racing is done on a bicycle and with running shoes – are entirely focused on handling the various conditions of open water venues.

We understand that 18ºC may be considered cold by triathletes, but 18ºC is – and should not – be considered outside the capabilities of world-class open water swimmers.

5. FINA’s currently allowable water temperature ranges are 16ºC – 31ºC. FINA already allows competitions between 16ºC – 31ºC without wetsuits. Why is FINA changing now? Does FINA’s decision imply that the previously held FINA races held in water under 20ºC were dangerous and risky?



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6. In the event that wetsuits are approved, this changes the nature of open water swimming in profound ways. If 18ºC is considered too cold and potentially dangerous, who makes this determination? Will all future FINA races require wetsuits when the water temperatures are below 20ºC?

While the swimming community knows and readily acknowledges that FINA’s upper limits of 31ºC is too warm, a vast majority of the swimming community knows that water temperatures in the 18ºC – 20ºC are entirely reasonable. Cool for some, but not dangerous for the elite, world-class, competitive swimmers who are professionals.

7. With few exceptions, the finalists at the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim are professional athletes. They compete for money, have sponsorships, and are supported by their national governing bodies and benefit from the guidance of full-time coaches, experienced trainers and sports scientists.

Their team of supporters can easily educate the athletes on how best to acclimate and how to swim fast in water temperatures between 18ºC – 20ºC.

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