By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Thursday, May 3, 2018
One of the remarkable things about the sport of competitive swimming is that anywhere you swim, the water is the same. Water is the same in Iowa as it is in Indiana as it is in Maine. It’s the same consistency, has the same characteristics, and treats you the same. It’s like that old saying — if you have a lane, you have a chance.
But what if you leave the water, but take away that lane?
Outside the pool, competitive swimming is a little bit different. When you swim away from those concrete confines of 25-yard and 50-meter structures and venture into the wide world of Open Water Swimming, suddenly, competitive swimming is different. Take away those lane lines, put swimmers side-by-side competing, drafting, strategizing, and racing, and you have one of the most exciting races in our sport.
This weekend, the USA Swimming Open Water Nationals and Open Water Junior Nationals commence in Tempe Town Lake, Arizona. Be sure to following the action live on usaswimming .org beginning at 11 a.m. ET each day.
There’s a lot on the line this weekend, including roster spots for the Pan Pacific Championships and the FINA World Junior Open Water Championships. It’s an opportunity for the best pure swimmers in this sport to compete, race, and vie for a chance to represent the United States later this year, as well as to qualify for National Team roster spots next year.
During open water races, in vast watery areas without turns, without flags, without lane lines, strategy is as important as any other race aspect. Instead of concentrating on a turn, swimmers concentrate on the swimmer directly ahead or behind. Drag and drag strategy becomes an influencing factor. As does pacing. I’ve referred to this before, but open water truly is our sport’s chess match.
On Friday, it’s the 10K Open Water race. Expect Olympians Jordan Wilimovsky and Haley Anderson to compete for the title. They will face stiff competition against Brendan Casey and Ashley Twichell, respectively. Casey and Twichell were also last year’s FINA World Championship medalists, and Twichell won the title last year in this event.
Then, on Saturday, the junior swimmers get their chance in the 5K. Finally, on Sunday, the juniors will compete in the 7.5K, and the nationals will wrap-up with the 5K Open Water race for both men and women. David Heron and Haley Anderson will hope to defend their titles.
Anyone can win. It will come down to who has the best approach, and who doesn’t necessarily expend all his or her energy at the beginning. In such a long event like the 5K or 10K, pacing and energy conservation is crucial to success. It’s not just about how well you swim, but about how well you race (and pace). And the next generation of open water and distance swimmers are also expected to shine this weekend. Expect some great racing.
For me, watching an open water championship race is like watching the Tour de France. There’s so much nuance under the surface of the water, so much pacing and drafting strategy. Every single open water race is completely different than any other: The weather is different, the water temperature varies, and each swimmer’s pacing is different.
Interested? Curious about this exciting, concrete-free aspect of competitive swimming? Tune in this weekend to usaswimming.org if you want to find out what happens when you take away those lane lines… The competition gets underway at 11 a.m. ET on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.