Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Open water swimming has a growing number of epicenters around the world. Traditional cities like Sydney and New York, and traditional locations like Serpentine and Aquatic Park are well-known, but there are also new centers of excellence and popularity.

Ireland is one of those emerging global centers. Events, training locations, camps, fans and voices of the sport are blossoming.

And when such a tipping point is reached, heroes start to emerge.

Men and women of unparalleled passion, commitment and focus. Individuals who represent the hope of their community, the sport and, in fact, a nation. Swimmers like young Chris Bryan.

There is no truer maxim in open water swimming than “expect the unexpected.”

We expect to see several surprises at the Olympic Marathon Swim 10km and the final Olympic qualifier in Portugal where hopefuls and dark horses can do – and will do – the swim of their lives to capture a bit of Olympic glory.

Chris Bryan, Ireland’s top open water swimmer, is one of those athletes.

Like a hot song, Bryan has been steadily climbing the charts. Gaining racing experience with each head-to-head battle, Bryan is constantly improving. His latest bronze-medal finish at the 2012 European Open Water Swimming Cup is Eilat, Israel is only the latest example. Finishing behind Olympian Sergey Bolshakov of Russia and Gergely Gyurta of Hungary, Bryan took the bronze in 1:54:14 in front of the next tight pack of Yuval Safra (ISR, 1:54:16.2), Caleb Hughes (GBR, 1:54:16.7), Thomas Sunter (GBR, 1:54:16.8) and Gergely Kutasi (HUN, 1:54:18).

He trains like an Olympian: “[Open water swimming] is a tough sport. I do a good bit of mileage. On an average week I’d do about 100 kilometers.”

He demonstrates intense focus: “I’d be on deck in the morning at 5:10 am for a 10 to 15-minute warm-up and I’d be in the pool then for two and a half to four hours. I’m back in the evening at 2:30 pm. There’s a warm-up for 30 minutes and then I’d be in the pool for another couple of hours.”

He shows increasingly savvy tactical knowledge: “[After the 10km race at the World Championships], I approached it differently and took it out a lot faster. I managed to stay within the top 15 swimmers for most of the race then towards the end myself and the French swimmer broke away and took a slightly different route than the pack. When I re-joined the pack I was in about eighth position and just stayed calm and pushed hard with fifteen minutes to go.”

And he is one tough Irishman, but possesses a cool calmness about himself, especially important in the heat of the battle: “The last 400 meters [at the world championships] was rough. Everyone was on top of each other, there was a lot of fighting and kicking. I got an elbow in the head but stayed calm and relaxed and really gave it my all to the finish.”

It is these kinds of athletes who train hard day in and day in. On the right day under the right conditions, Chris Bryan definitely has what it takes. Swim Ireland that supports him at Swim Ireland’s Limerick High Performance Centre under coach Ronald Claes.

Ireland and the Irish aquatics community is backing one strong, young open water swimming candidate.

On the broad shoulders of Bryan stands the right man at the right time in the right event. Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association