In a year of extraordinary exploits by so many swimmers, it was frankly impossible to select the absolute best performance of the year.
Both teams and soloists swam between islands and between nations, across channels and across lakes. Every month, people were making the impossible seem possible in the world’s open body of waters.
But in the year where ice swimming and cold water swimming emerged as the sport’s hottest topics, the tandem swim between the Diomede Islands by 38-year-old Alexandr Brylin and 45-year-old Grigori Prokopchuk was voted by the public as the 2014 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year.
As part of the program ‘Arctic: The Present and The Future’, the two Russian ice swimmers swam across the international dateline between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans as Lynne Cox first pioneered in 1987. Due to current drift, the ultimate straight-line distance of the swim was 5,600 meters as Prokopchuk finished in 1 hour 57 minutes and Brylin finished in 2 hours 7 minutes – doing breaststroke with a broken hand. “The water temperature fluctuated from between 3°C and 6°C,” described Prokopchuk. “The sea was calm with low waves rippling on the surface. The swim started at 4:40 pm (Chukotka time) in the Pacific Ocean about 1,200 meters to the south of the Inalik village on Little Diomede.
“We did not know any details about Lynne Cox‘s first swim between these two island on August 9th 1987,” said Brylin. “So we had to plan this swim by ourselves with what we knew.”
But the duo previously participated in the 2013 Bering Strait Swim so that had a good idea what to expect in 2014.
Upon their arrival on American soil on Little Diomede Island, the trio started to get ready for the swim amid the thick fog, strong winds, heavy rain, and storm the day before the swim. “We started to prepare by examining the speed and the direction of the currents,” said Brylin [shown below], broken hand and all. “[But] the fog came in so fast, it came like a sheet, so solid.”
The next day at 6:30 pm, their adventure began with a 2-hour boat trip to the starting point. “When the boat was 70 meters from the shore, Grigori and I dove into the water and swam to the coast so that they could start from the land. The water temperature was 6°C when Viktor Godlevskiy gave us the command to start from the rocky American coast.”
During the first half of the swim, the swimmers kept a good pace and swam near each other in a tandem swim. They had to overcome a strong current in the middle of the strait as well as a whirlpool. “We succeeded in doing so thanks to Viktor’s very competent instructions. He was constantly guiding us and telling how much was left to Ratmanova Island.
Gradually it started to get dark on the border of Russia and the USA as the water temperature fell from 6°C to 3°C. A strong south current threw us about 100 meter apart from each other as Grigori swam freestyle and I swam breaststroke. We managed to get closer to each other, but the current became stronger and we had to swim 500 meters more to the north of the planned finish. Grigori managed to land on a small rocky beach, but I was drifted 150 meter farther.”
After touching the shore of the Ratmanova Island, the men were exhausted. The boat did not come immediately to pick them up so they built a fire on shore to begin the re-warming process. It was 2 hours before they left the island. “After everything, it took about 6 hours to get from the Little Diomede to the Ratmanova Island taking into account the time of both swimming and waiting.”
It was not easy to get to either the start or finish. They had to connect a lot of dots to pull off this swim. “Our itinerary from July 26th to August 8th started when we met in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski. Grigori arrived from Yakutsk, I arrive from Blagoveshchensk, and we met Victor in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski. Then we all flew to Anchorage, Alaska in the United States, and then to Nome and Wales (in Alaska). After a two-hour trip on a cruise ship Silver Discovery, we landed on Little Diomede before swimming from Little Diomede to Ratmanova Island. Later, a helicopter took us to Lavrentiya Village on the Russian mainland. From there, we took was a postal plane to Anadyr (Russia) and another flight from Anadyr to Khabarovsk and then onto Blagoveshchensk for me or to Yakutsk for Grigori, and to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski for Viktor.”
Ultimately, the team made it and were subjects of a documentary film Arctic: The Present and The Future.
Their fellow nominees for the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year include:
1. Beyond Avalon by Dan Henry, Dave Speier, William Miller, Steve Miller, Lee Grove, Dana Selles, Mark Zambon, Penny Nagel, Chris Gibson, Jon Rodley, Jonathan Hands, Nick Jeffery, Terry Hirt (U.S.A.)
2. Curaçao Channel Crossing by Niko Kluyver, André Nottelman, Erwin Ruijsink (Curaçao)
3. Cyprus Israel Swim by Udi Erell, Doron Amosi, Ben Enosh, Ori Sela, Oded Rahav, Luc Chetboun (Israel)
4. Diomede Islands Swim by Alexandr Brylin and Grigori Prokopchuk (Russia)
5. English Channel Crossing by Cyril Baldock (Australia)
6. Great Lake Adventure by Vicki Keith, Abi Tripp, Nick Streicher, Michelle Sempowski, Natasha Dobson, Harley Bolton, Natalie Lambert, Jenna Lambert (Canada)
7. International Winter Swimming Festival Argentina by Matías Ola (Argentina)
8. Lake Ontario Crossing by Trinity Arsenault (Canada)
9. Madagascar Swim by Thane Guy Williams and Jonno Proudfoot (South Africa)
10. Manhattan Island Marathon Swim by Kristian Rutford (U.S.A.)
11. Mallorca 360° Circumnavigation Swim by Richard Krugel (South Africa)
12. Monterey Bay Crossing by Patti Bauernfeind (U.S.A.)
13. Prison Island Swims by Jacques Tuset (France)
14. Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming by Charlotte Samuels (U.S.A.)
15. U.S. Lifeguarding Champions by Monmouth County Lifeguards (U.S.A.)
The previous World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year recipients:
* 2009 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year: Andrew Smilley of the Cayman Islands
* 2010 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year: Ventura Deep Six of the USA
* 2011 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year: Nejib Belhedi of Tunisia
* 2012 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year: Juan Ignacio Martínez Fernández-Villamil of Spain
* 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year: Bering Strait Swim
Footnote: The 2014 WOWSA Award winners are as follows:
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year: Dr. Nataliya Fatyanova (Russia)
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Henri Kaarma (Estonia)
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year: Diomede Islands Swim by Alexandr Brylin and Grigori Prokopchuk (Russia)
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year: Step Out Of The Ordinary Blue Letter Campaign by Pádraig Mallon and Camlough Lake Water Festival (Ireland)
Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association