Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

World open water swimming records for certain distances or in particular venues are not kept by FINA or other governing bodies simply because of the dynamic nature of open water venues.

Competitions can differ in actual length, water conditions, water temperature, weather conditions, the presence of jellyfish, the position and number of feeding pontoons, the number of swimmers in the race, the position and number of turn buoys, the shape of the course, use or non-use of a lead boat or kayak, currents, tides, winds and surface chop. All of these variables have a direct impact on the overall times of the swimmers.

To demonstrate this point, we reviewed the men’s 10 km winning times at each of the races on the 2009 FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit. The winning times ranged from 1 hour 34 minutes to 2 hours 5 minutes, a remarkable 31-minute time differential:

Setubal (Portugal): Thomas Lurz, 1:34:16
Dubai (UAE): Thomas Lurz, 1:44:53
New York (USA): Thomas Lurz, 1:47:41
Sharjah (UAE): Trent Grimsey, 1:48:17
Lake Annecy (France): Thomas Lurz, 1:52:08
Chun An (China): Thomas Lurz, 1:55:10
Lac St-Jean (Canada): Alexander Studzinski, 1:57:25
Copenhagen (Denmark): Thomas Lurz, 1:57.40
Hong Kong: Thomas Lurz, 1:58:22
Varna (Bulgaria): Thomas Lurz GER 2:01:31
Shantou (China): Thomas Lurz, 2:03:15
Santos (Brazil): Simone Ercoli, 2:05:44

Even when we reviewed the winning times on the same course year-to-year (2008 versus 2009), there are still significant differences:

Hong Kong: 1:46:1 in 2008 vs. 1:58.2 in 2009
Shantou: 2:06:5 in 2008 vs. 2:03.1 in 2009
Lac St-Jean: 2:04:1 in 2008 vs. 1:57.2 in 2009
Setubal: 1:52:4 in 2008 vs. 1:34:16 in 2009
Dubai: 1:48:5 in 2008 vs. 1:44:5 in 2009
Santos: 1:58:42 in 2008 vs. 2:05:44 in 2009

So rather than time or records, finishing first is the goal of elite open water swimmers. After his 2009 world championship victory in Rome, Thomas Lurz answered a question from the media about why he swam off-course, “My goal was to finish first, not to be worried how far or where I swam.”

Although FINA does not recognize world records for its 5 km, 10 km, 25 km and Grand Prix events (that can range up to 88 km or 54 miles), there are some open water swimming organizations that maintain records for their marathon swims. The English Channel and Catalina Channel fastest times are maintained and touted as records for those particular waterways.

Another interesting difference between the pool world is open water swimming’s more expansive definition of records. Records are recognized for not only the fastest swimmers, but also the oldest, the youngest, the most prolific, the earliest completed in a season, the latest completed in a season, the longest time in water and date of the first crossing.

And while records are great, the self-satisfaction and sense of achievement for open water swimmers can be profound for those of any age or ability. For all those open water swimmers who stuggle to finish a 1-mile swim or those marathon swimmers who literally crawl onto shore, making it – finishing a swim – crossing the finish line – is truly a reward in itself.

Different viewpoints for different folks in different swimming disciplines.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association