Sydney, AUS, February 9. OLYMPIC legend Shane Gould warns that open water swimming is a potential drain on the talent pool in the pool. She is concerned a change in the culture of pool swimming may be needed to keep talented competitors, as reported on Fox-Sports Australia and in The Daily Telegraph.
Gould won three gold medals as a teenager in Munich 1972 and has since been heavily involved in aquatics in her native country, with involvement from learn to swim programs through continued involvement in elite circles and even return to high level Masters performances. When she speaks about swimming, Australia listens, and after she swam in a few well promoted rough-water competitions she has predicted a bright future for the genre.
On Sunday the 48-year-old grandmother won her age division in the Cole Classic which was held at Manly Beach. But what Gould noticed was the appeal of ocean swimming among the youth as was shown by four of the top five times in the Cole being set by teenagers in the 16-19 age category.
Close to 3000 adults and nippers entered the rival Cole and North Bondi Classics which were scheduled for the same date and time on Sunday.
"I think it is a real phenomenon. I think pool swimming has got to watch out," Gould said. "Ocean swimming and nippers is going to be taking good swimmers out of the pool. It's so stimulating, it's outdoors in nature and is just very satisfying. The swimming culture is going to have to change a bit to keep swimmers in their teams and in our clubs. I think ocean swimming is set to get bigger and more organised and more creative with what they do."
No governing body oversees the ocean swims Gould admires, with events run independently by surf lifesaving clubs.
Alan Thomson, the head coach of Australia’s national team, doesn’t feel threatened by these events and, instead, wants to join forces simply to ensure the best athletes stay in swimming. The incentive of an Olympic gold medal should keep talented swimmers in the pool, Thompson said. "I don't think any of these things are a threat, they are complementary."
But an Olympic medal chance may someday be the draw to the ocean, not the pool. FINA, the world swimming organization, is encouraging the International Olympic Committee to include a 10K in the Games, which could happen as early as 2012.
Grant Cleland, who won at North Bondi and is the 5km open water world champion, said the cash on offer made surf swimming attractive. "You are not guaranteed a winner because there are so many other elements," he said. "That's what is attractive about the sport."
Thompson and Cleland said attaining Olympic status would give open-water swimming a major boost.