11 Things You Did Not Know About Elite Open Water Swimmers

Open Water Swimming

Open water swimmers continues to grow in number. Tyler Fenwick is leading a very talented group of athletes in Colorado Springs for an intense three-week training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Swimming World spent time with eight of them during a phone call to discuss the present and future of open water swimming in the United States and around the world.

1. What is the hardest set you’ve done so far in Colorado Springs.

Haley Anderson: I felt the set of 1×400 on 4:40, 2×200 on 2:20, 4×100 on 1:20 twice through was pretty tough.

Jarod Poort: Then straight into 6×500, no rest.

2. What have you imparted to the younger swimmers about open water swimming?

Alex Meyer: We haven’t really had the chance to take all the lane lines out for open water practice, as we do in Tennessee. I try to chime in a little bit when I can, but I think we all learn from each other a lot. We get in the water and mix it up and rumble a little bit. When Jarod and Richard both came to Tennessee, we had good learning opportunities from both of them.

3. What has it been like training not just at Tennessee with Alex, but at this training camp with people like Haley and Richard, who have won Olympic medals in open water swimming?

Maddy Tegner: It’s a really cool experience to get to train with these guys. I’ve never trained at this level with these athletes, so it’s really cool to get in the water every day knowing I have people to push me. We’re having a really good time as well.

4. Those who are looking to get into open water swimming probably think they have to do ten times as much yardage as they do now if they want to be competitive. Is that true?

Haley Anderson: I don’t train like a normal open water swimmer. Yes, (at the training camp) I’ve been training a lot more than I normally do, but I think … you can be successful if you believe you’re doing the right things for you.

Chip Peterson: I agree. I’m up here doing a big increase in volume from what I’ve been doing. I felt like I was pretty successful at a collegiate program where we averaged (60,000 to 70,000 yards) a week. I maybe did a little extra, but not much since I was training for the mile and focusing on that. I still managed to be successful.

5. How did some of you decided to evolve into open water swimming.

Haley Anderson: Catherine (Vogt) made me (do it).

David Heron: I grew up near the beach, so I was always out swimming in the ocean. Throughout my pool career, I got better at distance, so once Tyler (Fenwick) became my coach (at Mission Viejo Nadadores), he had me try open water swimming. I liked it, and I got pretty good at it.

Alex Meyer: Hell yeah, you did! (Heron was fourth at the 2015 open water nationals, qualifying for the Pan American Games.)

Chip Peterson: I had a similar experience. I grew up near the coast, and I was a distance swimmer, so it just kind of fit in. I won my first national championship in open water when I was 15.

Alex Meyer: I always felt like the mile was too short for me. A lot of people would scoff at the mile being too short. Like Chip and David, I grew up near a lake. My coach used to always tell us this crazy long story about this girl he coached in the ‘80s who swam the length of Eagle Lake, which is … about 40 miles long. I could always get him to waste 45 minutes of practice time by telling this story, but I was also very intrigued by the whole thing. I was pretty inspired by that. Along with the fact that I was just getting going at the end of the mile, and I never liked going out fast, so it was too short. So, I started doing the 5K when I was younger at nationals.

6. What can be done to make open water swimming more popular in the United States?

Chip Peterson: More high-level domestic events.

Alex Meyer: There aren’t that many opportunities right now. When I decided when I wanted to do some open water races, I lived in New York, and there were two 1-mile swims for the older weekend warrior Masters people, so it wasn’t very competitive for me. The next step was the 5K open water national championships, so there was nothing in between. There’s very little opportunity for kids to get kids immersed in the sport.

Chip Peterson: I’ve seen a good development since I’ve been in the sport of LSC-level races and age-group races, but there aren’t very many races in the U.S. where we can come together and race and attract international people. It makes it challenging for us because we can’t gain experience without having to travel all year long.

7. Is open water swimming is more popular in Europe than it is in the United States?

Mads Glaesner: It’s difficult to say because I don’t do many open water races, but it’s definitely a growing sport and a lot more people are getting interested in it.

8. Richard, you won a bronze medal in the 10K at the 2012 Olympics. How has that success helped increase the exposure of open water swimming in Canada, if at all?

Richard Weinberger: It’s definitely growing in Canada. Before, I had Eric Hedlin competing against me, and my old teammate David Creel. After the London Olympics, a couple of French guys cropped up in Quebec and they’ve been pushing me a lot these past two years and leading up to the Olympic year.

9. It’s been almost five years since Fran Crippen died. What are your thoughts on the direction FINA is going to make open water swimming safer?

Alex Meyer: They’ve done some good things. In general, the supervision has generally been better. I think the 31 degrees Celsius (maximum) temperature rule is (expletive deleted).

10. The 10K at world championships this summer will pick the top 10 per gender that will go to the Olympics. What do you think about the selection process?

Haley Anderson: I think it’s cool. I think it makes (the world championship race) elite.

Alex Meyer: I think to make it one Olympic qualifier that is closer the Olympics would be better, and it’s a better way to get a deeper and more competitive field. I’m a good example of why you shouldn’t pick an Olympic team spot more than a year away from the Olympics. A lot can happen in a year. I hurt my shoulder, and things didn’t go very well for me. (He finished 10th in the 10K swim in London.) Injuries can happen, but it’s a disadvantage for younger athletes. They’re improving at a much faster rate, and someone who might not have been on the radar in 2015 can be really good in 2016, but might have missed out on the opportunity to qualify because someone from their country already made it at worlds. I think it’s a thing that FINA is not going to want to change, because of the appeal of selecting 20 athletes from their world championships.

Haley Anderson: In 2012, four of the six (Olympic) medalists from the two events (men’s and women’s 10K) came from the second qualifying race. (Anderson was one of them.)

Chip Peterson: The world championships is a much, much different race than the Olympic qualifier, and very different from the Olympics. The size of the field is significantly smaller, and it changes the dynamic. It’s hard for a swimmer to train for all of those dynamics, but it also shows the versatility of the athlete who succeed on all those levels.

11. When people on the street ask you what you do, and you tell them you’re an open water swimmer, what’s the general reaction?

Haley Anderson: You’re crazy to swim that long.

Chip Peterson: They ask you how far, and you tell them how far, and they can’t fathom what that is like.

About the Athletes

Haley Anderson: 2012 Olympic 10K silver medalist, 2015 world championship team member, Mads Glaesner: 2012 short course world champion, 1500 freestyle, David Heron: 2015 Pan American Games team member, Alex Meyer: 2012 U.S. Olympian, 2015 world championship team member, Chip Peterson: 2005 10K world champion, 2015 Pan American Games team member, Jarod Poort: 2015 world championship team member (Australia), Maddy Tegner: 2015 SEC championship finalist, 500 and 1650 freestyle, and Richard Weinberger: 2012 Olympic 10K bronze medalist, 2015 world championship team member (Canada)

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