FINA World Open Water Championships: Being Waterlogged

By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Special Correspondent

SEVILLE, Spain, May 9. BEING such a well-known and accomplished athlete like Grant Hackett certainly has its ups and downs.

After graciously facing the Australian media to discuss his disqualification in the 10K world championships in Seville, unflattering post-race photographs of Hackett surfaced in the Australian press that caused an even greater stir than the disqualification. But, as many open water swimmers can attest, it is impossible to look as lean and mean after a long open water swim as it is before.

As often happens in salt or brackish water, the body naturally swells from the prolonged exposure. This is why many English Channel and marathon swimmers look bloated and "soft" when they exit the water after a long swim. Many swimmers appear out of shape, especially around the stomach, hips and thighs, after long open water swims.

Secondly, there is physiological effect known as "third spacing" that can cause the human body to appear waterlogged or swollen. This third spacing can be caused by a loss of electrolytes. In turn, this results in extracellular fluids going out of the blood vessels and into the skin tissue that normally is not perfused with fluids.

All of the causes of Hackett's bloating are common among open water swimmers and are more notable and noticeable based on the water salinity and duration of exposure.

Additionally, Hackett had reportedly downed three liters of fluids within two hours of his 10K race in Seville. As his teammate Ky Hurst explained to the Australian media, "There is a special way we approach this race, the morning of it, and we also try to get in a massive breakfast as well. That is over three kilos we put on in a 2½-hour period before the event even starts."

But the unflattering photographs or Hackett's finish in the 10K should not lead Hackett's pool competitors to believe he is out of shape. As experienced open water swimmers know well, they are always less photogenic after a long swim.

In Seville, where the water was murky green with visibility less than a foot in most parts of the river, the open water swimmers exited their races with deep goggle marks around their eyes and noticeable swim cap lines on their foreheads. When Hackett exited the river and exhaled deeply after battling his competitors throughout six miles in warm water under a scorching sun, he was simply the subject of a photographer who captured the classic third spacing effect well-known to open water swimmers.