Reflections on Golden Goggles Awards – Differences between Pool and Open Water Swimmers

Photo Courtesy: John Lohn

Over the years, I have attended numerous awards ceremonies from the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation banquet to the Golden Goggle Awards and high school and university season-ending celebrations.

Last (week) was the 20th Golden Goggle Awards, hosted by USA Swimming, in downtown Los Angeles, California. The Golden Goggles is a fundraising celebration of the achievements of the best American swimmers with several dozens of current Olympic swimmers and retired medalists from Gary Hall Jr. and Matt Biondi to Ryan Murphy, Katie Ledecky and Kate Douglass (all three shown above).

When I reflect on the speeches, personalities, and overall vibe of the Golden Goggles, I felt there are subtle, interesting differences between the pool swimming and open water swimming sit-down, formal ceremonies to honor and award the best in each aquatic discipline.

Age Gap

  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to be younger competitive athletes ranging from teenagers to young adults, without children, unmarried, and often still in school.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to be older from working adults to retirees, with children and grandchildren, either married or divorced.

Income Means & Levels

  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to live with parents or at a university, subsidized by parents, governing bodies, organizations or sponsors.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to have their own savings with a larger disposable income to travel and train.

Expression of Gratitude / Speeches

  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to thank their parents, coaches, and teammates.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to thank their spouses, friends, pilots, crew members, seconds, and their peers, some of who they have never met in person.


  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to dress like young adults with their own unique flair, touches, accessories, hair styles, and high heels in the case of the young women. Colorful, trendy, chic, and hip.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to dress in conservative evening wear, classy and stylish.

Body Types

  • Pool Swimmers: Women tend to be strikingly tall, incredibly fit, and toned. Men tend to be athletic, powerful, and sculpted.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Men and women tend to be much more fit than their peers, and many of them more fit than where they were 10-20 years previously. Males and females are refreshing proud of their bodies even when carrying extra pounds since college or before children.


  • Pool Swimmers: Focused on speed and technique with an Olympic quadrennial perspective.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Focused on stamina and acclimatization to water temperature and conditions with a perspective of adaptability and mental fortitude.

Pain Threshold

  • Pool Swimmers: Focus on acute bouts of discomfort due to lactate buildup and maximal cardiovascular stress.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Focus on chronic bouts of pain and discomfort due to hyperthermia, hypothermia, overuse injuries, seasickness, or jellyfish stings for hours or days that can result in hospitalization.

Temperature Tolerance

  • Pool Swimmers: Expect pool water temperatures to vary between 25.5 – 26.6°C (78 – 80°F) with indoor air temperatures to be warmer than 24.4°C (76°F) and relative humidity around 60%. Any temperature or humidity ranges above or below these ranges lead to complaints and criticisms.
  • Open Water Swimmers: While every open water swimmer has their preferred water and air temperatures, the ranges can vary widely and no complaints of Mother Nature’s actions are registered. In the extreme, swimmers like Petar Stoychev can swim in Antarctica and Scandinavia at a low of -1°C (30.2°F) water temperature and a high in Shanghai at the 2011 World Championships in over 33°C (91.4°F) water, wearing a full length black techsuit.

Timing Systems

  • Pool Swimmers: Have the benefit of electronic timing systems that immediately record and post their split and final times and positions, that can be immediately seen worldwide.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Wear transponders on either their wrists or ankles, and have the benefit of electronic timing systems, but their positions are determined by human eyes and judgment of officials standing near the finish, that can be delayed and debated upon the review of photo finishes with high-speed cameras.

Disappointment & Depression

  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to be disappointed by actions that they did not accomplish (e.g., best time, record, or podium position).
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to be disappointed by elements out of their control (e.g., wind, weather, current, water temperature, conditions, or marine life).

Social Media Preference

  • Pool Swimmers: Instagram, photos and reels posted immediately, focusing on smiles and future goals.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Facebook, including group photos and open water photos uploaded later, with mentions of achievements and some details.

Time (Duration)

  • Pool Swimmers: Think in terms of minutes, seconds, and tenths of seconds.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Think in terms of hours and minutes, sometimes days or weeks.

Physicality & Proximity

  • Pool Swimmers: Everyone gets their own lane in competition. The only physicality pool swimmers experience is if they are a relay swimmer who is coming into the wall and the relay member in the next lane over dives into the water in the next lane over from there.
  • Open Water Swimmers: At the start, at the turn buoys, near the feeding stations, and between the turn buoys, open water swimmers can touch, hit (intentionally or unintentionally), swim into, elbow (or be elbowed), kick (or be kicked), or otherwise impede their competitors.

Stroke Count

  • Pool Swimmers: Think in terms of stroke per distance, breakouts, turns, and streamlining. At one extreme is Sabir Muhammad, a USA Swimming board director who set a Beamonesque record in the 50 butterfly where he explained, “I took 2 strokes on the first lap, and three strokes on the second lap.”
  • Open Water Swimmers: Think in terms of strokes per minute that may fluctuate even more than 10 strokes per minute depending on the swim. At one extreme is the four-way English Channel crossing by Sarah Thomas that took 54 hours 10 minutes.

Start Time

  • Pool Swimmers: Fixed and specific.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Flexible and dependent upon weather conditions.


  • Pool Swimmers: From an elevated fixed starting block.
  • Open Water Swimmers: From a shoreline or a floating pontoon or boat.


  • Pool Swimmers: Touch an electronic touch pad affixed to a side of a pool.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Somewhere on the other side or reaching up to an elevated moving vertical finish board.


  • Pool Swimmers: Temperature-controlled venues filled with chemically-controlled water with lanes, lines, and clarity from end to end.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Ever-changing bodies of water in meteorologically variable conditions where water clarity can range from deep royal blue or baby blue to muddy turbidity or silty murkiness.


  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to think in terms of morning workouts and double workouts. They work their bodies relentlessly hard in the pool, in the weight room, on stationary bicycles, and on gym mats driven by the goal of swimming faster.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to enjoy long sessions in the open water as their singular focus of exercise, that require either a post-workout rewarming period. Calls to mind the relative differences between younger track athletes and older road runners.


  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to (occasionally) apply sunscreen in the summer while in outdoor pools.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to apply anti-chafting ointments and sunscreens on face, shoulders, back, arms and legs.


  • Pool Swimmers: Tend of think in terms of coaches who dictate every meter swum in what stroke at what pace and interval, either standing at the edge of a pool walking up and down the pool deck.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to think of self-direction, self-driven training sessions, largely without a coach.


  • Pool Swimmers: Tend to be in the first half of their lives with dreams and many life goals on dryland to be achieved or disappointments experienced in the future. Swimming opportunities can be taken for granted. Swimming is part of their identity.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Tend to be in the second half of their lives with many life goals achieved and disappointments experienced on dryland. Swimming opportunities are appreciated profoundly. Swimming is part of their lifestyle.


  • Pool Swimmers: Swimming is something they enjoy as a form of competition and athletics.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Swimming is something they enjoy as a means to stay health and active.


  • Pool Swimmers: Warm, genuine, friendly.
  • Open Water Swimmers: Broad, heartfelt, appreciative.

2023 USA Swimming Golden Goggle Award Winners: 
• Female Athletes of the Year: Kate Douglass and Katie Ledecky
• Male Athlete of the Year: Ryan Murphy
• Female Race of the Year: Katie Grimes, 10 km
• Male Race of the Year: Bobby Finke, 1500m freestyle
• Relay Performance of the Year: 4x100m women’s medley
• Breakout Performer of the Year: Jack Alexy
• Perseverance Award: Lydia Jacoby
• Coach of the Year: Dave Durden
• Impact Award (USA Swimming): Eddie Reese
• Impact Award (USA Swimming Foundation): Tim and Jennifer Buckley
• Fran Crippen Open Water Swimmer of the Year: Katie Grimes
• Alumni of the Year Award: Lenny Krayzelburg

The co-hosts of the ceremony was four-time Olympic medalist Summer Sanders and two-time Olympic medalist and marathon swimmer Elizabeth Beisel.

One of the presenters during the evening was Academy Awards-nominated actress Annette Bening who was joined on stage by her real-world coach and Olympic swimmer Rada Owen. Bening and Owen presented to the Breakout Performer of the Year which was won by Jack Alexy over Katie Grimes, Thomas Heilman and Dare Rose.

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6 months ago

At first I didn’t recognize Big Red and the State of Alaska amidst all those Bears….

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