Responding to unaccredited claims of marathon swims

edited September 2013 in General Discussion
From forum charter member, Triple Crowner, and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator @Ned Denison, deserving of its own thread. --Evan



The Unaccredited Swim

Every now there is a report on the web or media that Swimmer X (add the name of the last one – or the one you remember best) has completed some epic swim – without the benefit of an independent accreditation body.

In some cases, the swimmer is a well known marathoner doing a first ever swim in a part of the world not serviced by an open water swimming federation > feel safe and applaud!

In other cases, Swimmer X is pretty much unknown and we all wonder. I have come to the decision that we all probably have an obligation to the sport to question these claims LOUDLY and AGGRESSIVELY. This means contacting the Swimmer X’s of the world as well as their sponsors and media outlets and ASKING the following questions:

1. What is your background and pedigree as a marathon open water solo swimmer?

In the past twenty years there have been 100,000 or more (perhaps 1,000,000 or more) long open water swims ratified by independent groups. Almost never is there a question about a swimmer listed on these websites/reports.

When you can’t easily find Swimmer X on one of these lists – it is ok to have severe doubts.

I liken it to a report of an unknown runner breaking 2 hours for the marathon in a training session – who has actually never run in an organised marathon or been spotted by a talent scout in the Rift Valley.

2. What are the details of the claimed swim?

Well that’s part of the problem. When a swimmer attempts one of the many great channel swims, the ratification body pre-agrees an independent witness. The witness records the rules in place (for example wetsuits are barred for most channel swims), other crew on the boat, the name of the boat, starting position, finishing position, GPS readings at every hour, conditions as they change, stroke rate each hour and any unusual observations. These reports are signed, made public and can be easily verified by any interested parties. Some of these big swims are tricky – you can easily get the tidal flow wrong in a report written on your mother’s kitchen table.

When you do not have such a report to support Swimmer X’s claim and this is a swim that the greats marathon swimmers struggle to complete – it is ok to have severe doubts.

So, back to the sub-2 hour marathon runner – was it self-timed?

3. How accurate and/or complete were any previous claims & media reports?

Did they previously claim another unaccredited swim? How many of these are the open water community supposed to take?

Did they previously swim the Sea of Tranquillity?

When they claim a series of success without evidence - it is ok to have severe doubts.

4. Will other open water swimmers vouch for swimmer X?

Normally one would start with the other swimmers Swimmer X competed against in a pool, long swims or the independent organisers of these events.

If nobody in the swimming community stands up for them – it is ok to have severe doubts.

5. Can they “walk the walk”?

So they swam 20 miles in water colder than your local beach. So, call them out for a 5 mile swim (done safely) this weekend.

If they will not get in the water and repeat 1/5th of their claim – it is ok to have severe doubts.

A recent claim for a North Channel solo swim in December by Swimmer X.....

The claim fails on points 1, 2, 3 and 4......unless anyone out there can provide more information??

I invited Swimmer X to my distance week in Cork in July.....let’s see how they do on point 5.

Comments

  • So, I am planning a swim of Lake Pontchartrain this fall. I have completed a 25k, but I have not swam any of the big channels with their own accredditing bodies (Catalina, SBCSA, etc). I am planning on having an observer on the boat with these responsibilities, but I understand that my name on its own isn't enough to give me any credibility. My question, then, becomes, what is the burden of proof? What information should I make public? Since there aren't any groups around Louisiana that oversee Pontchartrain crossings, is there any better option than training someone local to be an impartial observer?
  • @timsroot, I have no credibility in this, having just done a couple 10Ks (one a failure) and a 10-miler.

    But I would think that if you invite an observer who is known, or a swimmer who is known, and then make the report available to the public, then you'd be good.

    Add to that video evidence, GPS or Spot tracks. Should be good?!?!
  • edited February 2013
    @timsroot, you could ask a swimming official/judge.
    Officials are trained to observe in a pool and they should be able to observe outside a pool.
    You could use this report form as an example for your own report.
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • @ironmike - There should be GPS on the boat. That said, if I was skeptical of someone's credibility, the GPS by itself wouldn't convince me. It's easy enough to idle a boat across a lake if you were that determined to pull one over on people. Video would help quite a bit, though.

    @Niek - thanks for the link and the suggestion. I should be able to find an official, I'd think.
  • Definitely GPS is just an additional item to the whole package. But I like @Niek's suggestion. You could probably find a USMS official who would be willing. On @Munatones' site now I see a link to Open Water Coach Certification. Perhaps you can find someone local who is certified (by whom? that's a subject for another thread) and legit.
    Near you is Dr Bell in Austin, TX. He runs some nice-looking OW races in TX. He's someone who knows OW/marathon swimming. Might be worth asking him to observe. (I don't know him from Adam; I'm just trying to think of known swimming people near you.)
    Might be worth starting a thread on everything you're doing for your swim. I'm personally interested; I doubt I'm the only one. I have dreams of doing something like that near me, so I'm keenly interested in what needs to be done.
  • @IronMike - I've met Dr. Bell, and have swam one of his events. I'd swim more, but Austin is about an 8 hour drive from Baton Rouge.

    Things are very early in the development right now, but the Children's Hospital Foundation I'm working with is excited about it as a fundraiser for them. I sent them a preliminary list of supplies and personnel I thought I'd need, I should post that on a thread here for comments and feedback, as I'm sure I'm missing something that I don't even realize I'm missing.

    When things start moving a bit more, I'll certainly update the forum. I'll try to put that document up here this week for comment.
  • timsroot said:

    So, I am planning a swim of Lake Pontchartrain this fall. I have completed a 25k, but I have not swam any of the big channels with their own accredditing bodies (Catalina, SBCSA, etc). I am planning on having an observer on the boat with these responsibilities, but I understand that my name on its own isn't enough to give me any credibility. My question, then, becomes, what is the burden of proof? What information should I make public? Since there aren't any groups around Louisiana that oversee Pontchartrain crossings, is there any better option than training someone local to be an impartial observer?

    If you are establishing a new swim, you get to make the rules. In my opinion, it is advantageous to keep it simple by drawing from other well established marathon swimming federations, but also take into consideration conditions for that particular locale. If the planned swim is something you wish to offer as a route for others to follow, be specific about the start and finish points. Make yourself available to assist others who may have interest in also doing the swim. Blog, website, FB page, or even a dedicated thread on your friendly neighborhood marathon swimmers forum is a good way to get the word out.
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • edited September 2013
    Btw, in the case of the specific Swimmer X about whom this post was originally published here, Swimmer X did not show up at Sandycove Distance Week after being invited there by @Ned, and having accepted, and therefore failed all of @Ned's criteria. Swimmer X still continues to make his claims, though I've yet to meet anyone who takes them seriously.

    I was asked during the spring by a well-known swim promoter why I didn't take on Swimmer X more publicly (since it was over here in Ireland/UK), as I had with Diana Nyad. I didn't actually respond to that question at the time, as I recall.

    My reasons were:

    1. Almost no-one had heard of Swimmer X. I had some communication with the swimmer which led me to believe quickly they were a Walter Mitty character and essentially harmless. Communication purporting to be from Swimmer X's work colleagues seemed to confirm this.

    2. Swimmer X was marginal. No-one was listening, the sport wasn't being damaged. Had the media taken the claims seriously, things may have been different, as was the case with another swimmer and @Ned some years ago which was the origin of @Ned writing this.

    3. The implication that I have any responsibility for stuff like this is nonsense. Far better that people who actually make money from the sport and claim to be News, actually take that word seriously.

    4. It was obviously a dig at me over my Diana Nyad blog articles by the swim promoter. That made me laugh.
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