I am currently covering the marathon swimming events at the Olympic Games. This is a 10 kilometer race that takes under two hours, and is being held in a lake in Hyde Park in central London. Although it is an endurance event, athletes who have some speed are most successful since they need the speed for the sprint at the end.
Distance swimmers from pool events (1500 meters) have successfully transitioned to marathon swimming in open water. Open water swimming is distinctly different than pool swimming due to the contact between swimmers. The athletes also have to deal with unpredictable conditions related to currents, wind, waves, cold water and marine life.
Marathon swimming was added to the Olympic program in 2008. The U.S. won our first Olympic medal in marathon swimming yesterday when Haley Anderson took a silver. This will be great for development of the sport in the U.S. Today Alex Meyer competes in the men’s race.
In my role as chair of the U.S.A. Swimming Sports Medicine Committee, we have been addressing safety issues related to open water swimming. A world class American swimmer died during an open water race in October 2010 in Dubai. The fatality in that race was likely related to hyperthermia, as the air and water temperature were both high. This prompted a very in-depth review of race supervision and safety, which has led to formal rule changes related to race conditions and on-the-water monitoring of the athletes. We are also developing recommendations for pre-participation medical screening. Our primary goal is to ensure and protect the athlete’s health.
Dr. Scott Rodeo is an orthopedic surgeon and the co-chief of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He serves as a Team Physician for U.S.A. Olympic Swimming.