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2012 was an unprecedented year of highs and lows for open water swimming, writes Rick Kiddle…

This is my 12th year running an open water swimming facility, and I can honestly say the 2012 season has been like no other

I have experienced. Firstly, with the growth in open water swimming and ever more events coming onto the calendar, the racing season has been stretched at both ends – starting earlier and fi nishing later. On top of this, the Olympics prompted many organisers to schedule events at diff erent times to previous years, so that they didn’t clash or because their usual venues were occupied or diffi cult to access.

The Games also seems to have had the desired inspirational

eff ect, tempting thousands of people to try new things, including open water swimming, which appears to be growing faster than most other sports. On the downside we’ve had to deal with unbelievably bad weather, at least in the UK. Despite drought warnings and hosepipe bans at the beginning of the year the biggest problem, bizarrely, was too much water. Cool, cloudy weather meant lakes warmed up later than usual and

the extreme rainfall led to the cancellation of many river-based events due to strong currents and pollution risk. Rain washes sewage out of storm overfl ows and nitrates off the land into the rivers and makes them unpalatable for swimming. We also had fl ooding. This was a real shame, as the river-race event movement looked like it was set to explode this year. Let’s hope this year’s unusual conditions haven’t stopped it in its tracks. At least one of the problems that plagued 2011 hasn’t aff ected this year so much. Last year, many lakes became overgrown and choked with weed, but the cooler weather this year has limited growth, so it wasn’t a problem, except in the shallowest lakes. On the venue side we’re seeing a classic tussle between supply and demand. The lake I run is in the south east, where there are hundreds of gravel-pit lakes leſt over from the construction of the M25 and M3 motorways. Over the years these have become fantastic recreation facilities for anglers, water skiers, sailors and now open water swimmers. Sensing opportunity, ever more lake owners are opening their facilities to swimmers, but this naturally puts pressure on existing lakes, to ensure an enjoyable and safe swimming experience to keep their clients. It’s tough for the venue operators, but it’s mainly good for swimmers. I say ‘mainly’ because as the sport grows it at racts newer, less-

experienced swimmers, and so it is essential that safety standards are maintained. As the founder of NOWCA (the National Open Water Coaching Association) this is a subject I’d be happy to advise on and discuss with any lake operator.


WEATHER DECIMATED EVENTS Other suppliers to the industry are also feeling the pinch. For

example, while the growth in the sport might be seen as good for wetsuit manufacturers, a number of the companies that have been around for a while are being challenged by new entrants who are innovating both in terms of product and in their business models. I think we can expect to see more innovation and new products targeted at open water swimmers over the next few years. In terms of events, we’ve witnessed a lot of new 5km and 10km swims coming on stream, and these have been extremely popular. However, I suspect we’ll start to see more demand for shorter events – 400m and 750m – for those looking to bridge the gap from pool swimming, or for occasions where swimmers just want to turn up, have a quick dash and then go home again, much as thousands of runners do each week with Park Run. This is something that NOWCA lakes will be supporting next year so please look out for that. Despite the disruptions, postponements and cancellations of 2012, people are still coming into open water swimming and the prospects look good for 2013 and beyond. ○

Rick Kiddle is former British triathlon champion and is a triathlon and swimming coach. He works with British Gas employees and other swimmers, including celebrities –Jodie Kidd, in her British Gas Great Swim series event, and Vernon Kay, for the London Triathlon. Contact him at with comments, questions and suggestions.


Photo © Colin Hill

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