Challenges with Vote-Based Awards

I just wanted to voice an alternate view point here. I find these vote-based competitions somewhat distressing.

Consider an "Artist of the Millennium" competition where Van Gogh, da Vinci, and Picasso all enter. Art historians would surely be rolling over in their graves at the notion that a vote count (a vote count!) could determine a "best artist". But, to let the scenario play forward, who's likely to do better at 'getting out the vote'? Picasso and Van Gogh were both believed to have mental illnesses while da Vinci's wikipedia entry states:"Leonardo's disposition was so lovable that he commanded everyone's affection". He was "a sparkling conversationalist" [...] "In appearance he was striking and handsome, and his magnificent presence brought comfort to the most troubled soul; he was so persuasive that he could bend other people to his will. [...] He was so generous that he fed all his friends, rich or poor.... " (If I needed to bet on a likely winner, my money would definitely be on da Vinci.) A vote is more of a popularity contest than an assessment of accomplishment quality. Hardly fair.

What @chloemccardeldotcom did was freaking amazing. No question in my mind. World record status. Redefining what it means to go for a long swim. 128km in 42 hours. Just typing about it brings tears to my eyes. Fan-freaking-tastic.

But I also consider @msathlete and her 68km in 33 hours. At 49 years old, Susan Simmons has had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for 20+ years. At one point, she struggled to walk even *two blocks*. Her work ethic and multi-decade fight for health are u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-e-a-b-l-e. Her fan-freaking-tastic accomplishments bring tears to my eyes too.

I find these two ladies' accomplishments really illustrate a dilemma. First, I'm going to guess that few people (and I include myself here) know what it's like to live with MS. And unless Susan starts complaining, I may never know. I'm also guessing few swimmers know what it's like to be re-hospitalized for weeping jellyfish wounds. But without truly understanding each swimmer's accomplishments (which I define as the gap between where you started and where you are now), how can anyone possibly decide whose swim is "better"?

Especially when our sport seems to value hardened stoicism, we we'll probably never know the full extent of either Chloe or Susan's struggles or either of their full stories. And if you can't choose between two swims, how the heck are you supposed to choose between more than two? In WOWSA's case, there are 12 women with 200-word bios that -- I'm sure -- really don't do these ladies justice.

This voting scheme doesn't feel good to me. I don't feel it unites our community. And as some (all?) didn't-swim-as-a-kid-and-will-never-hold-4km-per-hour swimmers may attest, it under-represents portions of our community.

So I'm opting out. I'm not going to vote. And I'm hoping that those of you who feel similarly will speak up, too.


  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited November 2014
    The MSF awards exist to specifically allow the marathon swimming community to recognise swims, swimmers and individuals whom they admire.

    The MSF Awards do NOT assume speed or time or distance as criteria for selection. Each forum member has the choice to nominate ANY swim, or swimmer or individual. In fact any member can nominate all these for all awards and you are not limited in your nominations. I encourage all members to nominate, and to put their case.

    I also believe that an actual nomination really is, just like the boring old speeches say, an honour valuable in itself.

    The MSF Awards attempt to redress the imbalance of other award schemes which have previously often been won by those who could best organise an online voting brigade. Without the MSF Awards then only those other flawed award schemes exist and all the disadvantaged swimmers , average or slow or otherwise, have even less chance of recognition. I see the MSF Awards as a specific chance to recognise those people we admire, those people who make the sport of open water and marathon swimmer so different from pool swimming, precisely because speed and time *aren't* everything.

    There is no mysteriously preselected "nomination short list" with the MSF awards. The simple criteria are public, the nomination and subsequent voting schemes are public. It is the forum members that choose both the nominations and the winners. The most important phrases in the entire process are "public" and "peer-selected".

    Vote brigading is not possible with the MSF awards. Similarly there is no requirement for any forum member to vote. Conversely you title this the challenges with vote-based awards. The only alternatives to a vote based awards, are to have no awards, hold awards decided by committees or awards which exhibit the previously mentioned brigading problem. We believe that MSF Awards is the best of these four options.

    Everything about the MSF awards is done in public. Discussions such as this are possible with the MSF awards.
    Which other award can say similar?

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    edited November 2014
    Its rather obvious that these awards are subjective, but IMHO,they make a strong effort to add some legitimacy by restricting the voting to a population of peers... or more specifically, peers who are interested enough to be active members of this forum.

    As flawed as I think the WOWSA awards voting process is, I still appreciate the nominations as an opportunity to learn about swimmers and events that may have passed under my radar.

    So if you choose not to participate in the voting process of these awards,please at least participate by making nominations!

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited November 2014
    There will never be a perfect system for recognizing human achievement; but some systems are better than others.

    One is confronted with several options in the face of imperfection:

    - Create a new system that better addresses one's interests and values. This is why we created the MSF Awards in the first place.

    - Work within the existing system and try to improve it.
    Last year, we felt the current awards weren't covering an essential aspect of the sport -- service and volunteerism -- so we created a new award category to address this deficiency.

    - Give up entirely -- "opting out," as @JenA says. This viewpoint says, basically: Because it's difficult to perfectly rank-order subjective human achievement, we should not attempt to recognize it at all. By this logic, there would never be any awards ever, for anything or anyone -- because it's just so very, very hard to choose.

    Meh. I don't buy it. I enjoy learning about the incredible, inspiring swims people are attempting, and as @loneswimmer said, in this system, the nominations themselves are a great honor.

    @JenA could have nominated (and still can nominate) Susan Simmons, and then we'd all benefit from learning about her story. I hope @JenA doesn't opt out, but that's certainly her right. The Forum has nearly 1100 members now, and the majority of them "opt out" anyway. No big deal.
  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    evmo wrote: »
    Give up entirely -- "opting out," as @JenA says. This viewpoint says, basically: Because it's difficult to perfectly rank-order subjective human achievement, we should not attempt to recognize it at all. By this logic, there would never be any awards ever, for anything or anyone -- because it's just so very, very hard to choose.

    My viewpoint doesn't suggest that there should be no attempt to recognize achievements. I just think that -- at a certain point -- it doesn't make sense to rank-order swim accomplishments any more than it makes sense to rank-order artistic achievements. I'm not suggesting that there be no awards ever. Perhaps we can have more than one one winner per category.

    I'm offering an alternative opinion to inspire discussion. And if enough people feel similarly, perhaps our community can come together and make improvements.

    For me, participating would be an endorsement of the current processes. Right now, that's something I'm not comfortable doing.
    evmo wrote: »
    I hope @JenA doesn't opt out, but that's certainly her right. The Forum has nearly 1100 members now, and the majority of them "opt out" anyway. No big deal.
    I suggest that it is a 'big deal' -- because when significant numbers (especially a majority!) of a population stay silent, the results are biased. I suggest the results would be more meaningful if everyone felt the process was fair and the results were representative of the community.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited November 2014
    JenA wrote: »
    Perhaps we can have more than one one winner per category.
    All the finalists in each category (not just the winners) are listed on a permanent page, e.g. --

    So your suggestion is, basically, just leave it at that, without doing a final vote. it's a reasonable suggestion; just one I happen to disagree with.

    JenA wrote: »
    I suggest that it is a 'big deal' -- because when significant numbers (especially a majority!) of a population stay silent, the results are biased.

    No, it's just the nature of online social media. Even on the most successful sites (facebook, twitter, reddit), only a tiny minority participates at any given time. The Forum's participation numbers are actually quite high compared to most online social media.

    The results are "biased" towards people who are engaged in the community. And that is how it should be, IMO.
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    My guess is for all the nominees and eventual winners their actual achievements dwarf any possible accolades this forum could offer, so I view the awards as an opportunity to look back at the year that is past and say "look this is what people in our community have done and achieved" and to use it as an inspiration for the next year.

    Who wins the award is very much secondary in my opinion, much as (in my experience) most multi-participant marathon swims are not really about who finishes first.

    Swims like @msathlete 's that @JenA mentions (or even @JenA 's own swim last year) I think are excellent candidates and should be (and should have been) nominated.

    When participating in the nominating and voting process I do not worry about whether or not my choices will win the subsequent popularity contest, but choose to recognize those swimmers who inspired me, and hope by drawing attention to them their achievements may likewise inspire others.

    I certainly have sympathy for @JenA 's point of view and think that this is a worthwhile discussion.
    evmoloneswimmerJenADanSimonellijonnyS - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited November 2014
    In fairness to @dc_in_sf, he has made two other nominations -- much appreciated!

    @msathlete definitely deserves a nomination... please use one of the nomination threads, though! Solo Swim of the Year, or Yudovin Award?

    I had to search for it, but now I remember @msathlete announcing her Lake Cowichan swim back in April. She successfully completed the swim in August, but unfortunately no one mentioned it here... and not surprisingly it fell off the radar.

    I also found these articles:

    And this on her website:

    What an inspiring swim! Does anyone know more? It looks like @JenA was on crew, so probably knows the most... bummer she is opting out of this process.
  • msathletemsathlete Victoria, British Colubia, CanadaGuest
    Hiya and sorry for not chiming in earlier. Long work days and an intense training schedule make it difficult for me to participate in the forum. A few comments to be add to the ones above :)

    First, a great big thank you for the shout out for my swim. I did post for help with logistics some time back but did not post a follow-up to let people know it was complete. I must plead ignorance on this as I did not think it was something the Forum would be interested in.

    Second, thanks to those who believe the swim is nomination worthy. I swim to promote awareness about the possibility of using swimming as a way to manage disease; specifically multiple sclerosis. Although I do not swim to be personally recognized for my achievements any kind of recognition is a fabulous way to spread the word about how some of us can live an active life with MS, a message that is very important to me.

    Third, thank you to @JenA for sharing her thoughts on the award process. From the reading I have been doing online over the past while there are so many people who have achieved so many incredible things; all who have won personal battles and have been on incredible journeys. There are also many untold stories waiting in the wings to be told. It would be great if we could recognize them all. Maybe one day the forum will look to print a photographic coffee table book of a number of those swims.

    And finally for those who are interested you can read more about my swim at or I do hope to be able to tap into some of the forum's experts this summer to help with this years 105km attempt.

    susan aka msathlete

  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    @JenA and others in this forum have (long) been critical of the WOWSA Awards (and coverage of open water swimming by or on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming). The MSF enables their voices and objections to be heard, discussed and shared across 5 (or more) continents.

    Admittedly, the WOWSA Awards and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming are not for everyone; these properties are specifically meant to share the wonders, trends, personalities and feats of those in the open water swimming world - which includes everything from ice swimming and swims with neoprene to stage swims and pro marathon racing.

    The information and coverage of the WOWSA Awards and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming are quite distinct and different than the MSF and its unassisted marathon swimming community. WOWSA and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming's focus is different, its community is different, its purposes are different.

    We recognize that marathon swimming is the most challenging and difficult of all open water swimming niches and stands alone as a discipline. We believe it is good that the MSF exists in order to cater and promote this most honorable niche in the open water swimming world.

    But the comments above can be viewed from an alternative perspective:

    1. The MSF Awards attempt to redress the imbalance of other award schemes which have previously often been won by those who could best organise an online voting brigade.

    Let's examine the previous winners of the WOWSA Awards:

    World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
    2008: Randy Nutt (USA)
    2009: Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria)
    2010: Marcos Diaz (Dominican Republic)
    2011: Jamie Patrick (USA)
    2012: Stephen Redmond (Ireland)
    2013: Pádraig Mallon (Ireland)

    World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
    2008: Edith van Dijk (Netherlands)
    2009: Poliana Okimoto (Brazil)
    2010: Anne Marie Ward (Ireland)
    2011: Pilar Geijo (Argentina)
    2012: Annaleise Carr (Canada)
    2013: Olga Kozydub (Russia)

    World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
    2009: Andrew Smilley (Cayman Islands)
    2010: Ventura Deep Six (USA)
    2011: Nejib Belhedi (Tunisia)
    2012: Juan Ignacio Martínez Fernández-Villamil (Spain)
    2013: Bering Strait Swim (international)

    World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year
    2012: SWIM Channel (publisher: Patrick Winkler, Brazil)
    2013: International Ice Swimming Association (founder, Ram Barkai, South Africa)

    In my opinion, the voters around the world selected an excellent mix of emerging swimmers, Olympic swimmers, and those individuals who have unselfishly elevated the sport of open water swimming in their own selected disciplines or niches. All of these individuals are wonderful ambassadors of the sport (of open water swimming - not necessarily marathon swimming). It is my distinct pleasure to have nominated these individuals and an honor to recognize them as WOWSA Award winners.

    As the comments correctly state, some of these winners conducted an online voting brigade; others did not.

    I was particularly interested in the outcome of the online voting brigade that was conducted by both the Special Olympics and the Lake Camlough community in 2009. While Special Olympics conducted its own online voting brigade to promote Special Olympic athlete Andrew Smilley who finished 107th at the RCP Tiburon Mile, the Irish community conducted its own brigade to honor the 220 people who participated in its Lake Camlough world record relay. It was a very close battle and Andrew Smilley barely won after both sides pushed their swimmers online.

    From my perspective, the online brigade enabled thousands of people worldwide to learn about both Special Olympics athletes who swim in the open water and the remarkable relay that was conducted in Lake Camlough in 2009 - who would have not otherwise known about these inspirational individuals. From my perspective, that is a purposeful outcome of the WOWSA Awards.

    To make a good story even better, a few years later, Special Olympics instituted its first open water swimming competition at its World Summer Games and the Special Olympics administrators were very appreciative of the coverage and awareness that the WOWSA Awards enabled. I had the distinct honor of serving as the Technical Director of that Special Olympics world championship in the city of Marathon in Greece in July 2011. If the WOWSA Awards had never happened, I would have never received that privilege.

    As Special Olympics CEO and Chairman Tim Shriver [nephew of President John F. Kennedy] said on behalf of Andrew Smilley, "Far too often, our athletes, athletes with intellectual disabilities, are viewed for what they can't do. But Andrew Smiley is showing the world what he can do and we congratulate [his effort] for being selected as the Greatest Open Water Swim of 2009. Andrew's performance in the RCP Tiburon Mile is just one example of how Special Olympics athletes are accomplishing great things that many just dream to achieve."

    2. Without the MSF Awards then only those other flawed award schemes exist and all the disadvantaged swimmers , average or slow or otherwise, have even less chance of recognition.

    Depending on your definition of average or slow, the WOWSA Awards (and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming) have long recognized and frequently covered average and slow swimmers. In fact, without identifying certain swimmers, I would define some of the WOWSA Awards winners - and MANY of its nominees [shown here:] - as average or slower than average.

    Recognition of all those who have ventured beyond the shorelines is one of the primary missions of WOWSA (and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming). We have long covered slow, average, disabled (mental and physical), injured and (previously) unknown as well as professionals, Olympians and those who are competitively fast.

    So we can understand and appreciate criticisms and boycotts of the WOWSA Awards by those in this community, but please understand its mission is to recognize and promote all kinds of swimmers while enabling the greater community - including both swimmers and non-swimmers - to recognize our most accomplished or inspirational swimmers in a positive, well-meaning manner.

    For those in this community who do participate in the WOWSA Awards, thank you very much.

    For all those who bother to read the nominees of the WOWSA Awards (and take an occasional glimpse or critical view of the Daily News of Open Water Swimming), we thank you very much.

    For those who do not know the background of the WOWSA Awards and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming, here is a brief overview:

    I started writing initially about open water swimming for Swimming World Magazine in 1979 and then regularly by 1982. By the mid-1980s, I was writing a monthly column in the Magazine for many years and began nominating and selecting Swimming World Magazine's Open Water Swimmers of the Year in the 1990s. I covered everything from Philip Rush's three-way crossing of the English Channel and Lynne Cox's Bering Strait Swim to the Waikiki Roughwater Swim and numerous marathon swims and races over the decades in dozens of countries.

    But very few people took notice of these articles or the selected OW Swimmers of the Year prior to 2000. Fortunately, the publishers of Swimming World Magazine enabled space and a voice for the sport of open water swimming despite its lack of numbers and overall public awareness. Month after month, year after year, we continued to write articles for a small audience, but mainly because we enjoyed talking and meeting with swimmers who toiled in obscurity.

    Initially, we conducted interviews by exchanging (snail) mail letters written in long hand (in our best cursive writing) with swimmers around the world. Later, we started to exchange information via fax. I remember buying my first fax machine specifically to exchange information with swimmers and race organizers in the 1980s. By the late 1990s, we were actually communicating with a handful of swimmers via computers.

    Now, of course, we exchange information with swimmers via text, Facebook messages, email, tweets, and mobile devices and witness swims via Vimeo, YouTube and all kinds of other platforms.

    We initially wrote articles in long hand, then on a typewriter in a dorm room, then switched to a very small Macintosh, occasionally wrote on a green screen on a Wang Computer, but did most of our work on all kinds of IBM devices, and now have transitioned to all kinds of Apple devices.

    But when the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim was voted into the Olympics by the IOC in 2005, the Swimming World Magazine Open Water Swimmers of the Year (male and female) took on a whole different level. Swimming World Magazine started to give full-page attention to its Open Water Swimmers of the Year. But we had a specific criterion to select these swimmers - and these criteria did not include average or slow, disabled or masters marathon swimmers - and it certainly did not include consideration of race organizers, escort pilots, coaches or the other enthusiasts of the sport.

    Hence the WOWSA Awards were conceived in 2007 and were first initiated for an online public vote in 2008. The content of the Swimming World Magazine column eventually became the content of Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

    Every year since we have tried to streamline the WOWSA Awards process and tried to expand the Daily News of Open Water Swimming. We have learned much along the way and will continue to strive to get better.

    So while the WOWSA Awards are not for everyone and will accept continued criticism, we believe its serves its role - however small or controversial - in the greater open water swimming community and, more importantly, in the non-swimming world. For we do not have to sell open water swimming to swimmers; rather, we want to bring more non-swimmers into our sport whether they swim with neoprene or can swim only breaststroke very, very slowly for short durations.

    MSF serves a completely different role and has established itself as the global standard for marathon swimming. I recognize that and applaud it and its community.

    But I believe both the WOWSA Awards and the MSF are assets to the global open water swimming community.

    Thank you very much for listening. Of course, if you have bothered to read this comment all the way to the end, then you truly are a marathon swimmer.

    Steven Munatones
    Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

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