Integrity in Marathon Swimming

evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
edited September 2016 in General Discussion

We posted something on our FB page this morning about "integrity" in marathon swimming. Left unspoken was... what does that mean, exactly? It seems worth bumping @ssthomas' famous statement on the subject, buried in the notorious thread #606, which many newer Forum members may never have encountered.

Sarah is one of the most quietly badass swimmers in the history of our sport -- truly, "the marathon swimmer's marathon swimmer." She'll be embarrassed that we posted this. Which says as much about her as anything :)

SOURCE


I’m sensing confusion about the “rules” from a few people, which indicates to me that there’s not a clear understanding as to why the rules are so important to us. As a swimmer who follows these pesky "English Channel Rules" in every swim, regardless of the body of water being swum, maybe I can provide some insight into the mentality of most of us on this forum.

I completely understand that the concept of these rules may be foreign to some who are participating in this conversation. I've had to explain the ideas and rules to many people over the years. You guys are definitely normal. It makes sense to me that until you’ve actually swum (or aspire to swim) a channel following English Channel Rules, that some of this might not make a lot of sense.

The thing is, we channel swimmers have to put an awful lot of trust in each other. Not always is someone’s word enough to prove that they did something that they say they did. Before there was the CSA and CS&PF, if someone claimed they had swum the English Channel, how did we know they had done so, legitimately? It makes sense that over time, norms and rules and organizations were put into place so that the swimmer can say “I swam the English Channel” and as a community, we know what that means. There are observers, logs, and usually pictures/videos and GPS tracking.

If you swim a race, the rules are published, so everyone knows what to expect in preparation and from results. Am I racing in the same category as someone in a wetsuit, or are they divided? Are there age groups? What swim suits are allowed/not allowed? How many caps can I wear? Etc.

As a group, for many, many years, rule setting and following has been essential to building trust among members of our community.

When each of us braved our very first channel swim, I can guarantee that we all checked the rules, read the rules, memorized the rules, made sure the rules were read to us and explained in clarity. Double checked the rules. We made sure we had someone to observe and to record their observations. And we do that every time. It’s normal to us- just part of the procedure.

I understand that the avid channel swimmers are maybe a bit rigid and stubborn, but that's just what it takes to do what we do. You don't swim extraordinary distances in extreme conditions and not be particular about the rules. We don’t cheat and we’re honest about our failures. (In fact, sometimes the failures are just as celebrated as the successes.) We want to be able to go to sleep at night, knowing we accomplished something fairly and legitimately. Most of us don’t strive for recognition or publicity. We just want to be able to say “I did something great today” to the few friends who understand what that means.

When something comes along that seems to dilute what we hold dear to our hearts- our personal integrity and the trust we’ve built among our community- I think it makes sense that we get a little feisty.

There may be some obscure rule out there that says my crew can touch me for safety issues. However, I can assure you- If anyone on my crew actually did touch me, for any reason, I would disqualify myself. If I need a light or glow stick adjusted during the swim, I'll do it myself. If I need more sunscreen or lube or desitin smeared on my face during a swim- I'll do it. Throw me what I need and let me take care of myself.

Whether or not there is a rule out there that says it's ok to be touched for safety reasons is irrelevant to me. I’m not going to even go close to it. I’d rather risk a jelly sting or a bad sunburn or chaffing than to have someone question whether or not my swim was assisted. It doesn’t matter if there’s a rule that says I can draft- I’m not going to draft. I’m not going to follow a streamer. I think 99% of people here would agree with me on that point. It may seem weird to someone of you, but that’s how a lot of us feel. Regardless of what a “rule” says, our principles are pretty basic:

  1. Put on your regular textile training swim suit, latex or silicone cap, goggles, and ear plugs.
  2. Enter the water at point A and exit the water at point B.
  3. Don’t touch the boat or another person until you have exited at point B.

Simple.

So, when someone says to me, "Who cares if I put some extra lanolin on your back for you. No one will know." You know what my answer is? “ME. I will know. Don’t touch me.”

And at the end of the day, my integrity is all I have left. My integrity is what allows me to come on this forum, among peers, and allows them to respect me and for me to respect them. We’re all coming from the same place, the same understanding.

When someone comes and claims to be the greatest swimmer of them all or claims to have done something ultra incredible, but can’t back it up with a past relationship of trust or data, observer reports, GPS tracking, etc., well, I think it makes sense we’d get a little curious and start asking questions. It’s not just their integrity; it’s the integrity of our entire community.

JenAdavid_barraAnthonyMcCarleysuziedodstortugajbsrosemarymintdc_in_sfkejoyceDanSimonelliand 11 others.

Comments

  • JenAJenA Charter Member

    Hear, hear!

  • tortugatortuga Senior Member

    Sarah's the bombdiggity

    DanSimonelli
  • SharkoSharko Tomales BayGuest

    Two Fins Up for Sarah....I was wondering if there can be any Integrity exceptions for Sharko Ethics?

    DanSimonelli

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited September 2016

    I was wondering if there can be any Integrity exceptions for Sharko Ethics?

    I don't mean to put Sarah on the spot for anything she said in a specific context... her words meant a lot to me in September 2013, and they still mean a lot to me now.

    I think the specifics of standard equipment or Sharko bubble caps aren't necessarily the spirit of her statement (or how I interpret it now) -- it's more about consistency between what you are claiming, and what you are doing / have done.

    A wetsuit swim can have integrity, if the claims are consistent with the facts. For example.

    An unsuccessful swim attempt has integrity if it was a realistic goal at the start.

    A "record attempt" has integrity if it's being judged on the same criteria (equipment, route measurement, current assistance, documentation quality) as the existing record.

    gregocSharkodavid_barrasuziedodsAnthonyMcCarleyjbsrosemarymintDanSimonelliFlowSwimmersphodgeszohoand 2 others.
  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member

    Sarah is awesome and I hope to meet IRL one day.

    My wife brought up something interesting the other day. She asked if perhaps back in the mid-70's rules were different when DN swim (re: touching the boat). I scoffed (nicely) at her and said no. English Channel rules have been standard for a long time.

    I don't have my copy of Wind, Waves and Sunburn with me here (although I just ordered another copy...love that book), but I'm pretty sure the likes of Abu Heif (sp?) & Co. knew all about the not-touching-the-boat rule back then. Hell, this conversation reminded me of a movie I watched and blogged about a few years ago, starring Esther Williams as a country girl gone to Dover to swim the channel in a race. It was produced/filmed in 1953 for God's sake and at one point in the film, a member of her crew jumps in the water and she screams: "What are you doing? Stay away. If you touch me, my race is over!"

    Integrity even in a Hollywood movie about channel swimming. DN is the opposite of integrity.

    flystormssuziedodsDanSimonelliMvG

    Just here troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries...

  • DanSimonelliDanSimonelli San Diego CASenior Member

    Excellent post bump @evmo !!!
    \m/

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    Solitary sports require integrity. When that is lost, the sport is cheapened. My father used to be an avid golfer. Each golfer reports his own score on the scorecard. Each golfer self-enforces the rules. There is nothing stopping a golfer from improving their lie (interesting choice of words). A golfer can not report the number of strokes correctly. (Ah, instead of a 5, I should have gotten a 4 on that hole, that stupid 15 foot hack out of the rough shouldn't count... etc.)

    My father really started losing his enthusiasm for the game when he played with people who didn't play by the rules. He ended up just playing the course alone, no one watched or kept score. He had only himself to answer to and you could look at his scorecard and know that it was 100% honest, even though there was no one there to attest to his honesty. That's how he played the game.

    It is unfortunate that in this day and age of Facebook and Instagram glory, that we can't always trust the claims that are made. There are people on this site that claim a swim, and based on their record, I would believe them immediately. And of course there are some well known frauds, that regardless of what they claim, any thinking person would require proof. In the end, we have to live with ourselves.

    I think this forum helps to maintain integrity in the sport. It is a worthwhile endeavor. It would be a sad thing to have a sport that requires such dedication and effort to be cheapened by cheaters.

    evmodavid_barraAnthonyMcCarleytimsrootDanSimonelliLynnesuziedods
  • tortugatortuga Senior Member

    IronMike said:
    Sarah is awesome and I hope to meet IRL one day.

    My wife brought up something interesting the other day. She asked if perhaps back in the mid-70's rules were different when DN swim (re: touching the boat). I scoffed (nicely) at her and said no. English Channel rules have been standard for a long time.

    I don't have my copy of Wind, Waves and Sunburn with me here (although I just ordered another copy...love that book), but I'm pretty sure the likes of Abu Heif (sp?) & Co. knew all about the not-touching-the-boat rule back then. Hell, this conversation reminded me of a movie I watched and blogged about a few years ago, starring Esther Williams as a country girl gone to Dover to swim the channel in a race. It was produced/filmed in 1953 for God's sake and at one point in the film, a member of her crew jumps in the water and she screams: "What are you doing? Stay away. If you touch me, my race is over!"

    Integrity even in a Hollywood movie about channel swimming. DN is the opposite of integrity.

    In "The Great Swim" about the race to be the first woman to cross the EC in 1926, they discuss, at length, the importance of not touching, or being touched by, the boat.

    DanSimonelliIronMikesuziedods
  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    I was pondering this subject a bit more along with the thread on the first law of marathon swimming and the idea of fitting a statement on a t shirt. That's a great way of making a focused statement. Tight, concise and to the point. With that in mind, I submit that the essence of integrity in any sport (and life) comes down to:

    What do you do when no one is watching?

    evmogregoctortugasuziedodsDanSimonelli
  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    edited September 2016

    I appreciate the idea of a tight, concise one-liner. I think it's important, though, that the one-liner lift up the sport of marathon swimming, rather than throw muck on it. I'd hate for our sport to become branded such that all accomplishments are instantly regarded with suspicion. Questions of whether something is mostly fake, often fake, full of lies, or anything of that sort should be left to professional wrestling. ;-) Yes, we deal with that, but I don't think that's what we should be known for.

    I'd hope for something that conveys a standard to be aspired to, rather than sowing doubt.

    Oh, and I'd hope for a one-liner that could be put on a billboard without risk of graffiti. ;-) (Sorry, @curly, I couldn't resist! :) )

    We are a people that debate the 'legality' of caffeine. And wrist watches. And reflect on the ethics of wearing shoes as you swim to the starting line. I think that's good stuff! Genuinely I ask: what other sports approach purity and honour with such fervor?

    I'd propose stuff in the vein of:

    Marathon swimming: the last pure sport
    or
    No crowds. No latest technology. Just swimmer vs nature.

    If only we had a marathon swimmer who worked in advertising (cough, @ambrau, cough :) )...

    evmocurlytortugasuziedodsDanSimonelli
  • ChefKenChefKen Charleston, SCMember

    Being relatively new to the OW community, I guess I'm surprised that there seems to be a lot of fibbing that goes on when people report their accomplishments. I can surely understand that someone might feel compelled to 'pad' their report when talking about a 5 second exchange out of a 10+ hour swim as 'no big deal', but that little thing called integrity really does make a difference to those who ARE honest and transparent.

    I was a Yoga teacher for over 13 years and am well steeped in that community, although swimming has really taken the front seat away from my physical yoga practice the past two years. However, there is a similar situation in the Yoga community for those of us who truly hold the practice dear, and are purists when it comes to 'calling a spade a spade' where Yoga is involved. Many of the 'newer' yoga 'brands' or studios that are popping up these days are nothing more than just heated aerobics classes where everyone says 'namaste' at the end. Their connection to true Yoga lineage is a stretch (pun intended), and for me, calling themselves Yoga does elicit a response of "you're not Yoga, stop calling yourself Yoga". Do what you want. Be 'inspired' by Yoga, make your own rules up, create something 'new'. I actually like some of these practices on a physical basis (meaning, they can be fun to do), but don't call it Yoga. Don't pretend that it is the same practice that saved my life, and continues to do so for those who actually adopt its principles. Call it something else, and I'm fine with that.

    My approach to OW swimming is similar. It has offered me something way more valuable than 'just exercise', and I feel that it has supported me in ways (mentally, psychologically, and spiritually) that I would have never expected. I have a reverence for the sport that I would hope others who practice it, also appreciate. This is where the integrity piece fits in. We do not do it for our own sake, but rather for the greater good, and to help maintain the structure for those who come to the sport after us. There is no shame in needing assistance during a massive marathon swim, or not being able to complete an attempt. In order to truly access the support of the community requires honesty, otherwise, we don't know what we are rooting for, and that is where things fall apart.

    DanSimonellij9swimCamille

    Ken Immer
    www.culinaryhealthsolutions.com
    IG: @siopswimtraining

  • pavlicovpavlicov NYC USASenior Member
    edited September 2016

    For a sake of discussion (and because my taper started and I am taper-weird):

    I actually like using technology and I typically say, it did not happen if there is no GPS record. So "no latest technology" is not working for me. I do not wear the GPS watch on my actual swims, my kayaker does (along with SPOT and @evmo awesome tracker (I really love data)).

    And I don't think swimming is that pure sport either. We do love advances. We have much better hydration and feeding technology and we do try anything new out there. UCAN pretty much saved my career as an athlete. Speedo comes up with better and better fabrics. We have awesome caps. Our goggles can be now polarized or even photo-chromatic (reacting to changing light conditions). And our training gear is constantly better. If we really want to be as pure sport as during Captain Webb's times, then we would have to swim in 'wool knitted swimming costume' and eat steaks during swim (I am not exactly sure what he fed during the swim ...) and I don't think any of us wants to be that pure.

    I really like the slogan "What do you do when no one is watching?" because that applies to my life as well. Coupled with "karma is a bitch", those two slogans pretty much summarize my life philosophy.

    Suggestion

    Maybe there could be a simple webpage that needs no scrolling, no clicking or a banner that we can put on our blogs and sites, where it would define marathon swimming philosophy and by posting it we would officially agree and subscribe to marathon swimming standards, integrity and honesty in the water. Like a stamp we put on our public materials, similar to a logo. If you see it next to a person's name, you know the person promises to behave correctly. And then if they are caught cheating or making stuff up, we can actually call them up on it. For general public this logo/banner would be a sign that this is a trustworthy swimmer (not a general public cares).

    evmoJenAcurlythelittlemerwookierosemarymintSydneDDanSimonelliCamille
  • JenAJenA Charter Member

    @pavlicov said: I actually like using technology and I typically say, it did not happen if there is no GPS record. So "no latest technology" is not working for me.

    That's a really good point (and I love data, too!) I was thinking more about using technology in a more clearly performance-enhancing "no wetsuits, no (franken)watches, no record-breaker suits" sort of way.

    Your post has a lot of great food for thought, @pavlicov. You're right that we fully embrace with some advancements - thanks for the illustrations. It sort of makes me wonder/reflect: why do we accept GPS navigation without breaking a sweat over ethics? Would the pioneers of this sport feel GPS was performance enhancing? (I'm guessing so?) Why do we embrace GPS, but reject Speedo's latest performance-enhancing swimwear? Why are we ok with anti-nausea medications (especially their non-drowsy varieties), something we can all imagine have saved many swims that would otherwise have DNFed?

    What is this "this is ok, that is not" line we all seem to tacitly understand? Apparently, I did a poor job at putting it into words. :) And how does it differ from other sports?

    I continue to wrack my brain - I imagine that marathon swimming is surely at the tail end of some sports bell curve. I'm not sure exactly which bell curve, but it still feels like something worth celebrating to me... I'm at a loss for words at expressing it, though.

    Suggestion

    Maybe there could be a simple webpage that needs no scrolling, no clicking or a banner that we can put on our blogs and sites, where it would define marathon swimming philosophy and by posting it we would officially agree and subscribe to marathon swimming standards, integrity and honesty in the water. Like a stamp we put on our public materials, similar to a logo. If you see it next to a person's name, you know the person promises to behave correctly. And then if they are caught cheating or making stuff up, we can actually call them up on it. For general public this logo/banner would be a sign that this is a trustworthy swimmer (not a general public cares).

    I think that's a really good idea!

    pavlicovDanSimonelli
  • pavlicovpavlicov NYC USASenior Member

    @JenA I think you are exactly right. The line is really blurry. My GPS watch is the frankenstein one: one can program a route into it and then see how far is one off. But I would probably drown first before this would be useful for me - it is super hard and hidden to use. If my kayaker using in moonless night, it might be ok for the community but I think he would refuse to use it either. And we say that the frankenstein googles are bad because we worked so much on swimming in straight line. But then we use photo-chromatic goggles. What if someone trained to squint their eyes the right way against the sun to gain them a competitive advantage. I am not sure that the two kinds of googles are really that different in their pureness.

    So, I think it all comes down to our integrity. The feeling in the pit of our stomachs that we are not gaining unfair advantage. That we are not cheating. And, I think, integrity is so complex that we keep on learning it and understanding it all our lives. We strive and learn and try to improve ourselves so that by the time we are over, we can say we lived with integrity.

    JenAJaimieDanSimonelli
  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member

    Whenever I write a blog post and mention "the rules" or "the spirit of marathon swimming" I always link back to the MSF pages for those. If there were a round stamp or symbol, I'd put it on my blog.

    But as for a one-liner on a t-shirt, we already have a thread for that. ;)

    pavlicov

    Just here troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries...

  • FlowSwimmersFlowSwimmers Polson, MontanaMem​ber

    I find the "purist" discussion to be quite fascinating in open water swimming and sports in general.

    Before swimming took over my life in the early 2000s, I was an avid tennis player for about 40 years and played through the transition from small wooden racquets to over-sized aluminum, graphite, and eventually "un-obtainium" (very rare, indeed). The wood-purists were outraged when they started getting routed by lesser players with better equipment.

    For a funny take on the history of golf, check out Robin Williams YouTube video about the Scottish invention of golf in 1457. Golf purists are the best (insert sarcasm emoji): Ever wonder why they can't wear shorts on the PGA tour but they can on the LPGA?

    pavlicovJenAJaimiesuziedodsDanSimonelli
  • Super great reading and discussion!
    I can't think of any sport or industry that doesn't have the challenge of dealing with new technology and advances. I think most of us can agree that truly great athletes could win even with sub-par equipment, I know that Michael Phelps would still whup me wearing cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, even if I was in the newest most amazing tech suit on the market!

  • DeborahDeborah Lee-on-the-SolentMember
    edited December 2016

    Thanks for the post bump. What a brilliant piece by @ssthomas . I'm all for honesty and integrity in marathon swimming, and also believe it makes for a much better adventure and experience in the water just relying on our body and crew to help us achieve our goal.
    (This is my very first comment, I'm a bit shy amongst all you Gods of Marathon swimming. I'm still learning and loving it).

    DanSimonellirlmSoloKatieBundpm50
  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member

    It's interesting to see how other marathon oriented sports deal with the integrity issues. Here is an interesting piece from Heather Sackett a freelance journalist and a acquaintance of both @ssthomas and myself. Heather is an open water swimmer and a mountain trail runner herself. She recently wrote a piece about Sarah Thomas in the Adventure Journal. In her blog she writes of observing the selection process for a very popular ultra marathon run known as the Hardrock 100. The integrity issues come from a event that only allows 100 entrants but has nearly 2000 applicants. https://www.ultrarunning.com/featured/hardrock-100-invites-observers-to-2017-lottery/

    DanSimonelliJaimieKari33
  • JaimieJaimie NYCCharter Member

    What a cool article - thanks @lakespray !

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited September 22

    Bump. Worth revisiting @ssthomas' definitive statement of the spirit of the sport - now that she's world-famous ;)

    david_barrarosemarymintKatieBunSwimmersuzsmithIronMikeKari33
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