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Marathon Swimming & Portuguese Man o War

Among the various considerations of marathon swimming is the presence of a nearly invisible predator called the Portuguese Man of War.  Transparent and blue, it is difficult to see in the open water.  It is also one of the factors that are being taken into consideration by the World Swimming Majors, a self-reporting ranking system for marathon swimmers of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and nationalities.

This database enables individuals to post and see rankings by age, by nationality, by gender, by year and by location (e.g., English Channel, Catalina Channel, Cook Strait, Strait of Gibraltar).

The ranking system will continued to be tweaked and modified in order to create buzz and continue the building excitement in the marathon swimming world. Thousands of athletes still need to be added to the automated system from 1875 to the present.

The ranking system will also be expanded to include all open water swims of all distances.

The World Swimming Majors is an online virtual resource that uses a cumulative point system to calculate a global ranking of marathon swimmers for each calendar year.

Swimmers can upload their swims and times into the World Swimming Majors database to determine their relative standing in the marathon swimming world by age, gender and swim.

That is, marathon swimmers around the world can subjectively rank themselves with others of the same age based on a variety of parameters. World Swimming Majors ranking system takes into consideration the following in a subjective weighted system:

  • the swimmer’s age
  • the distance of the swim
  • the water temperature
  • currents
  • the official time of each marathon swim

The database appropriately weighs some factors, but admittedly does not take into account every dynamic element that makes each marathon swim unique.

The World Swimming Majors database is an attempt to create a self-reporting ranking system that (1) compares athletes of all ages and genders across the world, (2) celebrates marathon swimmers of all backgrounds and abilities, and (3) promotes the sport of marathon swimming.

The initial idea for the annual competition was influenced by running’s World Marathon Majors, an annual point competition that includes the Boston Marathon, London Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon. Along the same lines, the World Swimming Majors was created in 2010 to advance the sport of marathon swimming, raise public and media awareness of its athletes and increase the level of interest in marathon swimming among the aquatic and endurance athletic communities.

As open water swimmers experience, swimmers face more climatic variables than marathon runners which makes ranking marathon swimmers much more difficult. Furthermore, while marathon runs are standardized at 42 km (26 miles), marathon swims are defined as anything over 6.2 miles (10 km) in any body of water that can include oceans, lakes, rivers, bays, rowing basins, canals, channels, fjords, lagoons, reservoirs and estuaries.

Currents, tidal flows, fluctuating air and water temperatures, marine life, ocean swells, wind speed and direction, and swimming at night all have a potential effect on the time and the potential success of marathon swims.

The World Swimming Majors online calculator determines a swimmer’s ranking by weighing and compensating for significant differences between marathon swims. Each swimmer receives more points for doing a faster swim, but only relative to each particular swim.

So an English Channel swim in 10 hours generates more points than an English Channel swim in 15 hours, but a Strait of Gibraltar crossing in 10 hours does not generate the same amount of points as in an English Channel swim in 10 hours.

Also, adjustments for age, water temperature and currents (e.g. in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim or Round Jersey Swim) are weighted in the calculations. It is important to note that the World Swimming Majors calculator does not attempt to take into account the following:

  •   myriad water conditions
  • wind speed
  • wave height
  • number of competitors
  • appearance of marine life
  • tides

…because…

  • conditions change during the course of marathon swims, even within each day and hour, and
  • inaccurate, inconsistent or unavailable data make objective comparisons impossible.
  • conditions change from swim to swim even on the same course
  • some factors in open water swimming are difficult to quantify (e.g., the appearance of a shark or the sting of a Portuguese Man o War or swimming at night or swimming against a tidal flow for 1 or 2 or 3 hours).

As a result, the World Swimming Majors system is not be perfect and is purposefully introduced to the global marathon swimming community for discourse and debate. The database includes many of the better-known marathon swims in the world.

The swims are geographically distributed around the world and present a variety of challenges to the marathon swimmer – from jellyfish and sharks to tidal flows and cold water…and distance (in statute miles or kilometers). The World Swimming Majors include the following swims:

1. Cadiz Freedom Swim, Cape Town, South Africa (7.5 km or 4.7 miles)
2. Catalina Channel, California, U.S.A. (33 km or 20 miles)
3. Clean Half Marathon Swim, Hong Kong (15 km or 9.3 miles)
4. Cook Strait, New Zealand (26 km or 16.2 miles)
5. Ederle Swim, New York-to-New Jersey, U.S.A. (28.2 km or 17.5 miles)
6. English Channel, England-to-France (34 km or 21 miles)
7. Jarak-Sabac Marathon Swim, Serbia (18.7 km or 11.6 miles)
8. Faros Marathon Swim, Croatia (16 km or 9.9 miles)
9. Ijsselmeerzwemmarathon, Netherlands (21 km or 13 miles)
10. International Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim, Lake Zurich, Switzerland (26.4 km or 16.4 miles)
11. Isle of Jersey Circumnavigation, Jersey (70 km or 43.5 miles)
12. Jersey-to-France (29 km or 18 miles)
13. Kalamata-Koroni Marathon, Messiniakos Gulf, Greece (30 km or 16.5 miles)
14. Lake Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto (minimum 50 km or 31-mile course)
15. Lake Tahoe, California lengthwise (35.4 km or 22 miles)
16. Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, New York, U.S.A. (45.9 km or 28.5 miles)
17. Maui Channel, Hawaii, U.S.A. (15.3 km or 9.5 miles)
18. Molokai Channel, Hawaii, U.S.A. (41.8 km or 26 miles)
19. North Channel, Ireland-Scotland (30 km or 18.6 miles)
20. Pennock Island Challenge, Alaska, U.S.A. (13.2 km or 8.2 miles)
21. Rottnest Channel Swim, Perth, Australia (19.7 km or 12.2 miles)
22. Santa Barbara Channel, California, U.S.A. (minimum 30 km or 19-mile course)
23. Strait of Gibraltar, Spain-Morocco (minimum 18.5 km or 11.5-mile course)
24. Swim Across The Sound, Connecticut, U.S.A. (25 km or 15.5 miles)
25. Swim Around Key West, Florida, U.S.A. (20.1 km or 12.5 miles)
26. Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Florida, U.S.A. (38.6 km or 24 miles)
27. Traversee Internationale du lac St-Jean, Quebec, Canada (32 km or 20 miles)
28. Tsugaru Channel, Japan (20 km or 12.4 miles)
29. World 25 km Championships (site determined each year) (25 km or 15.5 miles)
30. Boston Light Swim, Boston, U.S.A. (12.8 km or 8 miles)

All swims must be done without a wetsuit and based on the traditional rules of the marathon swimming world (i.e., no touching individuals or objects, clearing the water of one’s own ability) unless there are some local differences (e.g., use of pace swimmers or swim streamer).

Historical swims (i.e., swims done in past) are acceptable and can be inputted based on generally accepted documented proof. This way, the global open water swimming community can see how greats from the past (e.g., Lynne Cox, Penny Dean, Greta Andersen, Matthew Webb, Paul Asmuth, Philip Rush, Claudio Plit, Abou-Heif) would rank if they all swam in the current era.

Copyright © 2013 www.OpenWaterSwimming.com. Republished with permission.

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