The Triple Crown

It’s been three weeks since I finished my Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming (Swim Around Manhattan, English Channel and Catalina Channel), and is finally sinking in. 

Open Water Swimming is a funny sport. On the one hand, there is the professional annual circuit, regulated by FINA, and comprised of the Marathon World Series (8 races of 10K each), and of the UltraMarathon World Series (3 races of 57K, 32K, 25K). The “pros” are a rare breed, and for some reason the circuit is dominated by young Dutch, Italian, Brazilian and Argentinian swimmers, and there are no Americans or Australians in it. I have been told that the national federations do not pay and that athletes must cover their expenses from sponsors or from their own pocket – but I may be wrong.

On the other hand, there is the amateurs, the rest of the world, or how I like to call them, “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”. These are normally older people with full-time jobs, families and other obligations; who enjoy swimming in the open waters (not necessarily in a competitive fashion) and having a secret life undertaking major challenges as superheroes in speedos. Some of us were pool swimmers and have reemerged after a few years, others simply started swimming as adults to combat some illness. 

Amateurs are chaired by the World Open Water Swimming Association and by the Marathon Swimmers Federation, on top of the local associations regulating any given organized swim. There is an increasing number of races and circuits in every corner of the world, and a smaller number of “solo” organized swims, most of them channels, which are sometimes grouped into OWS Feats. These include the Triple Crown and the Oceans Seven, the two awards marathon swimmers are most commonly after. Today there are 197 “Triple Crowners”, 11 “Oceans Seveners”, and many more in the making.

These solo swims cover five continents and have different levels of difficulties, including long distances, strong currents, abundant marine life, water temperatures and, yes, money. The fees for just the piloting and observing for each of these swims range from $2,500 to $6,000 – and to that, you need to add flights and accommodation for the length of the window (since the swim date is typically uncertain) for you and your crew. 

This community is no doubt unique – in general super helpful and altruist, but also competitive by nature. This brings us to the question: who is the best Open Water Swimmer? The first one that does a feat, the one that completes it quicker, or the one that swims it faster? The youngest or the oldest one to complete it? The fastest or the most enduring one? The sponsored, coached athlete or the one that pays for and auto-trains himself? There are also some swimmers that limit themselves and “don’t do” cold swims, long / short swims, relay / tandem / stage swims – does that make them worse open water swimmers? 

This is still a young sport, introduced in the Olympics in its "short” distance (10K) only 10 years ago. We have not therefore seen many pros retiring and undertaking “amateur feats”. Could all pros swim the Oceans Seven – or the Continents Seven including an Ice KM – in the fashion that amateurs do? They do have the physical training but what about the mental toughness and maturity? 

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I work hard every day to be the most rounded – and fastest open water swimmer I can. Only this year, I will have completed swims in oceans, lakes and rivers, from 100 meters to 58 kms, from 1 minute to over 11 hours, in waters ranging from 32F to 80F, in the seven continents – most of them in podium positions.

Triple Crown is done, Continents Seven is two swims away – and then, we shall see ;-)