2015 USA Swimming Open Water National Championships

Interview with Bryce Elser, USA Swimming

Spring has sprung and this weekend is no exception.  Between the USA Triathlon NCAA Championship in Clemson, SC and the USA Swimming Open Water National Championships in Miromar Lakes, FL, there’s a lot of endurance sports action this weekend.  Bryce Elser,  the Open Water Program Manager with USA Swimming, took some time to give us the lowdown on this weekend’s National Championship and the growth of Open Water Swimming in the US. 

While most of the spotlight in swimming is on the pool events, open water swimming is in a league of its own.  For starters, how many endurance races have a toenail and fingernail check before the race starts!  In other words, rubbing is racing, and if you don’t like contact, this race is not for you.  No lane lines, no line to follow in the bottom of the pool, this race is about swimmers going head to head, next to one another to the bitter end.  Last year’s margin from 1st and 2nd was 8 seconds after 10 kilometers of swimming.  Gnarly!  For those that want to watch the battle for the top two spots on the men’s and women’s US Open Water Swimming National Team, the live webcast will be on www.usaswimming.org.

RM: How does the field compare to the 2014 race in California?  More experienced, bigger stakes on the line?
BE: The field is has many of the same athletes from last year’s nationals and we have seen all these athletes progress throughout the quadrennial and become not only faster but smarter Open Water Swimmers. There are a couple “newcomers” to the field with Leah Smith and Stephanie Peacock who have both proven their ability in the pool and will look to apply that speed to our event this weekend.

RM: With Open Water swimming as an Olympic Sport, has the field become more competitive over the last 5 years?
BE: Most definitely! For example, we have had to tighten our entry standards for our nationals just to keep our numbers in the ballpark that we are looking for. In 2010, to qualify as a male for the 10K Nationals one would have to swim a 16:15 1500 meter time in the pool. Now, in 2015, it takes a 15:55 which is a pretty substantial time improvement that we require from the field as a whole.

RM: With Haley Anderson winning a women's silver medal in the 2012 Olympics, the pressure is on to stay on the podium in 2016.  How do you think we look on the International level as we get closer to the Olympic Games in Brazil?
BE: We are working with many of the same athletes as we did in 2012 but these athletes have all become smarter and better Open Water swimmers over the last 3 years. With some additions to our athlete field, we are only looking stronger than we did in 2012.

RM: Do you see Open Water Swimming growing in the US?  Are more teams training their swimmers to race open water?
BE: Many coaches in the US have realized the various opportunities that exist in Open Water and we are seeing more and more coaches encourage their distance athletes to try Open Water with the hopes of putting their athlete on an international team. This has trickled down to the grassroots level and we are seeing more and more races pop up and coaches can getting their athletes involved in the sport at an earlier age.

RM: Is Open Water Swimming spectator friendly and have venues been selected to accommodate spectators?
BE: The spectator experience at Open Water events is certainly a different vibe than at a pool event. Overall, the environment is much more relax and some of the venues that we use can be very spectator friendly and fans can line up along the shoreline to see the athletes swim by multiple times. No matter how the race plays out, we always see a tight finish that can come down to fractions of a second, even after a 2 hour race!

RM: What makes open water swimming unique?
BE: Unlike pool swimming, Open Water has much more strategy involved. In a pool race you can stay in your own lane and swim your own race. In Open Water, your strategy is dependent on what the rest of the field is doing. These athletes are highly adaptable and in order to succeed in our sport it requires an adaptable mindset and the willingness to throw you strategy out the window midway through a race and apply alternative strategies.
Thanks and good luck to everyone racing this weekend!

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