By Sandy Drake // Open Water Sub-Committee Chair, National Officials Committee
Open Water swimming is often compared to running a marathon. The athletes train much differently than they would in the pool. Officials also are trained differently from pool to open water officiating.
An important difference between pool and open water swimming is the magnitude of safety considerations. OW swimming takes safety to a new level. The pool venue affords an element of protection from climatic conditions and is a controlled environment. There are certain constants we expect at a pool venue: water quality, course length, starting blocks, lane lines, backstroke flags, timing equipment, and a level pool deck for observation.
The OW swimming environment is not controlled. Everything is variable and much is unknown. In the ocean, river, or lake, we also have marine life, water quality, air and water temperature, tides, and currents to consider as part of the overall open water swim venue. Observing the race can be from a boat, the beach, or rocks on a shoreline. The starting line could be on the beach or in the water. The finish line could be in the water or up the shore by the parking lot. Even events that are run consecutively at the same location year after year can be affected by different weather conditions, changing environmental conditions, varying numbers of entered athletes and volunteer support personnel . Even though an OW swim event is one or two races, it is the complexity of the preparation, the course, and the overall officiating experience that makes it so interesting and fun.
Being an OW official can be very rewarding. No two races are alike. Depending on the venue, escorted or unescorted races, lake or ocean, we look at each race differently. It is just another exciting way to volunteer your time as an official.