Action Asia - - EXTREMOPHILES -

Heidi Gan, a 28-year-old Malaysian com­peted in her sec­ond Olympics in Rio this year. Swim­ming at five kilo­me­tres an hour, which in pool-speak is one minute eleven sec­onds per 100m, Gan cuts through open wa­ter at a pace a strong swim­mer might call their flat out sprint pace. Ex­cept this is Gan’s long dis­tance pace and she holds it for ten kilo­me­tres.

“On the morn­ing of the race, con­di­tions were calm. I’d hoped for it to be a lit­tle bit chop­pier be­cause the strong pool swim­mers can break away and ac­cel­er­ate very quickly when the con­di­tions are flat like that.”

The strate­gies of pack swim­ming can make or break a com­peti­tor in an open wa­ter race, which is one of Gan’s favourite as­pects of com­pet­i­tive open wa­ter swim­ming.

“Open wa­ter swim­ming has an ex­pe­ri­ence el­e­ment to it and a skill and adapt­abil­ity as­pect which you just don’t get in pool swim­ming. Know­ing how to adapt your stroke for cer­tain wa­ter con­di­tions, where to place your­self in a pack, how to sight and how to ex­e­cute a strat­egy based on what other swim­mers are do­ing around you makes it such an ex­cit­ing sport.”

How­ever, Gan ad­mits she finds the con­tact as­pects of the sport tough to deal with at times. “The swim in Rio was rougher than I was ex­pect­ing. I suf­fered a few blows dur­ing the r a c e . Towards t h e end, turn­ing around the l a s t buoy in a tight group, I ended up with a black eye.”

It is a blow that Gan be­lieves cost her sev­eral places in the race.

“No­body likes it but you ac­cept that’s the way it is in open wa­ter rac­ing. You’re go­ing to come into con­tact with other swim­mers and some­times that means some­one’s go­ing to get hurt. But you just straighten your gog­gles and keep go­ing.”

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