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.”