Marathon Swimming Is a Day at the Beach

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Some Olympic sports seem to have been created by a madman, whether they come across as silly (run-walking) or just plain grueling (marathon swimming). I woke up early this morning to watch the latter first-hand. As I suspected it was kind of hard to tell what was going on just by looking out into the ocean where a boats flocked around a pack of swimmers churning the water in a tightly knit group for about seven kilometers before Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands decided she'd had enough of the party and wanted to swim alone. No one would be able to catch her.

The real competition was for silver and it looked like the battle would be between Italy's Rachele Bruni and France's Aurelie Muller. But Muller was disqualified for dunking her opponent, something that you apparently can only get away with in water polo. That cleared the way for Brazilian Poliana Okimoto to take her place on the podium with a bronze medal.

And if we had to rely on the announcers to let us know what was happening in the water, that didn't make the 40 Reis (US$13) ticket a waste. We basically had most of Copacabana Beach to ourselves and it looked like the entire Australian and Canadian swim teams took advantage of the chance to lay out on the beach in peace. Mostly the crowd played in the waves, relaxed on the sand, and sat in awe of the stamina of these women who swam non-stop for two hours, taking only a couple of seconds for food and water deposits from their coaches.

Twenty-six women swam 10 kilometers in possibly contaminated open ocean waters, fighting natural waves, boat wakes, the wind from a helicopter above and stray arms and legs from each other to finish in under two hours. The rest of us just chilled out on the beach cheering them on.

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