View Full Version : Should Women Race Against Men?

January 16th, 2011, 01:37 PM
With more and more people swimming in open water events, what is the best way to separate the heats: by gender? by speed? by age? by swimwear (wetsuit vs. non-wetsuit)? by swimmer's choice?

The need to maintain safety and segregate the swimmers into separate heats becomes more evident. But this raises many issues - none of which are easy to resolve.

If the heats are separated by speed, how do the race organizers best separate the swimmers? Is it by their best times in a pool event? If so, what pool event: the 400-meter free, the 800-meter free, the 1500-meter free? If it is by the open water races, is it by their performance in last year's event? At a different open water event? If so, what are the parameters of the open water qualification swim?

If the heats are separated by gender, and the women's heats go behind the men, is that fair to the elite women? If the heats are separated by age, what are the optimal age breaks?

An online poll at The Daily News of Open Water Swimming is showing some interesting poll results after the first few days.

Ken Classen
January 17th, 2011, 11:29 AM
I almost think this should be rephrased as how to organize large open water swims. On overall question, if for safety, size of venue etc., it's required to have heats the priority should be given to speed. Qualifying could be recent distance pool times or how you placed in a recognized open water events (by percentages such as top 15%, next 15% etc). The other categories of gender, age and even swimwear would be secondary. On the question of men and women swimming together, in most of the Open water events I've been part of men and women always have swam together. I can't speak for all of them however most of the stronger and elite women I have coached or been training partners with, want to race with the men. A few men might like separate starts but only because they don't want to be embarrassed by the women coming out the water ahead of them. ;) On a personal note, I'm long over the fact that women will beat me in swimming...lol. I personally wouldn't mind separating wetsuits and naked as to know where I stand with the group I'm racing with, however the suits do make nice drafting partners in some races...:)

Separate from heating, I believe for race promoters to have continued success with there event year in an year out, it's important to have strong recognition programs and awards. Don't underestimate the need to brag about your weekend warrior endeavors when you get back to the office. At a minimum participation awards, then for the competitive part of the program there should have separate awards for men and women, wet suit and non wet suit and in larger events age group awards.

January 17th, 2011, 12:13 PM
I'll use the La Jolla Rough Water swim as a great example (IMHO) of getting it right and getting it wrong:

On the Gatorman race they get it right: mass start, all ages, all sexes together. I love being able to race against whoever is going to push me. Newbies might get their positioning at the start wrong the first time they do it, but, generally, people seem to know where to place themselves along with beach for a clean start.
On the Masters mile, they get it wrong by segmenting it by age. As a 40-something who'd prefer to race against the fastest out there (it would've been fun to line up and draft off Chip Peterson for the first 25 yards!), I've not liked this set up.

Extrapolating from my experience on the mile, I would imagine that most of the fast women would prefer a time-seeded start, but I could be wrong.

Like I said above, I like all people together like the Gatorman. After all, if you look at other endurance sports (tris, marathons), you don't generally see the sexes segregated.

Now, as for seed times and waves, it's a good idea, but only if people are honest with their seed times. Ideally, there would be the open water database equivalent of SWIMS for entry purposes.

January 17th, 2011, 01:13 PM
I'm a 40+ woman, and while I wouldn't call myself "elite" I'm pretty fast compared to other women my age. In races with enough participants to justify wave starts, I much prefer time-seeded waves. For races of 1 mile or longer, seeding by recent 1650/1500 times seems to work well.

If the waves are divided by sex or age, then those who are among the fastest in the later waves run up on those who are among the slowest in the earlier waves, often pretty quickly. It's both a racing problem and a safety problem, IMO, when my chief competitors and I suddenly come upon and have to pass some guy doing a leisurely sidestroke, tacking his way toward the first buoy at half our speed or slower. The encounter probably isn't all that fun for sidestroke guy either.

January 17th, 2011, 02:50 PM
if an event is large enough to require wave starts, i prefer they be seeded as per time; not age or gender

January 17th, 2011, 03:08 PM
I agree with Chaos, time is the best way to design start waves. As for what time should be used, I'd go with a 1500. With the 1500 you at least know all the starters have the same start speed although maybe not the same endurence.

January 17th, 2011, 04:18 PM
Thank you very much for all your suggestions. We have been having these discussions since the early 1980s (at least at the Waikiki Roughwater Swim) and am always interested to hear from other swimmers.

Chicken of the Sea
January 18th, 2011, 12:55 PM
if an event is large enough to require wave starts, i prefer they be seeded as per time; not age or gender

I agree, although the only event I usually do where this would be an issue is Big Shoulders.

January 20th, 2011, 10:20 AM
For races large enough to require heat starts, I don't think they should be with age or gender, but I also don't think a pool mile should be used. Some open water swimmers don't even participate in pool swim meets, so may not have a mile time to go by, plus the pool is very different than an open water mile.

My opinion would be to break it up by a range of time. For example, if it's a 5k swim, break the heats into 10 or 15 minute groups (e.g. 1:00 to 1:15, 1:15 to 1:30, 1:30 to 1:45, etc.). Where ever your previous 5k time fits is the heat you swim in. If the person has never swam a 5k before, then they can use other races to determine where they think they'll be time wise. Also have an option for a swimmer right on the edge to "swim up" if they want to so they have more competition. Someone with a 1:17 5k may want to swim in the 1:00 to 1:15 group so they have more competition.

January 21st, 2011, 07:43 PM
For the Dwight Crum Hermosa pier to pier, they recently changed it to a men's seed and a women's seed. I think it's unfair to the women. First, they do not ge the benefit of drafting off the faster guys (not a sexist thing, there are some fast women in the results but traditionally the majority of the top finishers were male). Worse though, is now they have to pick their way through the slowest of the male swimmers to get to clear water.

But there are now some 800-900 starters, which is why they hav split the start. Seeded times would be hard to administer I'd think

January 28th, 2011, 09:36 AM
The Big Shoulders this past year sent off a fast wave first. This fast wave was based on established open water times and was reserved for those who truly hoped to compete for a top finishing spot. I can't remember if it included women or not, but it should have if it didn't.

Once you get past the true competitors for top spots, set waves however you want, though perhaps more established open water times might help.

Often in races I'm out in the first wave because of my age and gender. I typically run over a bunch of guys who think they should start at the front of the pack. 30 minutes later, I'm like a floating tire to the faster women.

January 28th, 2011, 10:22 AM
The Big Shoulders this past year sent off a fast wave first. This fast wave was based on established open water times and was reserved for those who truly hoped to compete for a top finishing spot. I can't remember if it included women or not, but it should have if it didn't.

According to the psych sheet (thanks Gmail archive!), 10 of the 50 "elite wave" swimmers were women. The same ratio (2) placed in the top 10 overall. One of them is a current open-water national team member, and other is a former 5K world champion.

Needless to say, the first couple hundred meters was a huge cluster****.

February 19th, 2011, 07:30 PM
I would vote heats based on time not gender.:2cents:

Richard Broer
February 21st, 2011, 08:24 PM
In my country (NED - The Netherlands) all stats in swims that can be bisexual are regulated in the swimming rules:

distances over 5km do not have segregation (of sexes) if the organizer chooses so.
young swimmers (under 12) can always swim together if the organizer chooses so.
when the male and female starts have a combined total of less than 30 swimmers if the organizer chooses so.

The programmes are usually extensive. seprarate distances for all age groups and for Masters. An ordinary swimming day (in open water) has about 20 starts. OK we do separate breastsroke too.

We, as a standard, do not use wet suits (conform FINA). Of course the Blue70 suits were treated with suspicion. But we follow FINA and we allowed them. That was a mistake. FINA corrected that and they were banned duly. A bit of protest there!

In my country it was a non-issue until Edith van Dijk wished to swim with the men for competition sake. She would not win any prizes with the women, even if she had the best time (of course she would have). The federation did not permit it on besis of the rules. The basics are that women and men compete in seperate heats (in the pool). So that should apply in open water too.

The TOWC has made it possible to (sometimes) swim together on organisatorical argumentations. But not as a rule.

In the most cases we are fine with the rules. I do not know what will happen if we have over 150 participant at the starting line. We have regulated the wave start, but no organization nor judges have dared to go for this novel method.

February 22nd, 2011, 01:50 AM
Sweden's largest OW event is Vansbro in July. it became a race in 1956. there are several races during the weekend. this year a 10km and 1500m on friday. a 5km and 1km on saturday and the main 3km on sunday.

temps are around 15-19C in a river. the most popular race is the 3km on sunday. It's roughly 2km down stream in one river, and the turn up stream in another.

Last year there were nearly 6,000 who started the race. for years it was anyone who wanted to "race" was in the first start group up to 300 people. then a new group of up to 300 every 15 minutes. last year they finally realized they needed several groups for those that wanted to race, and not just swim it as an "amatuer" class. not sure how to translate the nonracing group. either way.

there is no seeding or heats based on gender or age. in the racing start group men have one color cap and women another color. then every start group after has a different color. it's pretty cool to watch the last few heats swim by because you can see if someone is more than 15 minutes ahead or behind based on the color of the caps.

but last year they started seeding the first 5 heats by time. in order to swim in the first start group you have to have swam the race under 40:00 or be able to show that your 1500m pool time is fast enough that you should be under 40:00, it's basically up to the race officials to decide your placement in the first heat. the second heat is under 50:00 and then 55, 60 and 60 and in the second group of 60 they throw in all those who have swam more than 7 times previously as a benefit to being loyal to the race. then there are up to 15 heats.

for reference the winning time is usually around 31. and top 100 for men has been around 40-45 depending on water conditions and for women top 100 is around 45-48.

The only race that is not seeded is the short 1km it's also the only beach start. the other races are floating starts.