Getting a new sport added to the Olympics is no easy feat, but the results of a new scientific study could help make the case for the frigid event known as ice swimming.
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Events organized by the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) have strict rules, requiring participants to swim for a mile in water no warmer than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The swim must be unassisted, and no wetsuits are allowed. Swimmers can only wear goggles, a cap, and a standard swimsuit -- like the kind athletes wear in the Summer Olympics.
Recently, researchers from Winona State University in Minnesota collaborated with the IISA to analyze more than 80 male and female ice swimmers of varying ages to see how various factors like wind chill and training affected their performances.
The team found that wind chill didn't really affect speed, age only had a small effect on performance, and swimmers were more likely to go faster if they had participated in at least one ice mile already. Also they concluded that, statistically, gender didn't influence the effect of age on swim speed. The group presented their findings this week at the annual Experimental Biology scientific meeting in San Diego.
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This scientific research could help lend more credibility to the IISA's efforts to get the sport added to the 2022 Winter Games. First formed in 2009, the association organizes ice swimming events around the world. Two years ago they added a 1,000-meter competition.
"It's amazing to see how a 'silly' idea eight years ago has taken off," IISA founder Ram Barkai said in a recent press release. An ice swimmer himself, Barkai set a 2008 Guinness World Record for the "most southerly swim" in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. He swam one kilometer through 33.8-degree Fahrenheit water in 22 minutes and 5 seconds. I don't even go outside without a coat when it's that cold.
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, were going to feature an ice swimming exhibition, but unfortunately that got canceled over security concerns. Still, we did get to see famed Russian ice swimmers carry a flag and flaming torch through 35.6-degree Fahrenheit water.
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Four new events were added to the 2018 Winter Olympics last summer. Big air snowboarding and mixed doubles curling met the International Olympic Committee's criteria: gender equality, affordability, minimum impact on the number of events, public and media appeal, and added value.
In the past, sports that didn't make the cut include ski ballet and synchronized skating. But I think that, given how well ice swimming fits the committee's requirements, there's a good chance they won't get frozen out.