Questions linger over US swimmer Diana Nyad’s record swim
US long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad has agreed to turn over all her navigation data and official observer logs on her record-breaking swim from Cuba to southern Florida last week, after sceptics raised questions about the grueling crossing.
“I think it will be more than enough to settle the question, did she swim from A to B?” Steven Munatones, a California-based chief administrator of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, said on Wednesday.
But he said some swimmers still had “more nuanced questions of how she swam from A to B.”
A triumphant Nyad, 64, staggered ashore in Key West, Florida, on September 2, after having swum about 53 hours, to become the first person to complete the treacherous 177km crossing without a shark cage.
Nyad’s success came at the fifth attempt and the highly publicized crossing sparked a social media debate about whether her journey meets the requirements to break the world record.
“I swam ... in squeaky-clean, ethical fashion,” Nyad told a conference call late on Tuesday with a dozen fellow marathon swimmers, some of whom have publicly questioned aspects of her feat.
“I honoured the rules,” Nyad added.
“A lot of the big picture questions were answered,” said Evan Morrison, a San Francisco-based marathon swimmer and corporate data analyst, who was on the call.
During that call, she appeared to satisfy other marathon swimmers with her explanation that ocean currents had helped quicken her pace during a section of the swim. But there was still disagreement over how Nyad’s swim would be categorised in the record books.
Marathon swimming, a rapidly growing sport that was added to the Olympic Games in 2008, does not have an international governing body, so “community consensus,” among swimmers was key, said Morrison. It was not clear when or how that would be decided.
Some swimmers wanted Nyad to recognise that it had been an “assisted swim” due to her use of a body suit and face mask to protect her from deadly box jellyfish stings, in contravention of the century-old English Channel Rules for marathon swimmers.
Nyad said in the conference call that she nearly died from lethal box jellyfish stings during her 2011 attempt at the Cuba-Florida crossing. She called the suit “the only way” to survive the crossing.
“I don’t mean to fly in the face of your rules, but I was concerned for my own life safety - a litreal life and death measure - that’s the way we did it,” she said.
Nyad said she needed assistance fastening and unfastening parts of the suit, acknowledging that, technically, she was ‘touched’ by her team.
Still, she said, she never violated the spirit of the rule.
There was “never any levity, never any buoying up. I was in the water for 52 hours and 53 minutes without ever any assistance in keeping above the water or moving forward.”
Rules for a crossing like hers were to be created by the first person to succeed, she added, noting that she was following “Florida Straits Rules” during her swim, written for her by Munatones, a respected international swimming expert and former observer on three of Nyad’s previous failed attempts to swim the Florida Straits.
Under those rules, swimmers may use a “stinger suit” to protect them from jellyfish.
Morrison said he and other swimmers on the call had never heard of the Florida Straits Rules and that Nyad should have publicized them before her swim.
The rules were drawn up after jellyfish sabotaged one of Nyad’s previous failed attempts, Munatones said, noting that some channel crossings have different rules covering exceptional risks.
For example, swimmers attempting the 16-mile (26 km) Cook Strait separating the North and South Islands of New Zealand are allowed to get out of the water briefly if sharks come too close.
“The rules are always based on safety,” said Munatones. “If you have any hope in getting across the Florida Straits, we believe you need a stinger suit. It’s not doable in the traditional way.”
Munatones said he would be distributing copies of the “rules of engagement” for the Florida Straits to the media and the swimming community.
During Tuesday’s call, Nyad’s navigator provided convincing data on a key phase of her swim, after some observers questioned how she had dramatically accelerated her pace.
“He said ... they had the currents just right,” said Morrison. “It’s a rare current that happens only twice a year, and they were able to predict it and detect it, and they got it, and they have an oceanographer who backs them up.”