Slowtwitch senior correspondent and photographer Timothy Carlson offers the first of three photo galleries devoted to swimming. This segment includes the infinitely varied Pre-Swim, Diving In, and The Pool.
Introduction: Evolutionary scientists estimate that the first fish developed about 500 million years ago, that reptiles that crawled on land evolved about 200 million years later. From them the first primates appeared about 40 million years ago, followed by monkeys and apes 15 million years later, then came homo sapiens (that’s us) 165,000 years ago. Sometimes I think it would take me 500 million years of de-evolution to reacquire the original fish-like affinity enjoyed by athletes like Michael Phelps, Wendy Ingraham and Craig Walton. Or maybe it was hard work. I know I fall eons behind triathletes I poke fun of for having “manatee slow” swims. But always there is someone slower. John Huckaby once suffered tremendous foot blisters when he walked the entire Ironman Hawaii swim when a storm forced John and Judy Collins to hold it in the shallow protected waters of Ala Moana Harbor. Recently, some pro swam the 2.4 miles of the Quelle Challenge Roth in 44 minutes, wearing a modern wetsuit design whose original principles were conceived by Slowtwitch’s own Dan Empfield. Swimmers come in all shapes, sizes and speeds. Smooth, tall Gary Hall Jr. could touch the wall in a 50 meter swim in just under 22 seconds, while mustachioed barrel-chested Matthew Webb made the first crossing of the 21-mile English Channel (using the breaststroke all the way) in 1875, taking 21 hours and 45 minutes for the task. In 2007, Petar Stoychev made the crossing in 6 hour 57 minutes. The romantic poet Lord Byron swam the Hellespont, while macho author Jack London made a suicide attempt at age 16 by swimming so far out to sea in San Francisco Bay he could not come back – but the will to live was too strong and he swam back. Lynn Cox became famous at age 14 as the youngest to set an English Channel record. Thirty years later, she achieved more notoriety as a swimmer-adventurer, becoming the first to swim across the Straits of Magellan in South America, go around the Cape of Good Hope and swim the Bering Strait. Wearing only a swimsuit, Cox also swam over a mile in 0ºC Antarctic waters in 2002. By contrast, U.S. triathlete Jennifer Gutierrez’s ability to adapt to 93-degree Fahrenheit waters in Lake Minneola in Clermont Florida played a key role in her 1998 U.S. elite triathlon championship.
Swimming is ultimately a humbling, quixotic enterprise, as the elusive arcane movements needed to master hydrodynamics in the pool only reward the best practitioners with a sustained speed of about 3 to 4 miles per hour. Dolphins, who can barrel along at nearly 30 knots and who can leap 15 feet in the air, simply laugh at and tolerate humans. Five-time World Champion Greg Welch, who seems to have inherited a dolphin sense of fun and humor, remains humble about his human swim skills. On his first try at the pool at age 19, Welchy barely made it to one 25 meter length gasping for breath before he touched the wall. Still, despite gripes from super swimmers that triathlon’s swim legs are so short because they are designed to prevent the feeblest of swimmers from leaving the sport -- or dying -- the first leg remains crucially important for Olympic style racing. For the rest of us, it’s a non impact sport that balances out the hard muscles of running and biking with smooth, long, aesthetically pleasing muscles that make the triathletes’ body one of today’s ideals of healthy beauty.
This antiquated piece of work of commercial folk art resonates thusly: The Jantzen swimmer’s form is sexy, good form seems is a product of hypnotic concentration, perfection is unattainable except by emulating fish and machines.
2000 Olympian Jennifer Gutierrez secured the 1998 US elite national title by focusing – and learning how to stay cool in Clermont’s 93-degree water that eventually boiled the chances of Barb Lindquist and Siri Lindley.
Pre race imaging in search of speed at St. Anthony’s in 2003 includes stretching, in the service of turning the body into a hydrodynamic version of an arrow – or a torpedo.
Swimming creates trapezoids, a muscular triangular back which is both functional and beautiful. Here an Ironman Brazil competitor pulls tight the wetsuit zipper, creating another trapezoidal shape in an aqua dawn.
Ironman Hall of Famer Ricky Hoyt also focuses on the day’s battle to come. His father Dick Hoyt swims and tows the raft bearing his son on the start of their 140.6 mile journey.
A four-time Ironman champion (Australia 1995, Austria 1999 and 2000, Brazil 2001), Wendy Ingraham is one of the sport’s greatest swimmers (and beauties), setting the Ironman Hawaii women’s swim record of 49:11 in 1998.
Anneliese Heard of Wales reveals a balanced triathlon physique as if sculpted by Michaelangelo in this pre-swim stretch in Perth. Heard won back to back ITU junior World Championships in 1999 and 2000.
Some of the best form is seen in warm-ups.
Ahelee Sue Osborn exudes joy in everything she does. She held the 35-39 record at Ironman Hawaii from 1993 through 2005, and swam the English Channel in 2001 in 11 hours 22 minutes.
Amanda Lovato has won two Boulder Peaks, the Boulder 5430 long course, and the 2002 amateur duathlon world title. She was also dead game to leap off a 10-foot pier several times after the 2002 Worlds in Cancun for an Inside Triathlon cover shoot.
The St. Croix Triathlon, a Caribbean classic, inspires passionate entrances.
University of Florida swimmer Sara McLarty finished two spots out of an Olympic berth in the 2004 Olympic Trials. Since then, she has often beaten all the men in triathlon swims. Working on her all around game, she took a third at Escape From Alcatraz and a 5th at the Vancouver ITU World Cup.
Paul Huddle, double Ironman winner, Mark Allen’s fave training partner, Paula Newby-Fraser’s main squeeze, great coach, Roch Frey’s Ironman race directing partner, smooth and articulate tri commentator, is the author of this incredibly graceful and dorky dive into Kailua Bay.
Anonymous pro won’t score high style points for this leap into Lake Michigan at the Chicago Triathlon in 1999. But it does recall a classic 1912 Jacques Henri-Lartigue photograph taken at the Chateau Rouzat pool.
Inseparable twins Sylviane and Patricia Puntous approached life with a smile through good times
(1-2 Ironman Hawaii finishes in 1983 and 1984) and the bad (Patricia’s DQ in 1986 for drafting, wiping out her first Ironman Hawaii win).
Craig Walton of Tasmania , perhaps the greatest swimmer-biker in triathlon history with an ITU World bronze in 2000 and two Olympic appearances, at an Australian Gold Coast 50-meter pool in 2000.
In Boulder, even indoor pools on cold winter days can resemble a misty swamp.
Every meter offers an opportunity to perfect the stroke at Boulder’s Scott Carpenter Pool.
Flying fast as early morning sunlight lights dark green shadows at the East Boulder Recreation Center pool.
Canadian Olympian Jill Savege pushes hard in a 2003 workout at Boulder's Scott Carpenter pool under supervision of then-coach and former World Cup rival Siri Lindley.