While there have been SwimRun events in the USA since 2016, this coming weekend will be the first attempt for ÖtillÖ to hold a World Series event in the USA. And can the predominant American field on their own turf compete with the seasoned Europeans this coming Sunday? There are 24 female teams, 37 mixed teams and 59 male teams signed up for the World Series event. Plus there are 75 Sprint teams, 60 Sprint individual starters, 12 Experience teams and 22 Experience individuals, in the shorter distances on Saturday.
Catalina has attracted several experienced SwimRun teams, but the majority of athletes in the race appear to be new to the sport. Possibly lured by the ÖtillÖ brand and the beautiful and seemingly challenging California location. Most of the starters in these races do come from triathlon, but the sport also brings in trail runners, adventure racers, skimo athletes and open water swimmers. Several European teams have decided to make the long trip to California, and some of them will be the likely favorites in their division. But there are some strong North American teams at the start too and it will be interesting to see who will adapt better to this new course. A big advantage for the many European athletes and especially the Swedes in the very hard World Championships in Sweden is their experience, SwimRun specific training and specific course knowledge and training on that course.
At this point there are about 50 SwimRun events in North America with the majority of them on the East Coast. And 6 of these events are ÖtillÖ merit races - where teams can collect points towards qualifying for the World Championships in late August. These events are SwimRun Lake James in North Carolina on April 18th, Ödyssey SwimRun Casco Bay in Maine on August 9th, Ödyssey SwimRun Les Cheneaux Islands in Michigan on August 23rd, Ödyssey SwimRun Orcas Island in Washington on September 27th, SwimRun NC in Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina on October 25th, and Ödyssey SwimRun Austin in Texas on November 8th. Plus there are several other good USA based SwimRun events ranging from Bellingham SwimRun in Bellingham, WA to SwimRun GA in Acworth, GA.
In the men’s race in Catalina Swedes Frederik Axegård and Oscar Olsson (team ARKswimrun) who finished second and fourth while competing on different teams at the 2019 World Championships, are on paper the most dangerous team. They have speed and experience, and Axegård won the World Championships in 2018 with his regular partner Alex Flores. The French Spanish combo of Nicolas Remires and Francesc De Lanuza Gimeno (Team Envol) also has plenty of experience and speed and they have beaten Axegård and Flores at the 2019 ÖtillÖ Swimrun World Series event 1000 Lakes in Germany.
Other teams to look out for are Canadians Calvin Zaryski and Kamal Maghri of team CriticalSpeedRacing, The WaHo All Stars with Jack McAfee and Christopher Douglas, and the Ödyssey SwimRun USA team of John Stevens and Lars Finanger. It will also be interesting to see what Chris Foster and Ben Collins will be able to bring to this battle. Andy Blow of Precision Hydration is another seasoned competitor and he will be racing in Catalina with Chris Hauth who now has been twice to the ÖtillÖ Worlds, and has a very fine athletic resume. And with 59 teams it is the deepest division but we obviously do not know all the competitors, nor do we know their fitness and health status this early in the year.
Surprises are not very likely, but possible.
In the mixed division the American team of Gregory Dierksen and Bronwen Price-Dierksen are the likely favorites, and they to date have not lost a SwimRun race in North America. They are also the strongest US team that has competed on European soil.
Team Friends Without Benefits with Anthony Beeson and Sonja Wieck is also seasoned and fast and they will likely be in the battle for the podium. The French / Swiss Team Envol squad of Alexis Charrier and Sabina Rapelli have placed well in a couple European World Series races and it will be interesting to see them battle here in the USA. Marcus Barton who is the golden male division bib wearer in the 2020 USA ÖtillÖ merit series is partnered with XTERRA Pro Jessie Koltz. Barton typically only competes on male teams and he is super passionate about the sport. The German / American ARKSouls squad of Markus Rössel and Robin Pomeroy also ought to be watched. Pro triathlete Pomeroy is fast and already has SwimRun experience and Rössel has been participating in SwimRun events longer than most in Catalina.
Plenty of seasoned triathletes will also be racing their first SwimRun event on mixed teams and among them are Jack Toland, BJ Christenson and Eney Jones. And clearly it is hard to know all teams, so there might be some surprises.
In the female division the defending ÖtillÖ Swimrun World Champions Fanny Kuhn and Desirée Andersson (SWE) of team Wild Envol are the clear favorites, and they are looking forward to racing in the USA.
“This is both mine and Desirée’s first Swimrun race in the US. I have however competed a lot in the US a few years back, but in pool swimming, while I swam for University of Louisville,” said Kuhn (Danckwardt) to slowtwitch, “We are both super excited to go to LA and Catalina, and also that Swimrun now is getting bigger in the United States. With more races in the US, I think the sport will grow quickly, which is exciting! We get there on Thursday before the race, and stay on the island until Monday morning, then we have planned 2 extra days to be tourists in LA!
But there are a few teams that will come in with high aspirations. The strong ÖtillÖ Worlds 3rd placed team with Helen Wikmar and Isabella Hedberg (SWE) of team ARKsouls Addnature are also listed as starting and should be able to make it interesting. The California SwimRun team of Kelsie Pearson and Caroline Wolek is also fast and they will have some local course knowledge advantage. Plus there are plenty of other strong females on the start list, but much depends in this sport how well the partners match up, and also who can deal better with colder air and water temps.
According to the ÖtillÖ press release the average island air temperature will be around 16°C (60 F), and the water around 14°C (57 F).
As for the event distances, the main World Series race on Sunday, March 1 is 38.6km total with 30.9km of running and 7.7km of swimming split up into 8 runs and 7 swims. The longest run segment is 9.5km and the longest swim section is 1.6km. The distances for the Sprint and Experience events on Saturday, March 29th are 14.9km with 4 swims, and 7.8km with 3 swims.
And here are a couple more predictions. After the race when teams and media share images from the event there will be some folks complaining about the legality and merit of paddles and pull buoys, but typically the folks who have the strongest opinions about this matter have actually never participated in such an event. And that is something that will unlikely not change.
But more importantly, many of those first time SwimRun starters, and especially those competing on teams, will be completely smitten by the sport and register for other such races. They will speak fondly about their experience and also denounce that notion that SwimRun is a "Triathlon without a bike." But they will likely appreciate the beautiful side effect of super easy travel without a bike.
Images 1 and 2 © Pierre Mangez, image 3 © Kai-Otto Melau and image 4 © Jakob Edholm