This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.
I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.
The main reason for us to visit Murmansk just this week was the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship and the 1st Ice Swimming Arctic Cup 2019. There were 7 individual distances/styles and 2 relay distances/styles, all from 50 m butterfly to 1000 m (!) freestyle. The event is organised by the IISA and the town of Murmansk. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will participate.
Friday, 15 March
After breakfast we meet Dmitry, a local journalist at the hotel lobby and then take the trolley bus to the ice swimming pool, which is located in the freshwater lake Семёновское озеро/Lake Semyonovskoye, 5 km from the centre. We arrive there to see the opening ceremony at 11:30 but due to the many starts the competitions already have begun in the morning. As usual we have to show our press badge to be able to enter the arena.
I’ve been on several winter swimming championships before: in Joensuu and Rovaniemi in Finland and of course several times in Skellefteå.
The first thing I notice are the many people wearing robust drysuits. There were two for each lane, all secured with ropes, plus additional divers. They belong to EMERCOM, the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
The next thing are the restrictions for the press. We have got a plan with the marked areas where we are allowed to stand, but even there we sometimes are shooed away because we block the audience’s view. We are not allowed to go too near to the ice. Security first! The area behind the pool was open for a short time and then closed for the rest of the competitions.
When we arrive the 500 m freestyle competition is in full swing. A total of 47 swimmers compete in this distance. Some people are so exhausted after the swimming that they have to be helped out of the water. Some of them are even lad to the hot tub where they are able to warm up, but most people can walk by theirselves.
The opening ceremony starts with a flag parade in groups of three, one for each country: a boy presenting a sign with the name of the country, a cadet holding the country’s flag and a swimmer of that country. Here we meet again Mongolian swimmer Davaadorj Shagdarsuren.
Then a line of women walk along the green walkway. They are clad in white and blue dresses and hold traditional Russian welcome gifts in their hands: bread and salt. They walk around the pool and present these gifts to the guests from all countries that stand there in one line.
Finally the championship is opened by the outstanding Russian ice swimmer Alexandr Brylin who swims 25 meter holding two flags in his hands.
The next hours I take various pictures: Of the two mascots dancing around, of the swimming itself, or of the Chinese people having fun with the Russian women.
I have a lot to watch and I reflect on similarities and differences of this ice swimming event compared to others. While Skellefteå is partly a fun event with short distances and a funny cap competition, this competition is a 100% serious sport competition. On the other side the opening and closing ceremonies (we got a sneak preview two days before) in Murmansk are colossally enormous. Nevertheless the championships in Skellefteå have a larger public, partly because it’s in the middle of the city, partly because in Skellefteå you can compete in 25 m, too and many locals do this.
The scenery has its contrasts, too: snow – cold ice – open water – people with warm clothes – women wearing fur – swimmers in bathing suits – colourful flags everywhere – grey concrete buildings in the distance.
I take the freedom to loosely quote Tim, who helped organising Redex 2019: Russia will always surprise you!
Saturday, 16 March
Today it’s the day of the 1000 m freestyle competitions. To be allowed to participate you have to proof that you are able to cope being in the ice water for at least 25 minutes. Nothing for the average leisure swimmer. We arrive to heat number 2, where among others Ren Feng Wang from China participates. Just before swimming all participants get a medical exam and another after the swim.
The start commando: all others swim crawling while Ren Feng Wang breaststrokes. At the end of the competition he will be slowest of all with a time of 24:05:04. For me this would be worth an extra medal for being able to cope the icy water such a long time.
Winner of heat 4, men is the German Martin Kuchenmeister, a professional ice swimmer with a time of 16:56:94.
In the same heat a swimmer has to give up. He is helped out at the other side of the pool by the people of EMERCOM.
Some more photos:
Again, it’s the contrasts that fascinate me. The competition, the concrete buildings and the white Russian orthodox church Savior on Waters.
When you watch the championship you hardly realise that there is a lot of life on the Lake Semyonovskoye outside of the fenced area. People are walking, skiing or ice fishing and some of them stand outside the fence and watch the championship as well. After a while I leave the temporary arena and walk across the lake to make some non-swimming photos.
At the end of the day there are two winners of the 1000 m run: