27th February, 2018

Ice swimming continues to see massive growth in the UK, so much so that this week the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) chose Hampshire (rather than say, Finland or Germany) as the place to announce the host city for next year’s Ice Swimming World Championships. With the kind of build up usually associated with events such as the Commonwealth games, or the Olympics themselves, the President and founder of the IISA, Ram Barkai, revealed the host city to be Murmansk, Russia, with the event being held on 14th – 17th March 2019.

About 30 countries are expected to take part, and swimmers can enter via the IISA website. For the uninitiated, Ice Swimming is swimming in water temp of 5C or less, unassisted, with one pair of standard swimming trunks/costume, one silicon cap and a pair of goggles. The current 1000m female world record is held by Hania Bakuniak from Poland (13 minutes 5 seconds) and male world record by Bulgarian Petar Stoychev (12 minutes 15 seconds).

Ice swimming is an increasingly popular sport that is now gaining worldwide recognition, with the 2019 championships an opportunity for Ice Swimming to be presented as an aspiring Winter Olympic sportMembers of the International Olympic Committee and FINA (Fédération Française de Natation) will be invited to attend and assess its viability. Barkai stressed that Ice Swimming has the potential to become one of the most exciting winter sports in the games and hopes that that it may even be considered as soon as the Winter Olympics in Beijing 2022. It his lifelong dream and passionate belief that this niche, extreme sport can potentially become one of the most exciting sports at the Winter Games.

Photo: Terry Scott

The panel a Monday evening’s press conference was made up of top international ice swimmers including some of the sport’s stellar athletes. Bulgarian Petar Stoychev stressed the importance of safety first but also how the sport creates friendships all around the world. Stoychev is the men’s current World Champion and World Record holder, former four-times swimming Olympian, marathon swimmer World Champion and previous world-record holder for swimming the English Channel in under seven hours. Along with Ram Barkai who had flown over from Cape Town, Briton Kate Steels-Fryatt (a local Hampshire open-water swimmer, Chairman of IISA GB and accomplished ice miles swimmer) and legendary Russian ice swimmer Alexander Brylin explored the way in which our bodies react differently in extreme cold water and how the recovery process post-swim is as important as the actual swim itself. In Barkai’s words “The swim finishes once you’ve recovered”.

Also in attendance were representatives from the host city Murmansk who felt honoured to be selected to host the championships after several other countries also applied.

The Ice Swimming World Championships has also introduced a disabled category for swimmers and a new distance of 4 x 250m country relay competition. The main event will remain the 1000m race, although other shorter distances will be swum as well. As Brylin explained, competitors can expect freezing temperatures in Murmansk next year in this inherently cold sport with water temperatures of -1 Celsius and air temperature of around -15 Celsius but an equally warm welcome from the Russians.

For more information on IISA:

Words: Georgie Palmer