Those of us who had swum shorter distances were standing on the beach at the finish line and we could see Mick swimming in, aiming for the wrong side of the buoy. Earlier in the competition there had been an official stationed there to direct swimmers to the correct side. She was needed, as there were a lot who automatically aimed to go outside the buoy heading straight to the beach, which appeared much more straightforward than the correct course, requiring a sharp turn around it to come into the beach. Unfortunately at this point she was nowhere to be seen, and despite our shouts and gestures, Mick was swimming doggedly towards the beach on the wrong side.
I can’t be surprised about this at all. It was at the end of a long and tiring swim, he was probably on autopilot just aiming for the shortest way into the beach, and as for our antics, it’s incredibly difficult when you’re in the water, particularly swimming front crawl, either to understand shouts or to correctly interpret gestures. This is why Swimtrek teach their swimmers a small number of very clear and unambiguous gestures which their guides use to instruct the swimmers in safety and other matters whilst they are in the water. Importantly, there are pretty much static, so that you can clearly interpret them even if you have to glance up two or three times to do so. The gestures cover such matters as “Stop”, “Swim to me”, “Go left”, “Go right”, “Circle back”, “Are you ok?”, and “I’m ok”. Unfortunately there isn’t a Swimtrek gesture for “You’re going the wrong side of that pesky buoy, Mick”, and all our jumping, arm-waving and shouting was doing no good. Mick ploughed on, to the right of the buoy.
Well, what does it matter? you could be forgiven for thinking. Buoy, schmuoy, who cares if he goes left or right provided he finishes the race. The problem, of course, is the rules, designed to ensure that everyone swims the designated course without cutting corners, so that places can be allocated based on the times recorded by swimmers’ timer chips as they run up the finish funnel. Times are recorded in seconds, so a swimmer who cuts off a few yards by going past a buoy rather than round it can gain valuable time. There were paddle-boarders stationed at every buoy on the course to make sure that swimmers rounded them on the outside for this reason, but, as I say, no-one at this buoy at this moment. If Mick swam to the wrong side of the buoy and then finished, he would be disqualified. After ten k and more than three hours, disqualified! Disaster beckoned!