Sport

Open-water swimmer Jarrod Poort’s plan to make waves in Rio. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: SYLVIA LIBER

Different strokes: Jarrod Poort, 21, long-distance swimmer

Marathon swimming is one of the only events in the Olympics where time is not really relevant.  I started swimming 1500 metres in the pool, then I kind of dabbled in open water. One of the things that really got me hooked was the sheer racing aspect of it.

Every race time is going to be different. People do not have personal bests or anything like that. It is all just purely a race, and it is the position that matters. One of the biggest things about the sport is the tactics. So many little things – the environment, the places you race.

It is not like jumping in the pool and pushing yourself to get a certain time, and then chasing those times. In the open water, you are racing in different countries and getting personal with your mates and friends and competitors and pushing for positions. 

You have got to be prepared for anything. That is one of the biggest things. Open water swimmers are possibly some of the most versatile athletes because all races are often so different. It is almost like competitive road cycling. With all the tactics and the pelotons and the breakaways and that kind of thing. 

Swimming is at times a very lonely sport. You are stuck with your head in the water and it is just you and your thoughts battling it out. 

Some days you are good and some days not so good. That is a big part of it and also a part of why I love it. Compared with someone who is training to race 100 metres, I will be in water a lot longer training to race 10,000 metres.

You would be surprised what kinds of thoughts go through a swimmer’s head. I think they should create something where you can see what an athlete is thinking while they are training. There are times where some thoughts you have, they can get pretty wild. Because you are in the pool for up to five hours. 

Water temperature is a factor. FINA, the governing body of the sport, has set the water temperature rules and we are allowed to race in water temperatures from, I think, 16 degrees up to 29 or 28 degrees. So there is quite a difference in the times. I raced in Portugal three years ago and the day before the race the water temperature was 22 degrees, which is probably an ideal temperature, and then the wind and the swell direction changed and the next day the temperature was 16 degrees. Swimming in 16 degrees is quite a challenge; your body uses a lot of energy to keep warm and we do not wear wetsuits. We wear similar types of suits to those worn by Grant Hackett in the 2004 Olympics: long-legged, sleeveless suits. They keep you warm to some extent but not much. The first 3000 metres in Portugal was pretty cold.

There are some pretty cool encounters in the ocean. We did a race for the Pan Pacific Championships in Maui, Hawaii, and we were swimming alongside turtles and dolphins. Last year, in Mexico, off Cozumel, there were some old ancient statues and things on the bottom of the ocean.

Simon Huitenga and I will battle it out in Portugal this month for the one spot on the Rio team. It is almost state versus state, mate versus mate. It is a tough situation to be in. Simon and I were both on our first open water senior teams together in Barcelona in 2013 and have been on the team every year since. We’ve also roomed together.

I think we are really very fortunate that we have such a good respect for each other. I think at the end of the day, the best man will win. I think he is thinking about what I am doing and I am thinking about what he is doing, we are using each other, we are pushing each other and I think some special things could come of that. I think we could go to Portugal and hopefully scare the world a little bit.

The best marathon swimmer ever just retired. Thomas Lurz, the German. He was a bit of a master; like the god of the sport. He started when he was 18 or 19, won five world championships in a row, and was such a fierce competitor. Any international event he would go to, he was always in the top three, just super consistent.

He just gave me some advice about racing, which, as you can probably imagine, can get pretty rough. Everyone is running into each other and it can be a bit argy-bargy. One of the things he said to me was that you just do not want to give in to all that. It is all about conserving energy. We had a bit of… not an altercation, but he noticed me in the five kilometre at world championships, and he asked one of the coaches who the new Aussie boy was and came over and had a chat to me.

 

This week’s highlights…

• AFL: Port Adelaide v Western Bulldogs

Saturday, 1.10pm (ACST), Adelaide Oval

• NRL: Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm

Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

• Horseracing: Stradbroke Handicap Day

Saturday, 1st race 10.50am (AEST), Eagle Farm​ Racecourse, Brisbane

• Motorsport: Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix

Monday, 4am (AEST), Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada

• Netball: NSW Swifts v West Coast Fever

Saturday, 5.30pm (AEST), Newcastle Arena, Newcastle

• Soccer: Euro 2016

Until July 10, France, various venues

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 11, 2016 as "Different strokes". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.

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