The last race of the Olympic swimming championships will be held in the Pacific Ocean. The starting horn will sound at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday (11:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Spain, Teledeporte and Eurosport) in Odaiba, a dock in Tokyo Bay where 26 swimmers will be thrown to tour a circuit of 10 kilometres. The organizers call it a water marathon. The poster is magnificent. Among the qualifiers are three Olympic champions in multiple distance events – Oussama Mellouli, Gregorio Paltrinieri and Ferry Weertman -, the reigning 1,500 and open water world champion Florian Wellbrock and the 2015 world champion Jordan Wilimovsky. The payroll includes a Spaniard. His name is Alberto Martínez and he says that he became fond of swimming in the sea the day he, at the age of seven, sneaked into the annual crossing of the port of Cartagena. “I perfectly remember arriving last and enjoying a lot,” he says.
Getting on the podium after fighting for two hours in a crowded school of figures will be only part of the challenge that awaits Alberto Martínez. The water and air temperatures in Tokyo Bay will hover around 30 degrees, putting swimmers at risk of heatstroke. “The harshness of the competition must be added to the harshness of the environment,” explains physiologist Iñigo Mujika, coordinator of the scientific support services for the performance of the swimming federation. “That adds a very great difficulty from the point of view of thermoregulation. Whoever does not manage it will pay dearly ”.
“When we exercise, less than 25% of our energy is converted into mechanical work,” says Mujika; “And more than 75% we convert it into heat. That heat must be dissipated. In a cool environment we have four mechanisms: radiation, conduction, convection, and sweating. But if we are in hot water with hot air, practically all the mechanisms are canceled and the body temperature rises. Whoever is not able to tolerate this is going to suffer a lot. Swimmers will have to be very economical in swimming so as not to reach 40 degrees and suffer a heat stroke, which is a dangerous pathological situation. In 2010 an American swimmer died in a World Cup in Emirates ”.
“The only way to cool swimmers’ bodies will be from the inside out,” says the physiologist. “Putting cold in the body. We will give Alberto isotonic drinks with caffeine in the form of granita, at the refreshment stations of the circuit ”.
Martínez points out that his plan is to save energy until the last buoys, one at 700 and another at 200 meters from the finish line. “The tactic will be paramount,” he explains. “It is like cycling. The one who goes first or the fastest does not always win, but the one who does the best in the race and the one with the most ability to fight at the end. This involves saving energy and suffering minimal wear so that when the final meters arrive, the one with the most energy, or the one with the highest final speed, touches the plate first ”.
“Qualities that cannot be measured”
Produce a sprint Without having the change of pace of swimmers like Paltrinieri, Wellbrock, Mellouli, Wilimovsky, the Frenchman Olivier or the Greek Kinigakis, is another of Alberto Martínez’s challenges. His coach, Fred Vergnoux, has been insisting on this for four years. “We have improved my way of swimming,” says the Murcian, “so that I am more balanced with both arms, seeking to improve the use of my legs to be a little higher, seeking greater buoyancy. Also, I’ve done a lot of specific strength sets in the gym. “
“The strategy is to reach the final meters with my rivals worn out so that we are at par in speed,” he says. “There the passage through the last two balls can be key. It can be an advantage since on the buoys there is usually an accumulation of people and this causes a small braking. I will try to take advantage of it ”.
Faced with those who warn him of the top speed of his main rivals, the swimmer indicates that there are ineffable virtues that can compensate for the disadvantage of power. “There are qualities that cannot be measured,” he says. “Like a person’s capacity for suffering or the ability to orient oneself at sea, to position oneself and control rivals where they cannot see clearly. If I let them break the water and I know how to position myself behind, I will be able to match those titans ”.
Alberto Martínez has faith. You will need it to survive Odaiba’s Cauldron.
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