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General Patten prepares for open water war

by Matt Slater (U1647490) 12 June 2007
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A jellyfish in Melbourne's Port Philip Bay

If that's not the most bellicose opening to a 606 article ever I'll eat my swimming cap.

I'm not proud of it, though, in fact I'm a little bit sorry. But you'll have to indulge me - interviewing British open water swimming star Cassie Patten has left me in a feisty mood.

In case you missed it (it was during one of British sport's "we're hopeless" hand-wringing sessions), the 20-year-old Patten overcame chilly water and jellyfish stings to claim a surprise silver medal in the 10km open water race at the World Swimming Championships in Melbourne in March.

Not that it was a surprise to her. Despite only taking up the event nine months before, Patten was convinced she could medal in swimming's most gruelling event. If only more of performance director Bill Sweetenham's British squad had such belief in their abilities - he probably wouldn't be looking for a new job come the summer of 2008, for starters.

But why should we care?

Well, I care because I have been doing a little bit of open water swimming this last month as I prepare for my first Olympic distance triathlon in London in August and I know just how hard it is and how good she is.

And I think the rest of you should care because Patten, a sports-mad dyslexic who only tried open water swimming when her preferred route to success in the pool appeared to be closing, is a perfect example of what lots of hard work and a very postive mental attitude can achieve.

She is also one of our best shots at an Olympic medal in Beijing next year as "swimming's marathon" is part of the programme for the first time.

Boosted by her success in the world's seas, lakes and rivers, Patten has even revitalised her pool prospects - she won the 800m title at the British Championships a week after her epic swim in Australia.

She is, in short, an absolute inspiration.

But what I want to ask is can you think of a harder, more physically and mentally demanding Olympic sport? Will anybody suffer more for their medal than an open water swimmer?

Many (the vast majority) will be able to say that even getting to the Olympics is the product of a lifetime of sacrifice and toil. But will they be able to say they have suffered the range of trials and tribulations that open water swimmers experience?

During Patten's short career outdoors she has raced whilst seasick, been badly stung by jellyfish, almost got lost, ignored shark warnings, shrugged off fears of hypothermia and generally gritted her teeth and got on with it.

Patten and her OW buddies get my vote, who gets yours?

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posted Jun 12, 2007

I had to look up bellicose in the dictionary. I did enjoy the article however, and I agree Patten has endured more than most.

I must say these feel good stories are only a small consolation though, because it seems our Olympic hopes will continue to decline as chronic lack of investment (compared to other countries such as Australia)means we will be lucky if we see any medals at all from 2012 onwards.

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posted Jun 12, 2007

Has my vote.

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posted Jun 13, 2007

whether its the hardest Olympic sport its hard to say but it would be the hardest swimming trial at the games. I love sport with an element of danger it feels live not recorded, wonder when health and safety will put a stop to it.

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posted Jun 13, 2007

I am a pom now living in Oz and I was delighted with Pattens result - not leaast because I have been ocean swimming for the last couple of years. But having lived in Oz I can now see how much we overdo the fear factor in the UK, I used to be worried about bluebottles (jellyfish - it is unpleasant but wouldn`t stop you) and sharks (it is cool whe you finally see one) but after a swim or two it just isn`t an issue. There are more things in Australia on the land that will kill you than the sea, so why worry about swimming?
I am wondering if there are jellyfish in the waters near Bejing anyway?
I have actually swum an 11k race in Sydney (city to Manly) which took me 4 hours, and I have run a marathon which took me 3hours, and to be honest the marathon was harder physically, but the swim was harder mentally. After 3 hours swimming you get very very bored and forget technique, and I had the same song running through my head for the last two hours. The hardest sport I have done is boxing, which requires you to be superfit, and be able to think clearly, and vary the pace as necessary.
Not that I think Audley Harrison has momre balls than Patten!!!!!!

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posted Jun 13, 2007

Cheers for the comments, guys, they are much appreciated (although I do wonder sometimes why I don't just write stories about Steve McClaren, David Bentley, Thaksin Shinawatra and other great footballing issues of the day...400 words of old waffle on any of those and I'd get four comments a minute).

Old_Father_Thames (great name, have you swam it?), sorry for sending you to your dictionary (although you may be glad of your new word one day when stuck on "11 down: warlike, nine letters"). I'm glad you liked the story but it had little to do with me: Cassie was a breeze to interview and her tale was simply too good to mess up.

I'm sorry to hear that you're in the post-2012 doom camp, though. I know where you're coming from (re: worries about the legacy and redirecting funds away from grassroots) but I'm more optimistic about the Olympic effect. I think young people are inspired by role models and heroes, not great facilities. I've never heard a sports star say they were encouraged to take up their sport because there was an amazing tennis court/swimming pool/running track down the road. They say they were were inspired by seeing x win a medal/score the winner/smash the record.

bsacfiftenn, I think you're probably right. It's very hard to compare different sports...I was just trying to spark a bit of debate. But think we all agree with Hollis216 that the 10K open water swim has got to be up there with the most difficult/painful/challenging Olympic disciplines.

DHHHH, you make some excellent points. Particularly about Australia. It's by far the most hazardous place I've ever been to and I spent three years in Detroit (the murder capital of America for two of those years until Gary, Indiana, stole its crown). I'm sure the sheer number of dangers Down Under has played a huge part in making Australians what they are today....but I'll leave that debate to that country's greatest minds, the likes of Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, Les Patterson, Jason Gillespie...

I'm hugely impressed with your 11K swim and your marathon time (very good!) and I think you make an excellent point about the difference between the two events. I've run a couple of marathons and they were both extremely difficult in terms of the physical effort/pain required. But I'm not sure I could swim 10K in the water, and it's the mental side that would worry me.

As for your assertion that it's cool when you finally see a shark....well that convinces me you've gone native/loco. I could never imagine a time when it would be cool to see something with that many teeth and a track record of using them.

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posted Jun 14, 2007

I don't expect too much from Britain in the 2012 Olympics on account all those British athletes, having to carry that "Stone of embarassment" more commonly known as the 2012 logo.

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