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Great Britain's ice swimmers don't freeze on the big stage in Murmansk

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Ice swimming is set for another rise in popularity following Great Britain’s success at the third Ice Swimming World Championships.

A team of 14 travelled to the Russian city of Murmansk, which lies inside the Arctic Circle, competing against almost 400 other swimmers from 33 countries.

Faced with water temperatures of only 0.2 degrees Celsius, and air temperatures of -16 degrees, the conditions were unlike anything the team could’ve prepared for in the UK.

As they arrived in Murmansk, chunks of ice were still being pulled out of the frozen Lake Semyonovskoye to construct the pool.

With the shorter distances – 50 metres to 500m – all Arctic Cup events and the world championship 1000m race, Team GB had success across the board.

Rory Fitzgerald, of Hampshire, again led the way, winning three gold medals – including in his age group in the coveted 1000m – and a silver medal in the 50m butterfly.

Fitzgerald set a new world record in the 60-64 age group, completing the race in 14 minutes 33.78 seconds to finish 13th overall.

“The huge increase in popularity of the sport was reflected in the scale of the championships, hosted magnificently by the city of Murmansk,” he said.

“GB established their presence on the world stage, securing 10 podium positions in the world championship and a further 12 podium positions in the shorter distances of the Arctic Cup, all in the ultimate testing conditions of zero degree water.”

Fitzgerald was one of three British athletes to win an age group gold medal in the world championship race, with Jade Perry and John Myatt also topping the podium.

GB’s fastest female ice swimmer, Caroline Saxon, won silver in her age group, while the country’s fastest male, James Leitch, won bronze in his age group, finishing in just 13 minutes 16.73 seconds.

Among the Arctic Cup medallists was debutant Anne Saxon, who had primarily travelled to Murmansk to support daughter Caroline, but emerged with a bronze in the 50m breaststroke.

Team captain Kate Steels took her overall medal tally to three, adding a 500m gold and 50m breaststroke bronze to her 1000m silver.

Reflecting on a strong performance all around, she said: “I feel very privileged to have led Team GB to Murmansk and am immensely proud of our achievements.

“Ice Swimming is a growing and increasingly competitive sport. Great Britain has a very strong position internationally.

“The focus now is on finding a venue for the next GB Ice Swimming Championships and building an even stronger GB team for the next world championships in Katowice, Poland in 2021.”

Heidi Brice, 22, finished ninth in one of the most competitive age groups in the world championship, with Alistair Bell and Mark Guest also completing the gruelling race.

Team GB swimmers support their teammates in freezing conditions.

Strict medical checks

Ice swimming isn’t for the faint of heart and it took some serious preparation for Team GB to get to Murmansk.

Swimmers mixed regular training with ice baths and took trips into the mountains of Wales and Scotland in search of freezing water.

Medics were on hand throughout the meet and enforced strict medical checks, including an ECG, to ensure each swimmer could deal with the freezing conditions.

Jonty Warneken, who became the first disabled man to complete the ice mile in 2014, was prevented from swimming in the 1000m after concerns arose during his medical.

He bounced back with a strong performance in the 50m freestyle, for which he was awarded a special disability award.

For those who were in the water for up to 20 minutes, a thorough recovery was vital, particularly in preparation for the rest of the weekend’s events.

After each race, swimmers were assisted to a recovery area, where numb hands and feet were placed in buckets of cold water and the rest of the body was wrapped in hot wet towels, replaced every few seconds.

They then moved to a warm sauna to complete the recovery process and began planning for the next challenge.

GB Medallists at the IISA World Championships and Arctic Cup

  • Rory Fitzgerald: Gold – 1000m, 200m, 50m freestyle; Silver – 50m butterfly
  • Kate Steels: Gold – 500m; Silver – 1000m; Bronze – 50m breaststroke
  • Jade Perry: Gold – 1000m, 50m freestyle
  • John Myatt: Gold – 1000m
  • Debbie Wayman: Silver – 1000m, 500m; Bronze – 50m breaststroke
  • Cath Pendleton: Gold – 500m; Bronze – 1000m
  • Jon Coe: Silver – 1000m, 500m
  • Colin Hill: Gold – 500m
  • Caroline Saxon: Silver – 1000m
  • Andrea Startin: Silver – 1000m
  • James Leitch: Bronze – 1000m
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