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Ice swimmers set to challenge for places on world stage at British Championships

National titles and World Championships selection are on the line as the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) GB Championships returns for 2020.

The event will take place at Cheltenham’s Sandford Parks Lido for the first time, from 22-23 February.

Competitors will be hoping for chilly conditions across the weekend, with performances only eligible for the IISA record books if the water temperature is below five degrees.

In a testament to the growing popularity of ice swimming, entries for the two long distance events at the championships quickly reached capacity.

Sixty men and women will compete in the 1000m Freestyle, while there will be 40 competitors in the 500m Freestyle.

The 100m Freestyle, 200m Freestyle and 100m Breaststroke events will also be contested.

Event Director and experienced ice swimmer, Kate Steels, said: “It’s grown massively. We’ve not got a really cold climate compared with countries in eastern Europe, Germany or China.

“The number of swimmers we’ve got is incredible and I think we’re the nation with the largest number of ice milers.

“People are realising the health benefits of swimming in cold water and that’s making it more popular.

“It’s also about being outside in the water, it’s about the camaraderie. We’ve got a very close knit, really supportive group.

“There are groups popping up all around the country – it’s no longer seen as a minority sport that nobody else does.”

All eyes on Katowice

The event will be used as a critical event for selection to represent Great Britain at the IISA World Championships 2021, which will be held in the Polish city of Katowice.

The British team won more than 20 medals at the 2019 World Championships in Murmansk and will hope to take an unprecedented number of competitors to the next edition.

Caroline Saxon and James Leitch will defend their respective titles in the 200m, 500m and 1000m Freestyle, while ice swimming stalwart Rory Fitzgerald returns to action, having competed at the Amstel Ice Swim in December.

Kate, who has her eye on completing the prestigious Ice Sevens challenge, will race in the 500m and 1000m Freestyle.

Swimming safely

Ice swimming has its dangers and the event organisers take every precaution possible to ensure the safety of all swimmers.

Competitors in the 1000m Freestyle race must have had an electrocardiogram (ECG) and a medical within six months of the swim.

Kate said: “Safety is our number one priority. Whilst we want to promote and encourage ice swimming, we do so safely and that is the overriding priority.

“We encourage people to get into the water in the summer, wherever they enjoy their open water swimming, and to keep going at least once a week, provided they’re not unwell.

“You should then get in regularly each week as the temperature drops and see how far you can go.

“It’s not unusual in the first season for someone to get to Christmas and not be able to continue.

“It’s about being sensible, listening to your body and listening to how your body adapts to the cold water.”