Monday 11 February 2008

The 2008 World Winter Swimming Championships, Tooting Bec Lido, London, February 09-10, 2008

Day 1 - Friday February 08, 2008 - Press Briefing Day

Above: Competitors from all over the world lining up for a photo with the press on press briefing day.

Arriving at Tooting Bec Lido on "Press Day" at the 2008 World Winter Swimming Championships was a very exciting day for me. I don't remember being so happy to be somewhere for a long time. The reason was the complete carnival atmosphere that had been created by the hosts, South London Swimming Club. The weather was so warm that it could easily have been mid July in England, but the water temperature at 6 Degrees Centigrade (42.8 degrees Farenheit) brought it home that we were in fact in the depth of winter in England.

Between 12.30 - 13:30 was the press briefing sponsored by the Embassy of Finland, London and after a few speeches including one by his Excellency The Finnish Ambassador, we were asked to pose for some photos and get in for a trial "Head-up Breastroke" race. Vice President of South London Swimming Club, Margy Sullivan, explains the reason for this stroke: "The Finns decided to make races 'head-up breastroke' to give amateurs a chance against the elite. The championship is less about speed and more about coping with the cold, the challenge of the races and having some fun."

Above: Channel Swimmer Jim Boucher of 'Guilford Lido Legends' leads Channel Swimmer Hoffy of 'West Suffolk Swimming Club' across the 31 Metre wide Tooting Bec Lido for a press shoot doing the 'head-up breastroke'.

...before turning round and using the more traditional freestyle technique which at 6 degrees centigrade causes severe "ice cream headache" at sustained periods in the water. Swimming across the pool and pushing the "ice bergs" out of the way, it was time to get out.

South London Swimming Club had thought of everything. Just the thing you need when your body is freezing at 6 Degrees Centigrade; Out of the water and into...

...the 37/38 degree centigrade hot tub located on the poolside. Then straight out of that and into...

...the sauna which had been donated by the Finnish team, and will now apparently be a permanent fixture at Tooting Bec Lido. And, do you know? you never know who you are going to bump into in a sauna do you? Chatting to this very nice chap for about 5-6 minutes who said he was a reporter for BBC South, he says he used to be a footballer. "Who did you play for?" I said. "Chelsea and England" he replied. "What's your name then?" I said rather shocked. "Graham Le saux" he said!

Above: With ex Chelsea and England footballer Graham Le saux outside the sauna (he's the one with the 6 pack!).

The first day was asolutely fantastic and after a peaceful night's sleep at the very nice "Windmill on the Common" hotel, we headed for the first competitive day of the championships.

Day 2 - Saturday February 09, 2008 - Championships and Seminars/Swimming Stories day Day

Above: 09.20 Hrs. The Opening Ceremony of the 2008 World Winter Swimming Championships by Finbarr Martin, President SLSC, Jaakko Laajava, Ambassador of Finland, Cllr. Malcolm Grimston, Wandsworth Council, Eki Karlsson, President, Somen Latu and SLSC Children, Lucia Butler, Xanthe Maggs, Daisy Tolcher and Milly Tolcher.

Following on from the opening ceremony attended by over 670 swimmers from 21 countries, we headed for the seminar area. I was very excited as one of the main speakers was non other than internationally renowned Explorer/Swimmer/Environmentalist Lewis Gordon-Pugh. Lewis told us the riveting story of how he swum at the North Pole at -1.7 Degrees Centigrade for 1KM. The first human being to ever swim at The North Pole and at that temperature.

Above: A truly unforgettable moment of the championships, meeting Explorer/Swimmer/Environmentalist Lewis Gordon-Pugh after his rivetting speech.

My mum and her cousin Eileen, who lives in Tooting, were really pleased to meet King of The Channel, Kevin Murphy who was also swimming in the championships. "It's the King of The Channel" she said, and wanted a photo taken.

Above: Left to right, "King of The Channel", Kevin Murphy, my mum, Vera Hopfensperger and her cousin Eileen from Tooting Bec.

I was in race number 55 at 11:52:00 Hrs, and was selected to swim in lane 3. I was well psyched up for the race and proceeded though the routine to get to the starting point, and to enter the 6 degree water in race conditions. The race went according to plan as can be seen from the photo sequence below:-

Above: The Winner! I was really pleased to win my heat in the men's 40 – 49 years (those born 1959 – 1968) 25 Metres "Head Up Breastroke" event.

There were 83 competitors in my event from Russia, Finland, USA, Latvia, Australia and GB to name but just a few countries. Having won my heat, there was a really long wait (about 2 hours) before the results went up. I was desperate to see if I was in the final (the top 6 swimmers out of the 83) but was really dissapointed to see that my time was placed in 14th position! I would have to do much better in the Men's 62 Metres (2 widths) Freestyle the following day.

Believe it or not, there was a beer tent at the event, and due to the Finnish team being ardent beer drinkers, they polished off 1,500 pints of special championship beer called "Blue Tits", "Brass Monkeys" and "Chilly Willy". The 6 degree water temperature made all of those beer name seem very apt for the occassion I can assure you!

Above: Beccy with a pint of beer. I will let you decide which one it was that she was drinking!

Above: With Danni Callahan who left a message on my guestbook on 01/02/2008 and who took a silver medal in her age group. Well done Danni!

In the evening, we all went off to a fun filled barn dance at Glaziers Hall next to London Bridge. This was a great evening and I think everyone had a fantastic time, and probably too much to drink considering we were swimming the next morning!

Above: Eileen, Mum and Beccy enjoying a glass of wine or two at The Barn Dance in Glaziers Hall.

Day 3 - Sunday February 10, 2008 - 62 Metres Freestyle day for me.

We arrived bright and early for the next day's events, which included my best event the 62 Metres (2 x widths) freestyle event, which presented some challenges. Firstly, there was a steel bar in the water and I was worried about the tumble turn, and secondly, sprinting flat out for two widths at 6 degrees centigrade, would be a new experience. (Editor's Note: You will note the absense of photos for this event, and the ones we do have are of nothing in particular and are slightly blurred. This is due mainly to the photographer, aka Beccy, possibly suffering from the effects of 4 bottles of wine at the previous evening's Barn Dance!).

As we arrived at registration for the event, I noted that I was swimming against swimmers from Sweden, Germany, two from Finland and a very mean looking Russian by the name of Vitaly Poborchiy from Murmansk Swimming Club in Russia. On his right arm he had "Russian Olympic Team" sewed on his tracksuit. I gulped, shook hands with him and the others and we proceeded to the dis-robing rooms.

Above: In pensive mood at the registration area before the start of the Men's 62 Metres Freestyle event (2 widths of the pool).

We were all introduced by name, club and country, and then it was into the icy water (you have to start in the water with your shoulders submerged). 3-2-1-Hoooonnnkkk! Off we went.

I tore up the pool flat out, neck and neck but just slightly ahead of the Russian at the turn which actually went OK. Then, half way up the second width, it hits you. Icy water, shoulders start to lock-up and water begins to be swallowed. 6 degree water pouring down your throat. My concentration lapsed and I reached out to touch the wall in front of me. Only, it wasn't in front of me. I looked forward and realised it was still about another metre away. I put in another stroke, but that pause had cost me the race and I touched behind the big Russian.

After the race, it was straight into the hot tub and sauna where I sat next to Vitaliy Poborchiy and congratulated him. He was well chuffed, and I think he thought he had won it. I know I did, and I just wanted to know if I had got a medal or not (there was no final in this event, just a declared winner system based on fastest times).

Again we waited in eager anticipation for about 1.5 hours, and the results were posted on the board as follows:-

1st - Jason Shaw, Australia - 36.84
2nd - Simon Murie, Great Britain - 37.10
3rd - Vitaliy Poborchiy, Russia - 37.22
4th - Paul Hopfensperger, Great Britain - 38.74

I had missed out on a medal by one place! Click on the photo below for the full resuls of this race.


I just want to say what a fantastic 3 days! It really was superb and the friendship and camaraderie was something I will remember for a long time to come. There were many channel swimmers there, including King Kev, Cliff Golding, Nick Adams, Nancy Douglas, Nicola Millichip and Jim Boucher to name but a few. The amazing thing was the weather! It was a stunning 15 degrees centigrade for all three days, and I have come back with a sun burnt face, event though the water was 6 Degrees Centigrade! Climate Change in action! I sincerely hope to be in Finland next February to see how a similar event works at air temperature -35 Degrees C!

Sunday 3 February 2008

An invigorating 7.5 Degree Centigrade dip in the North Sea at windy Felixstowe

Above: The sea temperaure around the UK courtesy of Oceanweather Incorporated (

With only one week to go to the World Winter Swimming Championships 2008 at Tooting Bec, I thought I had better get in the cold water again to continue the aclimatisation process. The sea temperature at showed the sea near Felixstowe to be around 7.5 degrees centigrade today. So off we went to Felixstowe to do what I thought was going to be a good cold water swim. Wrong. When we got there I was greeted by this:-

Above: Felixstowe Pier, Sunday February 03, 2008 at about 12.30pm. No place for a good training swim!

Having read an article last week about 'The Ice Bear', Lewis Pugh on how he prepared mentally for his swim in the sea at The North Pole, by superheating his body using mind techniques, I got in the car in Bury St Edmunds wearing my skiing hat, gloves, scarf and big overcoat, turned the heaters on and sat there for 45 minutes while Beccy drove the car, and I attempted to superheat. I thought about the desert, swimming in the Mediterranean, all sorts, but on arrival at Felixstowe, I was hardly "superheated", just pleasantly warm. Exiting the car with swim hat on, ear plugs in and goggles on, I headed down to the beach, but was shocked at how windy it was, how rough the sea was, and how cold my face was with the bitter wind coming in off the North Sea.

Above: No messing about this week like I did at Aldeburgh two weeks ago. I just stripped off and walked straight in.

On the beach I was totally focussed on getting in. I stripped off and walked straight into the sea. It was bloody freezing and incredibly rough, but I just carried on in. A couple of waves took me under, and I ran out laughing to see a crowd gathering on the promenade pointing, and laughing. Beccy was fiddling wth the camera, and I turned round and went back in again.

Above: Unable to swim due to the sea being so rough, but a good bit of cold water aclimatisation for next week's World Winter Swimming Championships nonetheless.

I was pleased with my efforts, and although my feet were numb for about 45 minutes afterwards, and my injured finger was throbbing for the same period of time, it was a worthwhile trip to the coast, and we had a good lunch and glass of red wine afterwards!

Saturday 2 February 2008

£10,000 mark passed this week in attempt to raise £50,000 for two local charities

Above: I present a cheque for £10,000 to Michelle Gray from St. Nicholas' Hospice (left) and Karen Roberts from CLIC Sargent (right) at Culford School Sports Centre on Thursday January 24, 2008. Photo by Victoria Spofforth and copyright The Bury Free Press 2008. Copies available from ref. 8vs2401008.

Above: Article from the Bury Free Press, Friday February 01, 2008. (Click picture to download the article).

This week was a bit of a milestone on the fundraising efforts, as we passed the first £10,000 in sponsorship for the two charities I swum the channel for, and am attempting to swim it two-ways for. The original purpose of swimming the channel, was to try to raise a total of £50,000 for them. Hopefully, this donation is the first of what I hope will be a total of 5 £10,000 donations.

For further information on CLIC Sargent, the UK's largets Children's Cancer charity - CLICK HERE.

For further information on St. Nicholas' Hospice in Bury St Edmunds - CLICK HERE.

If you wish to sponsor me, simply click on either or both of the "JUSTGIVING" icons, further down this page, and donate securely online. Alternatively, please e-mail me at and I can let you know how else you can sponsor me.