The reason for this statement, is that I have personally witnessed the swimming leg of the last two Specsavers Ironman events in Port Elizabeth, and seen how dozens of swimmers entered the water at Hobie Beach, only to turn back after getting beyond the breakers/surf line.
You see, these are triathletes who have never swam in the sea in a competitive race. It is one thing to frolic in the waves, but quite different when racing in the deeper water – swimming in the sea in racing conditions is completely different to swimming at the Virgin Active gyms, or in a river, or in a dam.
I spoke to several triathletes sometime after they had aborted the swim and asked, "why?”
The general answer was that they had underestimated the conditions in the sea, and had never swam competitively in the sea. I asked why it was that they would spend thousands of rands on running and cycling equipment, along with thousands of hours training for Ironman, but would not invest the money for a weekend in Port Elizabeth to swim in our sea, and even take part in our Ocean Racing Series, so as to familiarise themselves with the local offshore conditions?
After all, even the great Reyhnard Tissink swam the Ocean Racing Series prior to winning his last SA Ironman in 2011.
What triathletes do not understand, is that if you have a problem and you are in the water, the problem is exasperated because you are starting to take in water. Tissink had an asthma problem in 2010, but this was on land while running. Water is a completely different thing, and probably the most dangerous of the three triathlon disciplines. You simply cannot underestimate the sea.
My strong suggestion to Ironman event organisers is to have qualifying sea swims to ensure that all athletes who compete in the East London leg of the Half Ironman, or the Port Elizabeth Ironman, do an official qualifying swim in the sea.