Ice man Turner cometh at world championships

by James Hendicott

DUBLIN swimmer Conor Turner is making his mark on the fast-growing sport of ice swimming, with the DIT student grabbing a heady second place at the Ice Swimming Aqua Sphere World Championships in Burghausen, Germany, earlier this month.
The unlikely sport is rapidly becoming an Irish speciality, with Team Ireland the second best represented national side – behind the hosts – at the event along the Germany/ Austria border.
The former St Aidan’s CBS student’s finish in only his second competitive ice swimming race saw him immediately catapulted to a competitive level on the world stage.
“I come from a family of swimmers,” Turner told GazetteSport after the event. “My uncle was my coach for a long time. Swimming was always going to be my sport. I’ve been competing since I was about 14 or 15, when I went to some European Junior and World Cup events, but I’ve stepped away from the pool recently to focus more on open water and ice swimming.”
While Ireland has a substantial open water swimming scene, culminating in the iconic Liffey Swim every summer, ice swimming is a relatively new sport.
It is differentiated from the open water category by the requirement that the temperature be below five degrees Celsius. The Burghausen event was run over a distance of one kilometre, and required racers to compete without wetsuits.
Indeed, it is not without its risks. The Vice President of the International Winter Swimming Association, John Coningham-Rolls, recently described the event to the New York Times as “too risky for the average person”.
Knowledge of how to cope with the temperature dangers and recovery is as critical ability.
The risks, according to Turner, revolve around blood flow and core body temperature.
“A few people ended up in hospital from competing at the event,” he explains. “It’s dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. All your warm blood goes to your core, around your heart, and your extremities get very cold. You can’t just get out and get in the hot tub, as all your warm blood will go to your legs, and away from your core, and you can just pass out.”
The risk levels mean most training is not done in event conditions. With the cold water requiring shorter sessions and longer recovery times, he instead practises in pools, using a mix of speed and endurance sessions to prepare for both ice swimming and his regular open water races.
Despite his success, Turner isn’t totally happy with his Burghausen performance.
“I was hoping to be up around the time of the winner,” the Dubliner said of Bulgarian legend Petar Stoychev, who took the 1km title in 12 minutes and 15 seconds, 27 seconds ahead of Turner.
“There’s a lot of little stuff I could work on. My turns weren’t particularly good and I let him get away too much in the middle section.
“The Irish Championships are coming up in Belfast in a couple of weeks, and I’m hoping to get a better time,” he continues. “I was happy with second, but I could have gone a bit faster. On a good day I could match [Stoychev’s] pace.”
As for the popularity of the sport, plenty of competitors enter for the challenge, Turner explains. “It’s an achievement to finish one,” he says.
“The challenge is mental as much as physical. The hardest part is the recovery afterwards.
“In Germany, I used a tent and warm towels, changing the towels every couple of minutes until I was warm enough to get in the hot tub.”
Events over more than a kilometre in such conditions are getting rarer, with mile-long events slowly dropping off the calendar, but the long-term goals are lofty.
“There was a demonstration event at the Sochi Winter Olympics and I think there will be another one in South Korea,” Turner tells us. “It could be an Olympics sport by 2022.”
As a 22-year-old, Turner’s recent performances suggest he might be there.

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