Swimmers in Oman have been deprived of their favourite sport this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and perceived ‘risks’, though swimming in chlorinated water is said to be safe against contracting the virus. The lockdown has also caused a dramatic drop in the performance levels of some competitive swimmers who cannot attend regular training. “The only way for swimmers to maintain their ‘feel for the water’ is to be in the water everyday, something that’s not currently possible,” says Irina Samakar, senior coach at Nautilus Swimming Club.
Irina, who has the title of Master of Sports of the Republic of Belarus, is a talented, current coach of Nautilus, which has branches in Muscat and Sohar to train swimmers of all ages. Winner of many international swimming championships and member of the BLR National Swim Team, Irina feels that competitive swimmers in Oman would have to work harder to regain the form they had previously achieved. However, hobby swimmers, who are just waiting for pools to open during the harsh summer, can enjoy a big splash as soon as they do.
In an interview to Muscat Daily, Irina asserts, “As per the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in the pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. We are lucky, Nautilus branches in both, Muscat and Sohar, are outdoor, which reduces the risk of getting COVID.” Excepts:
How has the lockdown affected swimming classes?
Unfortunately, the lockdown has negatively affected swimming classes. We do not only offer recreational swimming but also competitive swimming programmes, being the only swim school with an Olympic coaching team on board. Our elite athletes were on a peak of their performance and were supposed to enter their main swim meets like FINA approved Dubai International Aquatic Championships, Tokyo 2020 Qualifier, and other meets where swimmers can improve their times and submit updated results to the US colleges they are applying. The whole training programme, which goes in cycles, has been broken. It will take 3-6 more months to reach a pre-lockdown performance level.
Swimming is a type of sport where you don’t have any solid support, so you create it by yourself by ‘catching’ water and moving forward. Obviously, you need to have certain physical skills for that, but there is something even more important for professional swimmers, and we call it ‘feel for the water’ or an athlete’s ‘hold’ on the water, which is the ability to gain traction on a fluid and translate it into forward movement.
The only one way to have this ‘hold’ is to swim and to be in water almost every day. You can be in shape doing other physical exercises outside of the pool but you can never replace swimming movements outside of the water. So, the lockdown has caused a dramatic drop in the performance of competitive swimmers, gained by training for many years, since they have missed swimming sessions in water. USA, European countries and some in the GCC have restarted competitive swimming and training sessions are on with some restrictions.
Would swimming not be a favoured sport for children, given the probability of greater exposure to the virus in pools?
As per research made by Polytechnic University of Turin on behalf of the Italian Olympic Committee, swimming is a very low COVID-19 risk activity. Infectious Diseases expert of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Amesh A Adalja has also confirmed that ‘the coronavirus doesn’t survive in chlorinated water.’
So, conversely, swimming has to be a favourite safe sport activity during and after this period. It’s safe to touch everything that is in the chlorinated water. Taking swimming classes, you develop physical skills and strengthen the immune system, staying healthy and safe. Studies show that any amount of swimming, compared to those who engaged in no swimming, was associated with 28% reduction in all-cause and 41% reduction in cardiovascular-disease-cause mortality.
It is also recommended for those with diabetes and at risk to develop diabetes, and we know that people with diabetes face a higher chance of getting serious complications from COVID-19 as per American Diabetes Association. Swimming helps to manage your diabetes, thus lower your risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. We do believe that people will change their approach and become more serious to health-related issues taking preventive measures.
What new changes will have to be done in training as per the current situation?
If we are talking about the recreational swimming or water safety, we just need to get them back to pool as soon as it is possible. We cannot offer them online classes since swimming is a water-based activity. If we are talking about our competitive swimmers, they have to continue land-based exercises, but they must come back to water-based activities as soon as possible. Some of the swimmers have swimming pools at home, may be not of the correct size, but still it is better than nothing.
If we are talking about the changes to implement while reopening due to current pandemic, we are lucky Nautilus branches in both, Muscat and Sohar, are outdoor, which reduces the risk of getting COVID. As per the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, “there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in the pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.” Moreover, it says that chlorine should inactivate the virus in the water.
We have been following recommendations on pool reopening in USA, European countries, Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain where the swimming pools have been reopened for competitive swimmers and we are ready to introduce changes to avoid the spread of COVID-19. First of all, we are going to limit the number of swimmers per line, cancel land-based trainings, close common areas such as changing rooms. Oman is not a cold country and swimmers can get their swim parkas on and change at home. There is always a distance between swimmers in competitive sports, we will make sure the distance is maintained.
How do you plan to deal with learners in different stages so that they get certified as per schedule?
Swimmers are detrained, definitely, but detraining is not something new for us. We’ll just start training from the stage where we stopped some time ago. Unfortunately, we can’t skip anything to achieve the target faster. Probably, it’s going to be even harder as many students were not able to keep in shape during the lockdown. Factors such as fitness level, training history, age, specificity of the previous trainings can influence the return to normal shape. It’s stressful for the body to suddenly stop doing any physical exercises, so it’s even more stressful to start doing it after such a long break. So, we need to restart it gradually, and do it wisely.
Have you been giving any online instruction or lessons to swimmers during the lock down?
We have to again differentiate recreational/water safety classes from competitive swimming. We are not able to offer water safety lessons online, that is obvious. When it comes to competitive swimmers/athletes we did provide different sets of physical exercises specially adapted for swimmers – we call it ‘dry swimming’ or ‘land training exercises’. Definitely, it helped to stay fit and more or less to keep muscle memory and muscle mass gained by specific training in the water. Yet, it can never replace full standard training in water. Besides, there are too many exercises swimmers do in water which they are not able to perform out of the pool. So, all those instructions we gave to students are also a kind of gesture of support and motivation not to stop and keep moving, despite anything.
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