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into the Australian way of life : DATELINE SYDNEY

Swim in This Pool, Win a Brine Medal

September 27, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

At a faded pool far from the Olympic aquatics center, a few good Aussies watched last week's swimming competition and laughed.

Ian Thorpe? Let's see him swim that fast with jellyfish dangling from his lane lines.

Grant Hackett? Anybody can swim 1,500 meters in water that doesn't behave as if in a blender.

Welcome to where the toughest swimmers in the world's most avid swimming country get their kicks.

It's the Bondi Icebergs Swim Club, founded in 1929, the oldest such organization in Australia, not to mention the craziest.

To belong, one must participate in three swim meets a month during the Australian winter and spring of May through December.

The meets are held every Sunday at a regular 50-meter facility on a beach near downtown Sydney.

Still sound good? Then consider this:

The pool is filled not with chlorinated water but with the ocean saltwater that crashes continually over one side.

During the winter, one swims in water that is often below 60 degrees, and often spinning and lurching.

"We live on an island, and you never know when it will sink," member Steve Doyle said. "We figure this is good practice for when it does."

Speaking of practice, this is not a place where you want to actually practice.

Swimmers have been bitten by sea creatures while doing flip turns.

Two weeks ago, a swimmer even died of a heart attack in the cold.

Yet on any winter Sunday, there will be 300-400 swimmers in the meets, which involve swimming 50 meters in any manner you can.

If you can.

Longtime members still shudder about that day in 1952 when the seas were so large and rough, during the middle of one heat, all eight swimmers were washed completely out of the pool and into a nearby empty concrete sauna.

"We'll never know who won that race," lamented club historian Ray Fuller. "The darn sea washed away all three judges too."

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