Ironman New York City’s Record-Breaking Swim Times

Luke Bell’s 39:08 swim has been declared the “fastest-ever” swim at an Ironman event – but should it have an asterisk?

With a staggering swim split of 39 minutes and eight seconds for 2.4 miles, Luke Bell was first to exit the water at the inaugural Ironman U.S. Championship. Three minutes faster than the previous Ironman swim record (42:17, set by Jan Sibbersen in Frankfurt), Bell’s swim has been declared the “fastest-ever” swim at an Ironman event – but should it have an asterisk?

A strong current in the Hudson River allowed professional and age group athletes to set new personal best times during the point-to-point downriver swim. However, the current is considered to be overly advantageous to athletes, similar to a bike or run course that is entirely downhill. The average swim time for the U.S. Championships, according to Raymond Britt of, was 51 minutes, far faster than other Ironman swim times. Ironman Australia, for example, is considered a “fast” swim, with average swim times of 1 hour and 4 minutes. Ironman Louisville, held in the Ohio River, averages 1 hour and 25 minute swim splits.

Dede Griesbauer’s 40:29 split at New York is also faster than the world-best women’s time, set by Amanda Stevens in Frankfurt (45:05). Some feel Sibbersen’s and Stevens’ records should stand as an official record, since the Frankfurt race is held in a lake, has two loops, and does not have the advantage of a strong current like the one found in the New York City race.

PHOTOS: 2012 Ironman U.S. Championship

According to Jessica Weidensall, Director of Media and Public Relations for Ironman, the current will not factor in to the record books.

“Given the differences in all of the race courses, we rarely use the word ‘record’ internally or externally.” Says Weidensall, “The times at Saturday’s race are the fastest-ever Ironman swim times.”

The lure of a speedy swim time has made the race an appealing prospect for athletes, particularly those who consider the swim their weakest discipline.  However, there are no guarantees the 2013 race will offer the same fast currents. The Hudson River, which is a tidal body of water, can be affected by many variables, including wind speed and rain. On the Ironman U.S. Championship website, the swim expectation for 2012 was vastly different from the fast-moving reality of the day:

The prediction is a slight current against the athletes’ favor to begin, then quickly turning to a slack current with no push in either direction. The current is estimated to begin moving in the athletes’ favor downstream around 7:45 AM.

Registration for the 2013 Ironman U.S. Championship opened on Sunday, Aug. 12, but was suspended a day later to address multiple concerns from the inaugural race. Race entries for 2012 sold out in a record 11 minutes.

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