Credit: Serena Repice Lentini

ISL: Swimming reimagined

By Claire Thomson

The revolutionary International Swimming League, which features nine Scottish-based athletes, is currently in its second season. 

Revolutionising the sport of swimming, the International Swimming League (ISL) dived in for its second season in mid-October. Being hosted in the Duna Arena, Budapest, this “new format” of competitive swimming features 10 teams from across North America, Europe, and Asia, with world-class athletes racing against each other in matches across a six-week period. 

The tournament consists of 10 league matches, with the top eight teams moving forward to the semi-finals, with the top four in the semis advancing to the final. Each match is held over two days, with two hours of competition each day involving four teams racing at a time and swimmers competing over 39 events (32 individual, five relays and two skins events). Each club can have a maximum of 36 athletes on the roster, 18 male and 18 female, however only 28 are permitted to compete at each match, 12 men and women can swim individual races, while two men and two women can be used as ‘relay only’ swimmers. Two representatives from every team compete in each race. Points are distributed after each race with nine points for first, seven for second place, and this goes right the way down to eighth place, who receives one point. The sole exception to this scoring system is relay races which are worth double points. The points of the teams’ swimmers are then added together and go towards the total points tally of their respective clubs. A match is won by the team that has scored the most points in all of the 39 events. An MVP (Most Valuable Player) award is given to the swimmer who has accumulated the most points for their team at the end of every match, as well as at the end of the entire ISL season.

Adding to the excitement, the ISL features both a male and a female skins race, an event that is not present in any other major competition. A skins race is a series of back-to-back 50-metre races, which operate on a knock-out basis, e.g. in the first race four out of the eight swimmers are eliminated, in the second round two swimmers are eliminated, eventually leaving only two swimmers left for a head-to-head race. In the final, skins rounds are held every three minutes, with the winning teams of the medley relays for men and women deciding the skins race stroke. Points are awarded at the end of each race.

As the first international swimming competition since the Covid-19 pandemic, the competitors have formed, what has been termed, the “Budapest bubble”, which consists to around 750 swimmers, coaches, and support staff from over 40 countries. The competitors are the only guests in three hotels, all situated on Margaret Island, with all participants getting single rooms. The teams have exclusive access to the Duna Arena and Dagály Thermal Baths and Swimming Pool for the duration of the tournament. Masks are required everywhere with the exception of the pool and gym, and the hotels offer dedicated rooms for team briefings and leisure time. Whilst swimmers are not restricted to the bubble, they are limited to 90 minutes outside of the bubble at a time but must remain on Margaret Island and cannot head to any enclosed public spaces or entertainment venues. Upon each re-entry into the bubble, swimmers must complete a health questionnaire and temperature screening with Covid-19 tests being performed every five days. 

Season two sees 36 British athletes, including nine Scottish-based swimmers, compete for seven out of the 10 ISL teams, including London Roar, the only UK-based team, captained by eight-time world champion and two-time world record holder, Adam Peaty and his coach, Mel Marshall, taking on the lead coaching role. World, Olympic, and European medallist Duncan Scott, backstroke-specialist and Commonwealth Games finalist Kathleen Dawson, 2018 Commonwealth Games 400-metre individual medley gold-medallist Aimee Willmott and freestyle sprinter and Commonwealth Games athlete Scott McLay, all of whom are based out of Stirling University, make up the Scottish contingent for London Roar. Two Edinburgh University-based swimmers, in Kathryn Greenslade and Tain Bruce, the latter who hails originally from Fife, are making their ISL debut for the Italian-based team, Aqua Centurions. Fellow Fifer and Florida-based swimmer, Mark Szaranek, who won a silver medal in the 400-metre individual medley and bronze in the 4×200-metre freestyle relay at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, joins the American team, Cali Condors, for his second season, whilst 2014 Commonwealth Games 200-metre breaststroke gold medallist and Stirling University-based swimmer, Ross Murdoch, represents Hungarian team Iron. Finally, another Edinburgh University-based athlete, Lucy Hope makes her ISL debut for 2019 ISL Champion, Energy Standard. 

The final of the 2020 ISL is scheduled to take place on 21 and 22 November, with live coverage on BBC Red Button and Eurosport Player.


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