(Edited 11 Aug to add water temperature data.)
I got info and observer notes from the Issyk Kul Swim Challenge that happened on the 6th. The Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation now boasts six official crossers of the historical route, the one based on the Kyrgyz myth of Toru-Aigyr (Тору-Айгыр).
The swimmers above, Denis Kochenkov, Chingiz Alkanov, Almaz Koychiev, and Nazim Turdumambetov, each swam from the southern shore of Issyk Kul near the village of Kara Talaa to the northern shore village of Toru-Aygyr. Times varied:
In the list above, the order of names is: Koychiev, Alkanov, Kochenkov and Turdumambetov. Times are not too bad, but Peace Corps volunteer Sarah D’Antoni still holds the record for the crossing with a time of 4:43.38.
These swimmers were mentored all along by Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation co-founder and federation medical officer (and certified observer) Olesya Pakseleva. The Challenge began with 10 interested swimmers. Initially, they all wanted to swim in wetsuits, but Olesya talked them out of that, citing the universally accepted rules of marathon swimming. (Olesya knows the rules backwards and forwards!)
On the day prior to the swim, as all 10 swimmers and their support crews assembled at Hotel Aliya in Balykchy, Olesya took this picture of the lake.
That picture, combined with the weather forecast for the next day and the water temperature, scared off six of the swimmers. Four stalwartly individuals stuck to their guns and committed to meeting Bakyt and his boat at the hotel pier the next morning at 0400.
Then is when the trouble began! Bakyt overslept! Olesya had to find his home address and go wake him up. He and his boat didn’t arrive at the pier until 0700. The swimmers were very nervous, but Olesya calmed them down, assuring them they’d be ok. At 0715, they set sail for the southern shore of Issyk Kul and the village of Kara Talaa. At 0915, all swimmers started.
The swimmers were each accompanied by a kayaker, with Bakyt’s boat being the base of operations. Unfortunately, no one had a GPS, and the lake still has spotty coverage so no one was able to use their phone for tracking either. Olesya ensured that the swimmers started at the same location Sarah and I did last year, as well as finished at the same spot.
The swimmers averaged between 45 and 55 strokes per minute during their crossings. Their feedings were about every 30-45 minutes. Some of them listened to the wise advice of Olesya and put diaper rash ointment in certain areas of their bodies, some didn’t…and are suffering now. (Lesson learned!) Water temperature was 22C near the shore and 18C in the middle of the lake. All four who started finished. None of them touched the boat or kayak, none got support from another person in the water, all entered the water dry and exited the water dry under their own power.
One swimmer, however, did wear one of those full body suits that aren’t technically considered wetsuits. In other words, for a triathlon whose water temperature is too warm for wetsuits, this body suit would be legal. (Chingiz is the president of the Kyrgyz Triathlon Federation.) Sadly for Chingiz, that suit is not legal for marathon swimming. He still swam across Issyk Kul and will have his name listed in the records of the Federation, but his time will not count as far as any lists of the “X-number of fastest crossings” or anything like that. Olesya tried to talk him out of wearing the illegal suit, but he wore it anyway. Perhaps next year he’ll try it again, only then wearing a proper marathon swimming-approved suit!
Additionally, two days after these four men swam across the lake, I received a link to a news story about yet another person who swam across the lake over this same route, the day prior to these four swimmers.
Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund Board Member Erkin Asrandiyev swam across Issyk-Kul lake. The idea to cross Issyk-Kul came to him last year when he saw in the TV news that Peace Corps volunteer Sarah D’Antoni and U.S. Embassy officer Mike Tyson swam the lake following the route of the legendary horse Toru-Aigyr.
I’m trying to get in contact with Mr. Asrandiyev to find out if he had anyone observe his swim. Frankly, there is only one person not certified by the Federation who could have observed his swim and the Federation accept the results, and that person is Akhmed Anarbayev, the first person to ever swim across lake Issyk Kul. Mr. Asrandiyev never contacted the Federation, didn’t contact Olesya or any other person associated with the Federation. For now, his results will be absent from the list of successful crossings.
Dear reader(s) remember that one of my goals for swimming across that wonderful lake was to get the locals interested in using their natural resources for swimming events such as these. I was happy when I heard about their Lake Issyk Kul Challenge and will remain happy as long as I hear more wonderful stories like this. Next year they will repeat the Challenge, and hopefully have more and more swimmers, including, perhaps, an American who is missing the magic of the world’s second largest alpine lake.