• Every other Thursday, in its “Off-Pitch” section,

    20 Minutes

    explores new, unexpected, unusual, clever or booming spaces for expressing sport.

  • This week, we are focusing on the world championships in ice water swimming, which take place from Thursday to Sunday in Samoëns (Haute-Savoie).

  • A pool has been designed in the heart of Lac aux Dames (700 m above sea level), and displays a temperature below 4°C, this Thursday, to accommodate more than 500 swimmers from all over the world, and without wetsuits.

Since this Thursday morning, more than 500 swimmers have been competing in Samoëns (Haute-Savoie) for world championships, in classic practice, with ten lanes available in a pool.

Except that they only switch into swimsuits at the very last moment, before entering the water in five seconds, to start their race three seconds later.

And for good reason, this 25 m pool specially designed in the heart of Lac aux Dames (at an altitude of 700 m) displays a temperature... below 4°C!

For this Ice Water Swimming World Cup to be validated, the water must be less than 4.6°C, which will therefore be the case until Sunday for the 50, 100, 250 and 500 m, as well as "the queen race of 1 km.

About forty nations are represented for these first world championships disputed in France, with 22 Americans, Australians, Mongolians, Ukrainians, New Zealanders or a Chilean.

All of them are obviously preparing to compete without overalls, as if it were a municipal pool heated to 27°C.

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“Pain turns into well-being”

Who exactly are all these “frozen ones” passionately dedicated to ice swimming?

Hassan Baraka comes especially from Morocco to participate in this 5th edition of the Worlds in history.

At 35, he has already had several lives in high-level sport, between tests as a footballer at Real Madrid at 12, then a career as a rugby player between Spanish D1 and French Federal 2, until a serious injury to the shoulder in November 2009. Followed by Ironmans, impressive swimming crossings to reach five continents from 2013 to 2014, then seven marathons carried out in seven consecutive days on seven continents in 2016, i.e. 295 km in total in 168 hours, a first for a Moroccan athlete.

"I have always tried to push my limits," says this business coach from Tetouan.

From 2017, I quickly became addicted to ice swimming, to this feeling of cold.

In fact, the pain turns into well-being, and it makes me feel really alive.

Last May, this long-distance regular even embarked on an expedition to the North Pole, during which he took the opportunity to swim the 500m in 9 minutes, in water at -1°C.

He got his hand a little burned by passing it in stride… under water at 10°C.

“I got hot walking at -8°C in the snow”

Frequently finalist in the French championships in "classic" swimming (in 50 and 100 m freestyle), Ludivine Blanc (27) is also in the game in Haute-Savoie.

After having had a taste of lifesaving in the pool, with six medals at the French championships and a world record for the relay with a dummy, this mental and physical trainer was attracted by the prospect of these first World Championships in ice water swimming in France.

Even a head trauma after a bicycle accident in November did not deter her from experiencing her ice baptism in Megève in December, during the French championships.

And for her first races


, she offered herself two world records, in the 50m freestyle and in the 50m backstroke, while noting that her times are about 20% slower than those she achieves over the same distance. in a hot pool.

An obvious sign of the difficulty of the undertaking for the Montpellier woman, who had mainly prepared herself with cryotherapy and cold bath sessions at her physiotherapist, she who had never swum in water below 9°C.

We only have 3 seconds before leaving and fortunately, because it saved me from thinking.

At the end of 10 m, I felt that all my organs cooled down suddenly, and I felt like I was being stabbed everywhere.

Then my mouth tensed up after 35 m, and I swallowed water in spite of myself.

In fact, we often want to get out of the pool when we see the ladders near us, but we want to stay because we feel good.

On arrival, I checked if I was going up the ladder well by looking at my feet and my hands, because I no longer felt them at all.

And I remember being hot while walking in -8°C in the snow, it marked me.

Some swimmers fail to enter the water, others are forced out halfway through.

You immediately feel how extreme and dangerous it is,

and that our body normally has nothing to do there.


Sport in demonstration at the 2026 Winter Olympics?

So, tempted?

Ludivine Blanc still went beyond her plans by then completing a 100m in Megève.

But what pleasure did she seek in this improbable discipline?

“My goal was to take part in something out of the ordinary, to surpass myself and to share that with the other participants,” she lists.

Because here, there is clearly no question of rivalry, obsession with the clock and 100% individual sport as Ludivine Blanc experiences every year at the French swimming championships.

The solidarity between swimmers, faced with this extraordinary event, is a major asset of this discipline launched by the South African Ram Barkai, founder of the International ice swimming association (IISA) in 2009.

In France, this sport still unknown to the general public has been attached since 2019 to the French Swimming Federation.

It could arrive at full speed on our screens, according to Catherine Plewinski, five-time European swimming champion from 1989 to 1993 and organizer of this World Cup: "There is a real enthusiasm for this discipline and the IIAS is struggling to that swimming in icy water be part of the demonstration sports from the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo”.

"Much harder than an Ironman"

It will then be necessary to be able to ensure that ice swimming presents no health risk.

General practitioner in Rouen and French pioneer of swimming in icy water from a 1,000 m in a Russian lake in 2015, Alexandre Fuzeau (56) is well placed to comment on the subject.

"In liquid ice, you can find yourself in hypothermia in just five minutes," he says.

The physical impact is such that the discipline cannot be improvised.

I've seen top triathletes fail to complete their 1,000m in icy water.

You should know that it is much harder to achieve than an Ironman.

This is why Alexandre Fuzeau advises training by swimming three times a week, for about ten minutes, in water at 10°C, "before descending gradually". 

In their quest for the ideal spot, some athletes, like Lyonnais David Briand, bathe all year round in rivers, swimming against the current.

If in 2015, “we went forcing it” (dixit Alexandre Fuzeau), the precautions have clearly evolved over the past eight years.

“This sport will not be able to last if there is breakage, summarizes the one who quickly inherited the nickname of “Ice Doc”.

Precise criteria have been set for getting a swimmer out of the water as soon as you feel that he is no longer advancing very straight or that he is losing a lot of speed.

It is absolutely necessary to complete a 1,000 m in 22 minutes maximum, which is our own marathon distance.


The body drops to 34°C

Each athlete comes to the competition with a "chaperone", who knows them well and who follows them closely before, during and after the events.

In addition, four rescuers, two emergency physicians, a federal doctor and two nurses are present for four days in Samoëns to ensure high surveillance of this World Cup.

Five doctors were also there on Wednesday to ensure that each participant had an electrocardiogram (ECG) with no contraindications for less than three months, before carrying out a final check-up the day before races, with blood pressure and temperature.

“At the last French championships, swimmers were so stressed that they had 20 of tension before entering the water, says Catherine Plewinski.

They had to wait for a drop in voltage before they could participate.

Everyone is well aware of the risks involved.

Finally, the main risks appear after the race, when the body, most often down to 34°C, must warm up urgently.

“There is a mystical side to hypothermia”

“There is an


phenomenon  : you think you are better soon, even if you remain groggy, then the temperature will drop again, confides Alexandre Fuzeau.

In fact, the heat focuses on the brain and the heart, and the extremities of the feet and hands lose their sensitivity.

Generally, there may be sequelae of sensitivity in these places for several months.

By completing his second ice mile (1.609 km in 33 minutes), the ultimate distance authorized by the IISA (even if it is not offered in competition), in February 2022 in Poland, Hassan Baraka made a big name for himself fright.

My body may be accustomed to immersion in icy water, but the doctor present saw me coming back from afar.

Once past 1,200 m, I suffered a sudden and critical drop in temperature, which took my body to 32°C.

I was falling asleep.

When you're hypothermic, you don't feel like you're leaving, there's a mystical side to it.


Our off-road file

This is why the participants of these Worlds will rush this week into the three saunas, four spas and two heated domes installed less than 50 meters from this very special pool of Samoëns, and this as soon as their event is over.

After his "extreme challenge", Hassan Baraka says he only recovered all the sensations in three of his fingers two months after this ice mile in water at 3°C.

While having feared much worse that day.

"Even if I was a daredevil for a very long time, I now have a 5-year-old child, so I will adapt my distances and give up the ice mile", continues the 30-year-old Moroccan.

Assagi Hassan, but rest assured, he will still take part in seven events in four days in Samoëns, from 50 m to 1 km.


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  • off-road

  • Swimming

  • Sport

  • Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

  • Ice

  • Extreme sport