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Swimmer Nyad to meet skeptics of her record Cuba to U.S. feat

U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, who completed her swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida, yesterday, speaks at a news conference on
U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, who completed her swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida, yesterday, speaks at a news conference on

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad plans to meet a group of fellow endurance swimmers to answer skeptics about her record-breaking crossing of the Florida Straits last week.

Some long-distance swimmers have taken to social media and blogs to discuss how Nyad, 64, was able to dramatically accelerate her pace during one stretch of the 110 mile swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida. They asked whether or not she received help by holding onto one of five support vessels that accompanied her.

Nyad's team said in a statement on Monday that she planned to meet Tuesday on "with her peers in the swimming community ... to answer all their questions directly."

The statement said, "Diana is proud of what she and her team accomplished last week, and she is committed to complete transparency."

Nyad completed the 53-hour swim without a shark cage.

Some skeptics have questioned her use of a customized body suit and face mask to protect her from potentially deadly box jellyfish stings, in contravention of the so-called English Channel rules for swimmers who attempt the crossing between France and Britain.

Australian Chloe McCardel followed English Channel rules in her attempt to swim the Florida Straits in June but was forced to give up after 11 hours after being stung by jellyfish.

Defenders of Nyad point out that while the body suit and face mask protected her from jellyfish it actually hindered her swimming, weighing her down and restricting her arm and leg movement. The face mask also caused greater water resistance and led to her swallowing sea water, causing repeated vomiting.

Nyad's team say she used the body suit and face mask as little as possible because it slowed her down. After the swim, Nyad told reporters that she benefited from a favorable current in the Gulf Stream during the second half of the crossing, allowing her to more than double her pace.

Most of the social media chatter stops short of accusing her of cheating, and rather seeks full disclosure of swim data to prove how she achieved the feat, her fifth attempt at the crossing.

"In reading through Diana's crew's live-blog, trying to suss out how this incredible swim happened, I was struck by how little information there actually was," wrote California-based long distance swimmer Evan Morrison on the online Marathon Swimmers Forum.

"These details matter because Ms. Nyad is claiming - and the media reporting without fact-checking - a new world record for longest-distance nonstop, unassisted ocean swim," he said.

Morrison, 33, a statistician and corporate data analyst, said he was one of a dozen established marathon swimmers from around the world invited to participate in a panel discussion via Skype on Tuesday evening with Nyad and her team.

"I anticipate it will be an extremely interesting and valuable discussion for everyone," he said. "It will shed a lot of light where there's been none so far."

The record was previously held by Australian Penny Palfrey, who attempted the crossing from Cuba without a shark cage in June 2012, aged 49, and covered 80 miles before she was forced to give up after 41 hours in the water due to adverse currents.

(Editing by Grant McCool)

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