Anthropology and technology combine in a Sarah Bakewell piece about the most recent Channel swimmer, Karen Throsby: “Man is a work in progress, constantly adding technology”. Purists pooh-pooh anyone who swims the Channel in a wetsuit.
Throsby's contribution was to remind us that even something as elementally "human" as marathon swimming involves many artificial techniques: gaining weight, acclimatising to the cold, monitoring one's psychology, and developing new micro-senses an awareness of tiny differences in water temperature, a heightened kinetic sense of the body's balance and position, and so on. It means self-transformation, and is filled with "uncountable, mundane bodily technologies". Channel swimmers use rubber caps, sunblock, Vaseline to prevent chafing, sleek swimsuits and energy-boosting snacks. They are accompanied by boats with GPS.
I can’t believe there are Channel-swimming purists. I mean, if they brought back Annette Kellerman, they’d still find a woman in a full-body suit.
Of course the technology that accompanies the body is only one aspect of Channel swimming. The technology inside the head is even more essential; a product of training, pacing, knowledge about risks and methods, contingency plans and logistics. I often use Channel crossing swimmers as an example of human potential, an incredible achievement for a primate body made possible by a human brain.