Swimming: Maroney ready to defy sharks

With an improved shark cage and a better idea of what she faces, the 22-year-old Australian distance swimmer Susie Maroney said at the weekend she is ready to make a second try at swimming from Cuba to the United States.

Maroney, who was pulled from the water just a few miles short of the Florida Keys in June 1996, is waiting in Havana for a window of good weather big enough to make the planned 40-hour swim.

"I feel good. Mentally it's better as well, because I know what I'm in for," she said of her attempt to make the first unassisted swim over the distance, which may range from 101 to 125 miles.

Maroney's crew, who will accompany her in a boat towing her (28ft by 8ft shark cage, met yesterday to analyse satellite reports of wind and currents, to decide whether she will start her swim today.

So far, the windows of good weather have only lasted about 24 hours apiece. That would leave her in the same situation as last year, confronting winds and swells in the last hours of the effort, "when you're most tired," she said.

The enemies are wind, waves, seasickness and the battering Maroney takes from her cage, designed to protect her from sharks patrolling the Florida Straits.

"It was really bumpy last year. I had strain fractures in my wrists from hitting the waves and cage," Maroney said in a telephone interview from her Havana hotel room. "This year we've done some things to the cage to help block the wind, like putting a windshield up."

In the 1996 attempt, winds and seasickness forced Maroney to swim outside the cage for about 10 hours, something she says she probably won't do again. "So many people have said how risky it is," she said. "There are sharks out there."

Until the weather improves, Maroney is doing about an hour of swimming a day in the ocean at Havana's Marina Hemingway. That's the good life, compared to her usual training routine of six hours and 25 kilometres of swimming per day in her native Australia. The unassisted, uninterrupted swim means Maroney will not be able to grab her cage for support or get out of the water for the entire swim. The only rest she will get are brief pauses in the water.

"Every hour I stop and tread water. That's when I eat," she said. Compared to that, Maroney's next planned effort - the 30-mile Manhattan Island marathon in New York City - may seem like a dip in the local pond. Maroney has the record for the Manhattan Island race and longest distance covered in 24 hours - 58.5 miles.

She is the current record-holder of the double English Channel crossing for women, and holds the record for the single English Channel crossing for both men and women.

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