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Fourth-Place Medal

Why do swimmers spit water all the time?

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

(Getty Images)

The question has been flooding our inbox and comments sections since the swimming competition began on Saturday. "Why do swimmers spit all the time?"

They don't do it like baseball players; they dip their heads into the pool, open their mouths, collect water and force it through their lips. What's the deal with that?

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It's like the old joke about the dog: They do it because they can.

There's no reason behind spitting out pool water; it's just something some swimmers do. A habit, if you will. When you spend 30 hours a week in a 50x35-meter rectangle of water, suddenly, dipping your chin into the water and swishing around some chlorinated water is a viable entertainment option. They swish it because they're bored and spit it because there's nothing else to do with it. You can't swallow.

Some swimmers, like Amy Van Dyken, used to collect water into their mouths and spit it back into the pool before a race as some part of gross psych-out method. Some swimmers may like to get the pool water all over their bodies before they swim, inside the mouth included. But mostly it's just a habit, like twirling your hair (Troy Polamalu) or picking your shorts (Rafael Nadal) or biting your fingernails (LeBron James).

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Is that answer not fancy enough for you? OK, here's a made-up version that has a better explanation: When swimmers compete at the highest level, the lactic acid that burns throughout their bodies creates an imbalance of blood, saliva and other necessary fluids. Olympic pools are fortified with more than chlorine and muriatic acid in order to make up for this deficiency. Operating as a sort of oral mouthwash, the vitamin-enriched pool water is swished around by swimmers and absorbed into their bloodstream through a membrane in the cheek. It is then expectorated in a spraying fashion in order to disperse the broken down chemicals into the water. The additives are made by the same company that distributes Flintstone vitamins. Thus, the pool at London's Aquatic Centre tastes like a red Wilma.

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