Free Solo Confidential: How The Openwaterpedia Vandal Gave Himself Away

Steven Munatones’ overreaction to an email leads to proof of his culpability for the 2019 Openwaterpedia sabotage.

I became, in the 1970s, the best ocean swimmer in the world. I held all the major records on planet Earth, out in the open sea.
—Diana Nyad, Wilshire Ebell, 7 Oct 2019

Diana Nyad arguably held a record in one major 1970s ocean swim — the Capri–Naples race — but she never completed any others, much less held records in them. In 1976, she attempted the major ocean swim on the planet, the English Channel, three times and failed three times. She never came close to being the best swimmer of the decade.

However, between February and April of 2019, someone vandalized Openwaterpedia — the self-styled “Wikipedia for the open water swimming world” — to make it look like she was.

The culprit used an ingeniously simple ploy, replacing every “7” with a “6” on the entries of the legitimately great swimmers of the 1970s. This effectively moved their 70s swims into the 60s.

The culprit made two other replacements as a diversion: “3” for “4”; and the Cyrillic “s” for the Latin “s” in every occurrence of “openwaterswimming,” thereby breaking every link.

Those changes and the alterations to over 3000 other Openwaterpedia entries provided a smokescreen that obscured the saboteur’s goal: Make Diana Nyad’s best-of-the-70s lie appear true.

Until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t be sure who went to so much trouble for Diana, though it seemed like it could be only one person: Steven Munatones. He had performed other shady tasks for Nyad before, some of which dovetail with the Openwaterpedia vandalism. The packet of documents he sent to the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF), presumably to prompt them to both ratify Nyad’s Cuba–Florida crossing and to nominate her for induction, was timed to arrive just after the vandal subtracted a decade from most of the greatest swims of the 1970s. Later, when it became apparent the ISHOF scheme had failed, he used Openwaterpedia to falsely ratify Nyad’s Cuba endeavor.

But I didn’t have absolute proof that Munatones — International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame inductee, World Open Water Swimming Associaton co-owner, and Diana Nyad’s most steadfast defender in the marathon swimming community — was responsible.

I do now.

Please Keep This Confidential

The story begins on December 5, when Munatones published a new Openwaterpedia entry he called “Free Solo (confidential),” a curious title since anyone with an internet connection could see it.

Above: Detail from “Free Solo (confidential)” from before Steven blanked the page.

“Free Solo” describes an 8-hour, 50-minute Catalina crossing Steven says he completed on September 7. In the post, he takes a page or two from the Diana Nyad playbook, focusing on the dangers — sharks, jellyfish, lancetfish, hypothermia, flotsam, jetsam, orcas (in the Catalina Channel!?), etc. — while remaining vague about what he actually accomplished. Did he complete a sub-9-hour crossing while towing all his gear, receiving no outside assistance, and swimming three extra miles? Or did he do something else entirely?

On the morning of December 9, I wrote Steven and asked why he hadn’t mentioned his Catalina free solo anywhere but Openwaterpedia.

He never wrote back. But at 7:30 pm, he blanked “Free Solo” and then added a link to my Openwaterpedia entry:

He must have had misgivings because he removed the link a few minutes later.

Then, sometime on or before December 30, Steven had an idea. He added a new link on “Free Solo,” this time to a page called “W”:

He then linked the “W” page to a new entry, “Wh,” which linked to “Why,” and so on until 55 clicks later, we would reach our final destination,

which linked back to my Openwaterpedia entry.

Unfortunately, an Openwaterpedia administrator deleted “W” and its 55 brethren. But their footprints remain in the logs, so we can still track Steven’s activities.

Above: Detail from Openwaterpedia log showing some of Steven’s December 30 handiwork. Scroll down to see all the “Whydoes . . .”-related data.
A Free Solo By Any Other Name

Two hours after finishing his “Whydoesdan . . .” project, Steven published “For Skolnick”:

As of this writing, “For Skolnick” remains on Openwaterpedia. It’s identical to “Free Solo ” but for a few key differences:

  • A new swimmer: “Steven Munatones” becomes “Mike Chavez.”
  • Other names disappear: Steven purges all other personal names, including those of his family and crew. What’s more, Steven’s escort boat, the Mas Pesos, becomes “the boat.” The name deletion suggests Steven had second thoughts about involving family and friends in his latest subterfuge. Or that one or more of those he named in “Free Solo” had their own misgivings and asked to be removed.
  • Support boat photo vanishes: Steven leaves off an image that had the caption, “Captain Charlie Loust and Coach Chris Morgan aboard the Mas Pesos.”
  • “Free solo” disappears from the introduction: Steven removes both instances of the term from the introductory paragraph.

Everything else, including pictures and videos bearing Steven’s real name, remains the same. In other words, the change from “Steven Munatones” to “Michael Chavez” makes as much sense as calling the initial post “confidential.”

A month later, after deleting all the “Whydoes . . .” pages, the Openwaterpedia administrator blocks Steven’s account for “Inserting nonsense/gibberish into pages.”

What The Gibberish Tells Us

When I first saw “Whydoesdan . . . ,” et al., I was touched that Steven devoted so much time to me. So, imagine my disappointment when I learned that creating those 56 pages took Steven only 10 minutes.

Above: Detail showing the beginning and end of Steven’s 56-entry flurry of page creations.

After a few days of sulking, I had two realizations. First, only one other user edited Openwaterpedia that quickly: the vandal. Second, comparing the timing of the culprit’s edits to those of Steven’s during the vandalism could tell me whether or not Steven was the vandal. If he were the vandal, then I’d find little or no overlap in the times of their contributions. Significant overlap, on the other hand, would prove Steven couldn’t be the perpetrator.

I started by creating a spreadsheet combining the vandal’s edits with Steven’s. Then I sorted it by time. And there it was in peach (Steven) and green (the vandal): distinct periods when Steven edits, alternating with distinct periods when the vandal edits, and minimal overlap.

In other words, Steven sabotaged his own website.

For example, look at March 3–4, the period during which the vandal hit most of the main targets:

Notice also:

  • The short, interleaved segments often exhibit alphabetical continuity.
  • The data frequently shows substantial breaks between each long period of edits. Steven/the vandal needs to rest.

The same pattern — minimal overlap, chunks of Steven’s edits alternating with chunks of vandal edits — occurs from April 20 to 25, the vandal’s most active period:

In the above sheet, all 2800-plus vandalized pages were diversionary with one exception: Accomplished 1970s swimmer Alawi Mohammed Makki Al-Ibrahim of Saudi Arabia (longswimsDB, OWP). Steven must have overlooked him during the March 3–4 vandalism.

More Proof: The Belhedi Edits

From March 27–29, Steven’s user log shows him making 191 contributions. The vandal, this time as MarcyMacD, made only one: a minor edit to Nejib Belhedi’s entry. This follows directly on Steven’s six Belhedi-related changes:

In other words, the vandal and Steven made consecutive contributions to the same page, further demonstrating that the vandal and Steven are one.

Still Skeptical?  Can I Have Your Address?

This evidence won’t satisfy everyone. Steven and his supporters can claim that he and the vandal just happened to edit at different times. But comparing Steven’s IP address to the vandal’s would seal the deal.

IP (Internet Protocol) addresses identify computers and other hardware on a network. They can also determine the location of the hardware. If the vandal’s IP address and location match Steven’s, we’d have another layer of proof.

But only an Openwaterpedia user with administrative privileges can dig into IP addresses, so I’ll have to leave that to others.

Where’s WOWSA and the IMSHOF?

On February 22, I sent an outline of these findings to the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA), which owns Openwaterpedia, and to the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF). So, they have known since at least then that Steven’s responsible for hijacking Openwaterpedia for Diana Nyad’s benefit.

Neither organization has yet commented about Steven’s deception publicly.

The IMSHOF could act. It has a code of ethics, one section of which addresses fraud. “Fraud” can mean many things, so the IMSHOF provides guidance on what sort would result in the ejection of an honoree:

Fraud in an organized fashion to create false marathon records (example an organization altering observer logs or selling false marathon completion certificates).

Steven’s alteration of over 3000 Openwaterpedia entries to benefit Diana Nyad fits the criteria. You don’t get much more organized than that. Unfortunately, given the IMSHOF’s inaction regarding inductee Diana Nyad’s brazen, years-long attempt to trample marathon swimming history and erase other marathon swimmers — female ones in particular — I won’t hold my breath.

Nor do I expect much from WOWSA. On February 22, the WOWSA board reinstated Steven’s Openwaterpedia account and editing privileges. He has lain low since, having only made five contributions as of this writing. However, he’s back in a position to continue helping Diana Nyad obliterate the accomplishments of other swimmers.


One big question remains: Why?

Steven Munatones founded Openwaterpedia in 2011 and has since been its main and, at times, sole contributor. He’s made thousands upon thousands of contributions. The site obviously means a lot to him. Why, then, would he do so much damage to Openwaterpedia and its reputation, not to mention his own, to help one of the most prolific liars in the history of sports?

Did he do it out of the kindness of his heart? I suspect not.

I presume there’s a lot we don’t know about what drove Steven to hijack his own website to artificially enhance Nyad’s credentials. We may never find out. For now, though, knowing he sabotaged his site for the sake of Ms. Nyad, one of the top 50 marathon swimmers of the 1970s, will have to be enough.

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