The Openwaterpedia Investigation: Why WOWSA Went Dark

Two months ago, the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) promised an investigation into the 2019 Openwaterpedia vandalism. They haven’t mentioned it since. Here’s why.

In February, I found conclusive evidence that WOWSA co-owner Steven Munatones vandalized Openwaterpedia, one of the organization’s sites, to make Diana Nyad’s best-swimmer-of-the-1970s fantasy appear legitimate. Shortly after I wrote about that evidence, the organization announced they’d look into it:

WOWSA takes these allegations seriously and has initiated an investigation to determine the veracity of these claims. To the extent any of these allegations are found to be true, appropriate action will be taken. (“An Update About Openwaterpedia,” 4 Mar 2023)

That was two months ago. WOWSA hasn’t posted a word about it since, nor have they taken any public action, appropriate or otherwise.

(NOTE: Minutes before I published this post, WOWSA uploaded, “Progress Through Change: WOWSA Restructuring.” Though it doesn’t directly address the Openwaterpedia investigation, I detect investigation-related activity between the lines.) 

If WOWSA has access to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of Openwaterpedia editors, which I’m almost certain they do, the organization likely finished its investigation soon after it began. IP addresses would have pinpointed the vandal’s computer and the likely person operating it.

The investigation could have come to only three possible Munatones-related conclusions:

  1. He had nothing to do with the vandalism.
  2. The results were inconclusive.
  3. He vandalized Openwaterpedia.

If it was one or two, WOWSA would have said so by now. So, the organization’s silence acknowledges that Steven Munatones vandalized Openwaterpedia. I’ll take a not-so-wild guess that WOWSA has spent most of the last two months figuring out what to do about that.

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Munatones didn’t just engage in vandalism. He also lied about that vandalism early and often. He began by at least April 16, 2019. That’s when swimmer Helen Beveridge emailed him after noticing damage to her Openwaterpedia entry. “Please can you tell me,” she asked, “why user Jolyn12 would want to make numerous malicious erroneous changes to the information on my Openwaterpedia page?”

“I do not know who Jolyn12 is,” Steven responded a few hours later, “and why they want to make changes. It is weird and I blocked this anonymous user. I do not understand when people like this want to hurt publicly available information that is on Openwaterpedia.”

In fact, he may be the only one who does understand.

Munatones waited until July to acknowledge the vandalism publicly. He did so in “Shameful, Simply And Sadly Shameful” (21 Jul 2019), a blog post that sounds as forced and insincere as his message to Beveridge. Munatones begins with a tribute to Openwaterpedia that takes up almost half the article. Further on, he repeats the lie he told in April: “We have no idea why someone would do this.”

Eventually, Steven made a show of mending a handful of pages, but even those few remained partly damaged. He let Ned Denison, director of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF), do most of the repair work. While Denison fixed hundreds of pages, Munatones created and edited entries for people only tangentially involved with the sport. For instance,

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As I’ve explained in other posts, the vandal had one goal: Make Diana Nyad appear to be one of the best marathon swimmers of the 1970s. (See a synopsis of the evidence here.)

It may seem illogical that, to benefit Nyad, Munatones would sabotage Openwaterpedia, a site he founded and then worked for years to maintain. But Munatones has never let irrationality interfere with a Nyad-related project. Remember that stack of documents he sent to the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF), hoping to magically goad the organization into inducting Nyad and/or ratifying her Cuba crossing without asking the organization to do either?

And remember how, after realizing that erstwhile ISHOF CEO Brent Rutemiller lacked telepathic powers, Steven changed a few words of Nyad’s Openwaterpedia entry to retroactively and illegitimately ratify her crossing himself?

Finally, remember how, a year after Nyad’s crossing, Munatones created an entry for the Florida Straits Open Water Swimming Association (FOWSA) — a non-existent organization that ostensibly governed swims in the Florida Straits — and later backdated the organization’s founding? FOWSA “was created in 2010,”  Munatones appended in 2018, “to propose the rules under which Diana Nyad attempted her crossings of the Florida Straits and to authenticate the rules as written [that no one has ever seen —Ed.] were followed.”

Steven told me in an email that “FOWSA WAS INVOLVED FROM DAY ONE” in all of Nyad’s crossings. In another message, he said, “WOWSA has been involved from Day 1.”

YOWSA! Nyad’s 2013 crossing must be the most sanctioned unsanctioned crossing in history.

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As WOWSA’s investigation slinks into its third month, a battle of the blogs continues. In one corner: Steven’s revenge site, “Open Water Swimming News & Views.” He uploaded the first post in February after WOWSA revoked his Openwaterpedia editing privileges.

In the other corner: WOWSA’s own blog, to which Steven used to be the primary and, for long stretches, sole contributor.

If you’ve followed Steven’s blogging career, you’ll know that WOWSA doesn’t stand a chance. When Steven wants to, he can assemble articles almost as fast as he can edit Openwaterpedia entries.

How does he write so quickly? Plagiarism, for one. Over half of his new blog’s April 21 post about the Canadian Open Water Trials comes mostly verbatim and entirely unattributed from Swimming World’s April 17 article, “Eric Brown, Emma Finlin Claim Canadian Open Water Titles.”

Similarly, much of Steven’s March 8 post about the Memphremagog Winter Swimming Festival arrives word-for-unattributed-word from Phil White’s “The Tribe Gathers and Grows in 2023.”

Speaking of plagiarism, see also the Openwaterpedia entries he created for Annette Bening, Jodie FosterJimmy Chin, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi — the stars and directors of the Nyad biopic. Munatones plagiarized their entries from IMDB and National Geographic.

Detail from the Nyad biopic IMDB page, edited for accuracy.

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I don’t know why Steven thought vandalizing Openwaterpedia was a good idea. I can only know that he is the culprit. WOWSA knows it, too. And so does the IMSHOF, of which Munatones is an inductee.

The organization has an ethics provision concerning fraud:

Fraud in an organized fashion to create false marathon records (example an organization altering observer logs or selling false marathon completion certificates) prevents a nominee from being selected and results in the removal of an honoree from the IMSHOF. (IMSHOF “Criteria” page)

Tampering with over 3000 Openwaterpedia entries “in an organized fashion” to make Diana Nyad look like one of the best swimmers of the 1970s — along with

      • falsely ratifying her Cuba-Florida crossing,
      • creating a fake organization to assist with that ratification,
      • not to mention claiming for himself a world record 2-way Tsugaru crossing that didn’t happen —

looks to me like it qualifies.

So far, though, Steven has faced as many consequences for his actions as Diana has for hers.

Which is to say, none. If history is any indication, we better keep an eye out for a new biopic called Munatones.

Top: Detail from Munatones’ “World Marathon Swimming Records In Asia” (2010, 2011) showing how Steven doctored the dates of his Tsugaru singles to make a double appear credible. In fact, he completed one on July 30 and the other on August 1
Bottom: Detail from Munatones’ bio on IMSHOF. Steven’s faux double is not a  “stage swim,” and he has never called it that. Nor has he ever said anything about negotiating for 41 hours “while still in his swimming suit.” The IMSHOF is using Steven’s bio to camouflage his lie.

Actual times and dates of Munatones’ two crossings (all in 1990):

7:40 pm, Sun, July 29 – 2:01 am, Mon, July 30 
7:02 pm, Tue, July 31 – 1:38 am, Wed, Aug 1

Sources for swim times
The Japan Times, 2 Aug 1990
Swimming World, Oct 1990

Sources for earlier versions of Munatones IMSHOF bios
Pre-2022: “In 1990, he completed the first double-crossing of the 19.5 km (12-mile) Tsugaru Channel.”
Circa 2022: “As the ‘turn-around’ exceeded the traditional 10-20 minutes this is best describes [sic] as a stage swim.”

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