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The Best Open Water Swimmers of the 1960’s

Who are among the best open water swimmers in history? Who are considered legends, icons, heroes, heroines, historic figures in the sport? Everyone has their favorite swimmers.

Any list of the Best Open Water Swimmers of the Decade is, by necessity, subjective. But it is certainly fun to discuss and debate among open water swimming historians and fans. Below are our choices for the Best Open Water Swimmers of the 1960’s.

This selection of the Best Open Water Swimmers of the 1960’s is based on four criteria with the following priority:

1. Champions – or swimmers who won major international races against the best swimmers of their era
2. Pioneers – or swimmers who completed unprecedented extreme swims of any distance in any location
3. Record Holders – or swimmers who set records across channels, lakes, seas, either in competition or on a solo swim
4. Endurers – or swimmers who swam for distance in any open body of water at various temperatures

That is, if a Champion is compared to a Pioneer, with all other things being equal, the Champion was given more weight in this subjective list. Similarly, if a Pioneer is compared to a Record Holder, with all other things being equal, the Pioneer is given placed higher in this subjective list. If a Record Holder is compared to an Endurer, with all things being equal, the Record Holder iss considered slightly higher than the Endurer in this subjective list.

Of course, if this subjective criteria were ordered differently (e.g., if Record Holders or Endurers carried more weight than Champions or Pioneers), then the ordering would undoubtedly be different – and so would many of the listed swimmers. This is, some would rise in the list and others would fall or be replaced.

That being said, many swimmers on this list of the 1960’s proved themselves over their careers as a Champion, a Pioneer, a Record Holder, and an Endurer. Additionally, many swimmers competed in more than one decade. Because there are so many worthy candidates, each swimmer was honored in only one decade, that decade of their prime performances.

This list only includes solo and competitive swimmers. It includes swimmers – of both genders and of any age – who specialize in channel swimming, marathon swimming, extreme swimming, stage swimming, high-altitude swimming, ice swimming, and winter swimming in lakes, bays, rivers, oceans, seas, reservoirs, lochs, fjords, canals, and carved-out pool in frozen bodies of water. This list does not include pilots, coaches, authors, race directors, documentary filmmakers, seconds, crew members, or administrators. These individuals will be included in a follow-up series, The Best Open Water Swimming Personalities of the Decade, that will be subsequently published.

Best Open Water Swimmers of the 1960’s

1. Abdellatief Abou Heif, Egypt
2. Herman Willemse, Netherlands [photo on right shown above]
3. Judith de Nijs, Netherlands [photo on left shown above]
4. Horacio Iglesias, Argentina
5. Captain Nabil Elshazly, Egypt
6. Giulio Travaglio, Italy
7. Linda McGill MBE, Australia
8. Marty Sinn, USA
9. Commander Gerald Forsberg, OBE, Great Britain
10. Carlos Larriera, Argentina

Others include Ted Erikson, USA, Barrie Devenport, New Zealand, Brenda Sherratt, Great Britain, Imre Szénási, Hungary, Regent LaCoursiere, Canada, and Barry Watson, Great Britain

Abdellatief Abou Heif (shown above) is a dual inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1964 and in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1998. He is widely considered to be the best marathon swimmer of the 20th century, competing from 1948 to 1965 including winning the longest (86.5 km) pro race in Lake Michigan in 24 hours 42 minutes. He competed in 58 races where he won 45 titles in water temperatures between 12-28.8°C in France, Italy, USA, Canada, Argentina, Lebanon, England, Yugoslavia, Mexico and Holland. He won the 1951 Billy Butlin Cross Channel International Swim and was the 1965, 1966, and 1969 World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation champion.

Herman Willemse is a dual inductee in International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fameand He was the first champion of the World Professional Marathon Swimmers Federation in 1963. He won the 24 km Canadian National Exhibition race in 1961 and 1962, and won 36.2 km Atlantic City Around-the-Island Swim five times from 1960 to 1964. He won the 45 km Mar del Plata race in Argentina, the 42 km race in the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1964, the 88 km Maratón Internacional Hernandarias – Parana in Argentina.

Judith van Berkel-de Nijs is a dual inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1964 and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2014. She ranked No. 1 by the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation between 1964 and 1968 and on 1970. She crossed the English Channel in 1969 and won many professional marathon races over both men and women, including the 1964 49.8 km Lake Ontario swim in Canada, 1965 30.5 km Ohrid Lake race in Macedonia, the 1965 and 1967 32 km Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy, the 1965 40 km Alexandrium race in the Suez Canal in Egypt, the 1966 32 km Traversée Internationale du Lac St-Jean in Canada, the 1967 16 km Hamilton Marathon Swim in Canada, the 1968 24 Heures La Tuque in Canada, and the 1968 Canalswim Cape Rennes from France to Dover, England in 12 hours 15 minutes.

Horacio Bernardo Guillermo Iglesias was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968 and the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He was the 4-time World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation world champion and 2-time runner-up. He won the 24 Heures La Tuque relay swim six times with three different partners, including Egypt’s Abou Heif and Holland’s Judith DeNys. He won the Traversée internationale du Lac St-Jean 5 times, the 42.9 km America’s Marathon Swim in Rhode Island, the 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964 Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy, the 1964 Saint-Félicien Lac Race in Canada, the 35 km Ohrid Lake Swimming Marathon in Yugoslavia in 1962, and the 44 km Suez Canal International Race in Egypt.

Captain Nabil Elshazly was a 4-time world champion in the early 1960’s and is inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in its Class of 2020. He is acknowledged throughout the Middle East as the godfather of open water swimming. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, he traveled the world and raised two sons who were also successful professional marathon swimmers, Nasser Elshazly and Osama Elshazly.

Giulio Travaglio is inducted of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966. He won the 36 km Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy five times (1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970) and served as chairman until his passing. He was the 1966 champion of the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation, and won the Crossing of The Gulf of Salerno, the Double-Crossing of the Procida Channel, the Torre Annunziata open water swim, the Mare Morto from Baia Bacoli to Naples Crossing, the S. Martino Oxbow Swim in Naples, and the Traversata dello Stretto.

Linda McGill, MBE [shown above on left] was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968. After her Olympic career, she became the first Australian complete an English Channel crossing – that she two more times. Her third crossing set a women’s record that stood for eight years. She won the women’s division of the 36 km Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy and competed several unprecedented marathon swims during her career.

Mary Martha Sinn [shown above on right] was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1963. She finished second overall in the 24 km Canadian National Exposition in Lake Ontario in 1963. In the 1962 CNE race, she was first female and 5th overall. She was the first woman in the 36 km Around the Island Swim in Atlantic City in 1964. She swam a professional marathon swim in the Suez Canal in Egypt as well as several other professional races including a win in Three Rivers, winning the 1963 World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation title.

Commander Charles Gerald Forsberg OBE, RN was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965 and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1998. He wrote two seminal books on marathon swimming and served as the long-time President of the Channel Swimming Association between 1963 and 1997. He competed in 211 long distance swims, logging 2,021 km (in championship swims, all performed without a swim cap. He was one of three original selectors of the Marathon Swimming Foundation and Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

Carlos Larriera was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969. He planned and help organize the inaugural 57 km Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda while winning the first and second editions in 1961 and 1962, and finishing fourth in the 1963 edition and fifth in the 1965 edition. he finished second in the 32 km Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean in 1960 in Canada. He was second in 1964 40 km Alexandria Marathon in Egypt and fourth in the 1965 Maratón Hernandarias-Paraná in Argentina.

Ned Denison, chairperson of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, cautioned, “Most of these swimmers are honorees of the IMSHOF. Once inducted, the IMSHOF does not further ‘rank’ its inductees.”

© 2023 Daily News of Open Water Swimming

to educate, enthuse, and entertain all those who venture beyond the shoreline

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