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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Marathon Swimming Is A Global Phenomena

In the Marathon Swimmers Forum, Evan Morrison of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association analyzed the opinions and survey results of 175 former, current or aspiring marathon swimmers from around the world. His expert analyses and presentation of the data are posted here.

It was very interesting snapshot of the community that is estimated to include at least 710 channel swimmers and 6,500 marathon swimmers.

Morrison reported that of the 175 respondents, 71% live in North America, 19% live in the United Kingdom or Ireland, 5% live in Australia or New Zealand, and the remaining 5% live elsewhere. "...[in] the Triple Crown [of Open Water Swimming] list, as of 2012, 76% are from North America, 10% from the UK+Ireland, 4% from Australia+NZ, 4% from continental Europe, and the rest from elsewhere...the survey sample has a lot of North Americans – but then, so does the global marathon swimming community generally."

We thought about that statement: the global marathon swimming community has a lot of North Americans. We do not disagree. But then we wondered, "Because this survey was conducted in the English language, what about the reach into the non-native- English-speaking marathon swimming world? Could it be that the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming list is slightly skewed because two of the three swims are in America?"

This question quickly led to another question, "How big is the non-North American, non-native-English-speaking world of marathon swimming?" We know that the open water swimming world skews largely non-American and non-native-English-speaking, so it might be logical that the marathon swimming world is also largely non-American and non-native-English-speaking. But we wanted to look at the available data. We came up with the following information:

We looked at 4 representative channel swims: the English Channel, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Cook Strait, and the Catalina Channel. We used Julian Critchlow's definitive English Channel database, the Asociacion de cruce a nado del Estrecho de Gibraltar (Gibraltar Strait Swimming Association) website, Cook Strait website, Openwaterpedia, and the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation website to collect and analyze the data.

The English Channel from 1875 to 2012 saw 1,758 successful crossings by swimmers from 78 countries. The Strait of Gibraltar from 1928 to 2012 saw 373 successful crossings by swimmers from 39 countries. The Catalina Channel from 1927 to 2012 saw 292 successful crossings by swimmers from 22 countries. The Cook Strait from 1962 to 2012 saw 83 successful crossings from swimmers from 9 countries.

Like its shorter relative open water swimming, it is clear that marathon swimming is an international discipline enjoyed by many.

Across the Catalina Channel, just off the coast of Southern California, the Americans dominated the waterway. The Americans completed 79.7% of the 292 successful crossings in history. Successful crossings by North Americans (USA + Canada + Mexico) in the Catalina Channel comprised of a whopping 84.2% of the total. [Note: Each individual crossing was included in this total. So, for example, John York's 6 crossings were counted 6 times in this total. Therefore, the percentage of individuals is different.]:

USA - 233 crossings
Mexico - 7 crossings
Australia - 6 crossings
UK - 5 crossings
Canada - 6 crossings
Spain - 5 crossings
England - 4 crossings
Iran - 4 crossings
India - 3 crossings
Cuba - 3 crossings
Ireland - 3 crossings
Egypt - 2 crossings
South Africa - 2 crossings
France - 1 crossings
Greece - 1 crossings
New Zealand - 1 crossings
Brazil - 1 crossings
Italy - 1 crossings
Czech Republic - 1 crossings
Guatamala - 1 crossings
Sweden - 1 crossings
Hungary - 1 crossings

So viewed from the perspective of the Catalina Channel, the marathon swimming community is overwhelmingly North American. But that most probably has to do with the proximity of Catalina Island near the Southern California coastline. If we look at the channel swimmers of the Cook Strait in New Zealand, the skew towards local swimmers is natural and obvious:

In the Cook Strait, the Kiwis of New Zealand dominated the waterway. The locals completed 71% of the total number of 83 successful crossings in history. Successful crossings by swimmers from New Zealand and Australia in the Cook Strait comprised of a whopping 79.5% of the total. [Note: Each individual crossing was included in this total. So, for example, Philip Rush's 5 crossings were counted 5 times in this total. Therefore, the percentage of individuals is different.]:

New Zealand - 59 crossings
Australia - 7 crossings
USA - 6 crossings
India - 4 crossings
England - 2 crossings
Ireland - 2 crossings
Egypt - 1 crossing
Spain - 1 crossing
China - 1 crossing

So if North Americans dominate the Catalina Channel and swimmers from Down Under dominate the Cook Strait, what about the 2 channels that are the most popular in the world: the Strait of Gibraltar and the English Channel? In these waterways, the sport of channel swimming is much more international in scope.

Across the Strait of Gibraltar, the Spanish dominated the waterway, but the distribution of representatives from around the world was much greater. The Spanish completed only 21.9% of the total number of 373 successful one-way non-wetsuit crossings in history with the next two largest contingents (Americans and Indians) coming from different continents.

Spanish - 82 crossings
USA - 55 crossings
India - 48 crossings
UK - 38 crossings
South Africa - 22 crossings
Germany - 14 crossings
Ireland - 10 crossings
Portugal - 9 crossings
Mexico - 9 crossings
Italy - 6 crossings
Greece - 6 crossings
Czech Republic - 5 crossings
France - 4 crossings
Gibraltar - 4 crossings
Peru - 3 crossings
Poland - 3 crossings
Slovakia - 2 crossings
Australia - 2 crossings
Iran - 2 crossings
Canada - 2 crossings
Argentina - 2 crossings
Switzerland - 2 crossings
Croatia - 2 crossings
Venezuela - 2 crossings
Sweden - 1 crossings
Taiwan - 1 crossings
Cuba - 1 crossings
Finland - 1 crossings
Serbia - 1 crossings
Japan - 1 crossings
Malaysia - 1 crossings
Netherlands - 1 crossings
New Zealand - 1 crossings
Norway - 1 crossings
Uruguay - 1 crossings
Chile - 1 crossings
Austria - 1 crossings
Brazil - 1 crossings
Guatemala - 1 crossings

But for perhaps the most representative view of the marathon swimming world one may look at the English Channel, the acknowledged shrine of the channel swimming world. Here, it appears, the world comes to challenge themselves in the ultimate marathon swim.

Across the English Channel from 1875 to 2012, swimmers from 78 countries have succeeded to swim between England and France a total of 1,758 times. Swimmers from the Commonwealth of Nations comprise of slightly over half of the total at 50.3% while the North Americans comprise of nearly one-fourth (24.4%). [Note: Each individual crossing was included in this total. So, for example, Alison Streeter's 43 crossings were counted 43 times in this total. Therefore, the percentage of individuals is different. It is interesting to note that the 110 collective crossings of Streeter, Kevin Murphy (34) and Michael Read (33) are greater than the cumulative totals of every nation on Earth with the exception of England and the USA]:

UK - 563 crossings
USA - 353 crossings
Ireland - 59 crossings
Canada - 46 crossings
Egypt - 46 crossings
India - 43 crossings
South Africa - 35 crossings
Scotland - 31 crossings
Mexico - 30 crossings
Unknown or unlisted - 29 crossings
New Zealand - 26 crossings
Netherlands - 25 crossings
Brazil - 24 crossings
Japan - 24 crossings
Jersey - 24 crossings
Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia - 23 crossings
Australia - 20 crossings
France - 20 crossings
Germany - 20 crossings
Argentina - 15 crossings
Belgium - 15 crossings
Spain - 13 crossings
Wales - 12 crossings
Greece - 9 crossings
Turkey - 9 crossings
Saudi Arabia - 8 crossings
Denmark - 8 crossings
Switzerland - 7 crossings
Pakistan - 7 crossings
Italy - 7 crossings
Syria - 6 crossings
Northern Ireland - 6 crossings
Sweden - 6 crossings
Guatemala - 5 crossings
Russia - 4 crossings
Zimbabwe - 4 crossings
Norway - 4 crossings
Hungary - 4 crossings
Lebanon - 4 crossings
Yugoslavia - 3 crossings
Bulgaria - 3 crossings
Slovakia - 3 crossings
Guernsey - 3 crossings
Poland - 3 crossings
Portugal - 3 crossings
Channel Islands - 2 crossings
Malaysia - 2 crossings
Macedonia - 2 crossings
China - 2 crossings
Croatia - 2 crossings
Venezuela - 2 crossings
Republic of Cyprus - 2 crossings
Peru - 2 crossings
Ecuador - 1 crossings
Namibia - 1 crossings
Korea - 1 crossings
Northern Cyprus - 1 crossings
Israel - 1 crossings
Iran - 1 crossings
Malta - 1 crossings
Iraq - 1 crossings
Chile - 1 crossings
Finland - 1 crossings
Tunisia - 1 crossings
Iceland - 1 crossings
Ukraine - 1 crossings
Slovenia - 1 crossings
Austria - 1 crossings
Gibraltar - 1 crossings
Bangladesh - 1 crossings
Serbia - 1 crossings
Singapore - 1 crossings
Zambia - 1 crossings
Uruguay - 1 crossings
Barbados - 1 crossings
Rhodesia - 1 crossings
Botswana - 1 crossings

In terms of marathon swimming competitions according to a list of marathon swims in Openwaterpedia, the American swimming scene appears to be extraordinarily active.

Of the listed 162 marathon swimming competitions, 62 events (38%) are held in America with 14 in Australia, 10 in Greece and Ireland, 9 in India, 8 in Argentina, 5 in Canada and England, 4 in Fiji, 3 in Scotland, Brazil and Spain, 2 in Germany, Croatia, China, Japan and the Netherlands, and 1 each in Italy, Macedonia, Switzerland, Russia, Peru, Sweden, Serbia, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Mexico, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Indonesia. But this list in admittedly incomplete and is only a small percentage of the swims listed in Open Water Source's global race calendar. It is missing at least a few dozen marathon swims in the non-English-speaking world and another few dozen in the English-speaking world.

So does the marathon swimming world comprise of a good number of North Americans as Morrison stated in his survey?

Clearly it does. The Americans, Mexicans and Canadians travel frequently and represent themselves and their countries well in solo marathon swims and competitions around the world.

But so do a whole lotta of other swimmers. Marathon swimming, like the entire spectrum of open water swimming, is truly a global sport...and getting bigger by the day.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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