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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Racing Across The English Channel In The 1970s, 1980s

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

One of the Daily Mail races and the Billy Butlin Cross Channel International Swims are well-known historical races in the 1950s, there was another series of professional races held 40 years ago that were organized by the Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation together with the Channel Swimming Association.

The races were sponsored by His Royal Highness Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz who was a member of the International Olympic Committee.

According to International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame honoree Michael Read, the races took place August 14th 1975, August 18th 1976, August 21st 1977, August 28nd 1978 and August 24th 1979.*

During the first three years, the races were only open to Arabic swimmers, but the 1978 and 1979 races were opened up to include other swimmers. In 1979, there was a major international race with 18 swimmers representing 18 different countries with £1,000 in prize money for the winner. Some of world’s best marathon swimmers participated including John Kinsella of the USA (see photo above), Claudio Plit of Argentina (see photo on left), Michael Read of England and Des Renford of Australia.

One of the problems with the races was that there were money prizes, but the races had amateur swimmers competing with professionals which, at that time, was against the amateur rules of that era.

For the first three years, the event was called Arab Nations English Channel Race. In 1977, the results were as follows:

1. Nasser el Shazly (Egypt) 8 hours 45 minutes
2. Elsayed Elsadah (Saudi Arabia) 8 hours 52 minutes
3. Alawi Makki (Saudi Arabia) 8 hours 54 minutes
4. Ossama Rashad (Egypt) 10 hours 20 minutes

In 1978, Makki, an Honour Swimmer in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, turned the tables on his Arab rivals with a victory:

1. Alawi Makki (Saudi Arabia) 9 hours 54 minutes
2. Ibrahim Faidalla (Egypt) 10 hours 4 minutes
3. Marwan Saleh (Syria) 11 hours 15 minutes
4. Nazla Faidalla (Egypt) 12 hours 16 minutes

In 1979 and 1981, the English Channel races were organized by the Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation and the Channel Swimming Association. The 1979 results were as follows:

1. John Kinsella (USA) 9 hours 10 minutes
2. Claudio Plit (Argentina) 9 hours 45 minutes
3. Alawi Makki (Saudi Arabia) 9 hours 56 minutes
4. Cynthia Nicholas (Canada) 10 hours 10 minutes
5. Joke van Staveren (Holland) 10 hours 26 minutes

In 1981 results were as follows:
1. Claudio Plit (Argentina) 8 hours 58 minutes
2. Masry El Basam (Syria) 9 hours 10 minutes
3. Ian Muir (England) 9 hours 58 minutes
4. Cynthia Nicholas (Canada) 10 hours 11 minutes
5. Alawi Makki (Saudi Arabia) 10 hours 33 minutes

According to Sue Guesdon, Prince Faisal funded the Channel races as he was also supporting the International Long Distance Swimming Federation and the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli at the time which doubled as the world championships. Egypt’s General Zorkani of the International Long Distance Swimming Federation was in charge of the logistics and operations of the English Channel races together with Ray and Audrey Scott with the assistance of official Channel Swimming Association observers.

Although most of swimmers in the front apparently swam in close proximity to each other, the finishing locations were spread apart along the French coastline.

First-hand accounts provided by Claudio Plit, Sue Guesdon and Michael Read.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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