Until FINA’s involvement about thirty years ago, our sport did not have a set of globally accepted World Championship and multi-event Series Championships. Before the 1990s there were competing Associations/Federations and individual events, some being promoted as World and International Championships and/or offering substantial prize money/media attention.
The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF), in documenting the achievements of swimmers of all eras, wishes to establish a uniform method of categorization. IMSHOF take a lead from Golf and Tennis – which coin the term “Majors” and add our own flavor.
Wrigley Ocean Marathon Race: (Catalina Channel, California, USA) 1927
Canadian National Exhibition: (Lake Ontario, Toronto, Canada) 1927-1934, 1935 and 1936 were < 10k, 1937, no marathon races 1938-1946 (WW2), 1947-1953, 1954 relay only, 1955, no races 1956-1960 and 1961-1963
English Channel Race: Daily Mail 1950-1951 [no 1952 and 1953 only UK] Butlins 1954-1959 and International (sponsored by His Royal Highness, Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz) 1978-1979
Capri to Naples: (Italy) 1953 -1990
Around Atlantic City: (New Jersey, USA) 1954 – 1964
Lac St. Jean: (Quebec, Canada) 1958 -1964
World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation: 1963-1990
BLDSA Windermere International Championship: 1966 -1982 (every 4 years)
International Marathon Swimming Federation World Ranking: 1991 (only)
Marathon Swimming World Series Championship: 1992/93, 1994/95, 1995/96 and 1996/97
FINA Long Distance Swimming World Cup: 1986 (2 different races held that year) every 2 years to 1996
FINA Marathon Swimming World Series: 1993/94 and 1997 - 2006
FINA 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup: 2007 - 2017
FINA Grand Prix Series: 2007 - 2017
FINA World Open Water Swimming Championship: 2000 - 2010 every 2 years
FINA UltraMarathon Swim Series: 2018, 2019 (2020 not held due to COVID) and 2021 (then discontinued).
FINA World Championship: 1991, 1994, 1998, 2001 and every 2 years until 2019, (2020 and 2021 not held due to COVID), 2022, 2023 and every 2 years. 25km event discontinued from 2022 forward.
Olympics: 2008 >
FINA Marathon Swim World Series Cup: 2018 (2020 not held due to COVID) >
It takes a team to produce a Major winning swimmer. IMSHOF will name only the swimmers, but IMSHOF also remember their families, friends and team of administrators, coaches, trainers, nutritionists, therapists, etc.
A Major could only be won in one or more races – that is to say, multiple swimmers in the water at the same time. This rules out incredible solo swimming accomplishments like Captain Matthew Webb as the first to swim the English Channel or Gertrude Ederle breaking the male/female speed record for the same. These accomplishments are recognized in many other places in the IMSHOF records.
All Majors needed to have an international field of swimmers (ideally the top swimmers of the day). Due to the cost/difficulty of international travel this did not really happen in the early days of the sport – hence no Majors are named before 1927. In many cases an event started with a solo or several local swimmers – before becoming international. These starting “solo” years were not considered as Majors.
Ideally the individual race (or points-based series) was advertised as a World or International Championship and the winners were announced, promoted, reported as such. In several cases, the event was not listed as a World or International Championship – but in hindsight, it filled that role.
IMSHOF only lists as a Majors those races of 10 km or greater.
Only in the 1958 English Channel Race (where the organizer announced winners) as the only exception – a swimmer needed to finish the swim to be listed.
No junior or team events are considered. This rules out two-person relays in Le Tuque and recent FINA relay and team championships. These can be noted separately.
Many early events featured a mix of male and female swimmers and awarded the winner based only on the finishing place. IMSHOF lists male and female winners and notes when the overall winner was female.
Some swimmers kept their amateur status for many reasons. This was particularly prevalent in Great Britain where marathon swimmers had exceptional strong ties to local clubs and the IMSHOF Honor Organization the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA) controlled all the key domestic swims. To protect the status of amateur swimmers, the BLDSA generally barred professional elite racers from their events. The distinction between amateur and professional mostly vanished by the 1990s. Where IMSHOF can determine earlier amateur winners – they will be listed. It is recognized that the early decades of the sport focused on professional swimmers.
There are mistakes/contradictions/gaps in the old records. As an example, an old International Long Distance Swimming Federation handbook shows Diana Nyad (1973 and 1974) and Tina Bischoff (1977 and 1978) as female race winners in Capri to Naples. The actual results show only 1974 for Diana. Tina who raced as a professional was beaten by another professional women in 1977. In 1978 no women finished the race. IMSHOF have always deferred to records closest to the actual race results – as opposed to annual yearbooks or press reports.
There are probably gaps in the listing of some amateur and female Major winners – which will be addressed as they are identified.
There is a larger document with discussion of the detailed logic used and notes of any historically inaccurate records. This notes the winners of Majors who are not presently Honorees of IMSHOF only for the purposes of future checking. It can be provided on request.
Suggested Usage in the Future
The sport history is filled with reference to “World Champions” in print media and more recently on the web. Many swimmers have appropriately and proudly listed World Champion as part of their resume for decades. It would not be possible to “correct/edit” all these old references – however IMSHOF would ensure that the IMSHOF.ORG website biographies do not include an abbreviated “World Champion” description or different marathon World Championship descriptions. During the creation of this document – several old (incorrect) references have already been deleted on the IMSHOF.ORG website.
It is suggested to use this document to list Majors using this template:
Name (X Majors): 1927 Wrigley Ocean Marathon Race; years Canadian National Exhibition; years English Channel Race; years Capri to Naples; years Around Atlantic City; years Lac St. Jean;
years World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation; years BLDSA Windermere International Championship; 1991 International Marathon Swimming Federation World Ranking; years/years Marathon Swimming World Series Championship; years FINA Long Distance Swimming World Cup; years FINA Marathon Swimming World Series; years FINA 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup; years FINA Grand Prix Series; years distance km FINA World Open Water Swimming Championship; years distance km FINA World Championship; years Olympics; years FINA Marathon Swim World Series Cup; years FINA UltraMarathon Swim Series
[additional information can be added]
Amateur: must be referenced where professionals and amateurs swam together, and the results were combined. Male/female does not need to be noted.