Sunday, January 3, 2010

Open Water Swimming By Presidential Decree

The world's foremost marathon swimming historian, Captain Tim Johnson, provided interesting historical background on the emergence of open water swimming on the national level in America.

In August 1925, then-American President Calvin Coolidge sponsored the national open water swimming championship in the Potomac River over a 3-mile course. It was an annual event, called the President’s Cup, hosted by the Washington Canoe Club..

According to Captain Johnson's research, the governing body AAU designated the event from Chain Bridge to Georgetown as a national championship event where up to ten swimmers could compete from each club, but only the first three finishers scored points. Because each swimmer was escorted by a canoe [note: forerunner to today's carbon-neutral option, the Washington Canoe Club was an excellent host. The winning team kept the President's Cup for a year, returning to defend the title, in the years before the Great Depression.

But the history of national open water swimming championships in the United States goes back much further than 1925 according to Captain Johnson. "They were constantly racing and calling them championships or All-American something beginning in the 1880's (described in detail in the History of Open-Water Marathon Swimming). The New York Athletic Club hosted events either in the Harlem River starting in the 1880's or at Travers Island from floating docks."

Captain Johnson continued with his authoritative grasp of open water swimming history, "I'm sure the New York Athletic Club has the last trophy called the President's Cup in their display cabinets. There were also local races that weren't as publicized in Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston [starting] from the 1880's which is included in my book."

"But there was not much consistency from year to year which happened in the 19th and early part of the 20th century. The start of the NSA in 1883 in Philadelphia was interesting because the AAU was functioning at that time. The "informal half mile 1885" claimed the record for the 1/2 mile that fueled sanctioning organizations. I was surprised to see 9-time Olympic medalist Charlie Daniels listed in an open-water contest, but that is what Travers Island [competitions] were in the beginning. They swam between floats in Long Island Sound."

Upon research of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) records, we found a slew of interesting national records accepted in 1902 for the following events:

110 Yards Straightaway Across Tidal Salt Water (1:17 by Charles Ruberl)
440 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 3 Turns (6:18 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
550 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 4 Turns (8:21 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
650 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 5 Turns (10:04 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
770 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 6 Turns (11:51 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
990 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 8 Turns (15:45 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
1100 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 9 Turns (17:32 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
1210 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 10 Turns (19:19 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
1430 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 12 Turns (22:58 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
1540 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 13 Turns (24:49 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
1650 Yards Across Tidal Salt Water 14 Turns (26:34 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)
1 Mile Across Tidal Salt Water 15 Turns (28:14 by E. Carroll Schaeffer)

E. Carroll Schaeffer, known as 'Midget', was the first great American college swimmer who took his talents to the open water where he set numerous records. And, like other talented swimmers of that era, he did not limit his athletic exploits to merely swimming. He held the American record for swimming underwater (232 ft. 11 in), was a diving champion, an accomplished cyclist, boxer and water polo player.

Copyright © 2009 by Steven Munatones

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