Nabil Elshazly was an Egyptian professional marathon swimmer and coach. 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 successful professional marathon swimmers: Nasser and Osama.
Nabil won the 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964 world championships that were held at the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy, the 1964 Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, the 1964 San Felecian Lac Race in Quebec, the 35 km Ohrid Lake Swimming Marathon in Yugoslavia in 1962, and the 44 km Suez Canal International Race in Egypt.
He finished second in the 1965 Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, the 1964 24 Heures La Tuque with Abdul Latif Abou Heif, and the 10-mile Trio Rier Swim in Canada. He finished third in the Lake Ontario 10-miler, the 57 km Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda in 1966, the 10 km Sante Fe Lake Swim in 1966, and the 88 km Maratón Internacional Hernandarias – Parana in Argentina in 1966.
Later, he served as Egypt’s national swimming coach for 25 years and passed on his love of the open water to hundreds of amateur and professional swimmers including Mohamed Marouf during his record-setting International Self-Transcendence Marathon-Schwimmen as well as to 20 English Channel swimmers.
We asked him about his prolific career in the water and on escort boats:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Looking back at your career, what were your most satisfactory victories? Why?
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was your most difficult marathon swim? Why?
Nabil Elshazly: It was the 32 km Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean in 1964 when I won against Herman Willemse who was the reigning champion for 5 years. Also, the crossing of Lake Ontario in 1965 when I got third in a very difficult weather.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you have any swims in which you did not finish? Why?
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You swam with and against some of history’s greatest marathon swimmers. You were Abdul Latif Abou Heif‘s teammate at the 24 Heures La Tuque race in 1964. How did you decide what to swim in that relay? Did you swim one loop and then Abou Heif swam another loop? Or did you swim for 1 hour and then Abou Heif swim for one hour? What was the most difficult part of that relay? You two came second…could you have won? How?
Nabil Elshazly: We each swam one hour in the beginning and then we changed two hours each. It was the first time for that marathon and no one knew what was the best way to swim it. The most difficult time was between 1 am and 5 am. We decided that we could win if we used another technique: each of us swimming one loop at a time.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Who were the greatest marathon swimmers who you competed against? Why were they so good?
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You live in Egypt, but you were successful in many cold water swims. How did you train for these cold water swims when you lived in a warm-weather country?
Nabil Elshazly: The weather in my city of Alexandria, Egypt during the winter was very cold, as cold as the weather in Canada and the USA during summer.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Egyptians were quite dominant on the marathon swimming circuit for many years. Mohamed Elzanaty was the most recent great Egyptian swimmer. How can Egypt regain its competitiveness in marathon swimming?
Nabil Elshazly: When we will have a swimming federation that cares about open water swimming. Can you imagine that no one in the current Federation who has done open water swimming before? They do not care about open water at all and have no experience on how to create a new generation of open water swimmers.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You won Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli four times and your son won the race twice. Were you happier and more proud about your victories or his victories? Were you on his escort boat during his victories?
Nabil Elshazly: I was more happier with my son’s victory. Everyone likes his son to be better than him, especially because I was his trainer and his coach. I also escorted him for many years all over the world. I always say Nasser Elshazly is the second best swimmer after Abouheif in the history of open water for Egypt. He had a long history of over 100 marathon swims.*
I jumped into the water after his third victory in Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli, one amateur and two overall.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Marathon swimming is now in the Olympics. Do you wonder how you might have done if marathon swimming were included in the 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics?
Nabil Elshazly: I would have a gold medal now and I think Egypt would have won many medals.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is the best change in marathon swimming over the last 50 years? What is the worst change in your opinion?
Nabil Elshazly: The best change is that marathon swimming is now inside FINA and in the Olympic Games. The worse change is the reduced number of marathon swims over 25 km with FINA.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Nabil Elshazly: I would to say that I am very happy to be part of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. I would like to add that maybe I am the only world champion who was the trainer for his national team for many years. Also I serve as a professional diving instructor and an instructor in lifesaving.
His son Nasser Elshazly was the Egyptian national champion for 17 consecutive years, starting in 1976 when he was a 15-year-old, the same year that he completed a crossing of the English Channel in 9 hours 45 minutes. A year later, at the age of 16, he set a record in the English Channel with a 8 hour 45 minute crossing and his professional marathon swimming career took off. By 1986, Egyptian president Mohamed Hosney Mubarak had honored him with the highest national Award of Excellency in Sport.
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