Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

There have been numerous periods of incredible open water swimming by Honour Swimmers of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

Elizabeth Fry’s unprecedented two-way crossings over a four-day period in Arizona at the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge immediately comes to mind. She accomplished a feat that may take a very, very long time to be replicated.

The 56-year-old crossed Saguaro Lake (26.6 km in 3 hours 54 minutes), Canyon Lake (28.2 km in 3 hours 56 minutes), Apache Lake (45.6 km in 15 hours 47 minutes), and Roosevelt Lake (18 km in 6 hours 18 minutes) – doing twice as much as all her other competitors.

The nine swimmers who have completed all 7 stages over an 8-day period in the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim in New York are also among the short list of swimmers who completed a slew of long swims over a short period: Grace van der Byl (31 hours 47 minutes), Rondi Davies (32 hours 36 minutes), Lori King (34 hours 15 minutes), Stephen Rouch (35 hours 38 minutes), Virgilio Graco Morlan (38 hours 20 minutes), Cheryl Reinke (38 hours 43 minutes), Flavio Toi (39 hours 0 minutes), Marta Izo (39 hours 3 minutes), Paige Christie (39 hours 7 minutes), Abigail Fairman (39 hours 10 minutes), Andrew Malinak (40 hours 21 minutes), Edward Riley (41 hours 43 minutes), Jamie Tout (42 hours 5 minutes), Steve Gruenwald (44 hours 39 minutes), and Harry Finger (45 hours 38 minutes).

Lynne Cox’s Around the World in 80 Days in 1985 saw her complete swims in Iceland, across the Strait of Messina in Italy, across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain, around Delos Island in Greece, across the Bosphorus in Turkey, across Lake Kuming in China, in the Five Lakes of Mount Fuji in Japan, in Glacier Bay in Alaska, and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

There have been many others who have done several swims over different periods that boggle the mind, but there was one particular stretch of swims done in 2008 by Petar Stoychev that really stands out,” recalled Steven Munatones.

The Olympic year of 2008 was particularly stressful and challenging for the 4-time Bulgarian star. He had to juggle his long marathon swims on the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix circuit with the fast and tactical races leading up to the Beijing Olympics.

The 31-year-old’s schedule started in February when he won the 57 Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda in Argentina finishing in 8 hours 20 minutes. Six days later, he won the 15 km Maratón Acuática Internacional Ciudad de Rosario finishing in 2 hours 9 minutes. A week later, he raced in the 15 km Maraton Patagones-Viedma International Open Water Swim where he completed the course in 2 hours 42 minutes.

He returned home and continued to train for the Olympic qualification race that was held concurrently with the 2008 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in May in Seville, Spain. He also competed in the 25 km race finishing in 5 hours 4 minutes two days after the 10 km race.

When he just missed qualifying for the Top 10 and did not earn an automatic Olympic spot, he had to modify his plans and head to Beijing to qualify in the second qualification race in June. On June 1st, he won the 2008 Olympic 10K Marathon Swim Qualification Race on the Olympic venue course on a wildly blustery day.

From Argentina to Bulgaria, then to Spain and back to Bulgaria, and then to China, he finally returned home and won the 19 km International Jarak-Šabac Marathon Swim in Serbia on July 15th in 2 hours 42 minutes. Then next week, he won the 30 km Ohrid Lake Swimming Marathon in Macedonia in 6 hours 14 minutes.

Then en route to Beijing, he stopped off in lac St-Jean in Quebec, Canada and competed in the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup on July 24th.
Two days later, he won the 32 km Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean in 7 hours 39 minutes defending his title once again. Not to be done in Canada, he won the 34 km Traversée Internationale du lac Memphrémagog on August 2nd in 7 hours 27 minutes and then finally headed to Beijing to compete in the pool events, racing in the 400m freestyle and 1500m freestyle events at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

He was finally ready for his best shot at a medal, but he finished sixth in the inaugural Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in Beijing on August 21st in 1 hour 52 minutes.

So from February to August, Stoychev raced three races in Argentina, two Olympic qualification 10 km races in Spain and China, four pro races in Serbia and Macedonia and Canada before racing in the 400m, 1500m and 10 km marathon swims in Beijing.

Just logistically to work out this international schedule is tough, but then Petar had to combine all this travel with his daily training and racing at the highest levels in all kinds of conditions and venues from 400m in the Olympic pool to 34 km in a windy lake,” observed Munatones. “It is a testament to Petar’s tenacity and talents that he was able to pull this off so successfully.”

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