We have heard the conversations before that the Honour Swimmers in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame are “not in the same class” as the Honor Swimmers in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

While the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF) honourees are marathon swimmers who are clearly slower (in general) than their International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) colleagues, the venue that individuals refer to is the pool.

There are exceptions, John Kinsella and Greta Andersen, but if you measured the swimming speed of the IMSHOF swimmers to the ISHOF swimmers in any distance in any stroke in a pool, the ISHOF swimmers would clearly come out ahead.

But if you compare IMSHOF swimmers against the ISHOF swimmers in any considerable distance in most open water venues, especially the colder, rougher and longer it is, the IMSHOF swimmers would most probably come out ahead. And, sometimes in rough or cold water conditions, the ISHOF swimmer may not even want to get in the water to start.

Of course, the ISHOF swimmers could accomplish what the IMSHOF swimmers have done, but it is their choice to stick to the pool. The ISHOF swimmers, by and large, do not want to swim across the English Channel, Cook Strait, Tsugaru Channel, Catalina Channel, Molokai Channel or any of the innumerable venues where the IMSHOF swimmers ply their trade. ISHOF swimmers are certainly faster in the 100m butterfly or 1500m freestyle, but ask them to compete in lac St-Jean or down the Paraná River, or across Loch Ness or in Lake Zürich, or in waters where there are Great White Sharks like in the Farallon Islands, Rottnest Channel or Cape Town, and the IMSHOF swimmers are much more likely to finish what the ISHOF swimmers will not start.

So viewed from the perspective of the chlorinated, temperature-controlled, lane line-strewn, indoor pool swimming environment, ISHOF swimmers are clearly better and faster and more accomplished than the IMSHOF swimmers. But viewed from the perspective of cold, rough, jellyfish-strewn waters where the unexpected is expected, IMSHOF swimmers have proven themselves to be the best swimmers in the non-chlorinated, non-rectangularly-shaped world.

From our perspective, “who is better” is a needless discussion and both types of swimmers cannot be compared to one another. The pool and open water swimming communities are different worlds and both are to be celebrated.

Bruce Wigo, President and CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, explains his organization, “The International Swimming Hall of Fame honors 5 aquatic disciplines, including athletes, coaches and contributors. The greatest names in the IMSHOF are also in the ISHOF, including Horatio Iglesias of Argentina, Cindy Nicholas and Cliff Lumsden of Canada, Greta Anderson of Denmark, Abdel Abou-heif of Egypt, Gerald Forsberg, Kevin Murphy, Michael Read, Alison Streeter, and Matthew Webb of Great Britain, Herman Willemese of the Netherlands, Pauly Boynton, Gus Sundstrom, Gertrude Ederle, Lynne Cox, Penny Dean, Paul Asmuth, John Kinsella of the USA. Even Doc Counsilman swam the English Channel. An honoree in the International Swimming Hall of Fame is an honoree, there are no second class honorees.

We have different standards and criteria for entry, which is not based on speed for if it were, we would have no synchronized swimmers or divers in the Hall of Fame. Like synchronized swimmers, divers and water polo players – open water swimming has its own criteria for induction, which is not based on speed in a pool, or Olympic medals won, but on international dominance or overall achievements in the discipline. Historically, I am also told that the size of the competition pool has been a consideration.

And just as there are many IMSHOF honorees who are not in the ISHOF, there are many great athletes in other Halls of fame who have set world records and even won World or Olympic titles who are not in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. It’s a very select group, a more select group, perhaps, but for that we make no apologies.”

Photo above shows Larisa Ilchenko of Russia winning the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association