When The Machine Dominated, A Look At The Pro Circuit In 1977

Courtesy of President Gilles Potvin, Vice President Claudio Plit, and Secretary Dennis Matuch, World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation.

John Kinsella, whose nickname was The Machine, dominated the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation in the late 1970’s.

In 1977, Kinsella finished the professional marathon swimming season on top – as expected – with his Indiana University teammate Bill Heiss in second, according to WPMSF Bulletin #34 issued in November 1977 by Secretary Dennis Matuch.

On the women’s side, Loreen Passfield, a 19-year-old Toronto native, finally stepped out of the long shadows of her childhood rival Cynthia Nicholas during the 1977 season. Nicholas, one year her senior, finished the 1976 season as the number 1 ranked female on the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation with Passfield as number 2.

It seems I can’t get out of Cindy’s shadow. We’ve been competing since were were 9 or 10 and it always seems I’ve been a step slower. It’s frustrating, I guess,” said Passfield. “Last year, I worked hard; harder than I’d ever worked. I was completely dedicated to becoming the world champion and I put swimming above everything else.”

All that hard work paid off during the 1977 season.

Men’s Rankings:
1. John Kinsella (USA) 1,375 points
2. Bill Heiss (USA) 1,033 points
3. Claudio Plit (Argentina) 932 points
4. Jon Erikson (USA) 604 points
5. Magdy Mandour (Egypt) 563 points
6. Raul Villagomez (Mexico) 556 points
7. Amin Yousseff (Egypt) 550 points
8. Marwan Saleh (Syria) 477 points
9. Ray Dixon (England) 433 points
10. Dennis Matuch (USA) 426 points
11. James Barry (USA) 391 points
12. Nasser El Shazly (Egypt) 331 points
13. Magdy Farid (Egypt) 225 points
14. Ibrahim Feidalla (Egypt) 205 points
15. Baher Hamid (Egypt) 192 points
16. Martin Neiman (USA) 184 points
17. Guy Montpetit (Canada) 158 points
18. Ossama Rachad (Egypt) 150 points
19. Wayne Westman (USA) 133 points
20. Sultan Kigab (Sudan) 131 points
21. Mohamad Gamie (Egypt) 120 points

Women’s Rankings:
1. Loreen Passfield (Canada) 1,375 points
2. Cynthia Nicholas (Canada) 1,054 points
3. Kim Lumsdon (Canada) 545 points
4. Corrie Dixon (Holland) 483 points
5. Nazala Moustafa (Egypt) 404 points
6. Omneya Tantawi (Egypt) 379 points
7. Sharon Beckman (USA) 245 points
8. Martha Stortz (USA) 210 points

The 1977 season started in Chibougamaui, Quebec, Canada on July 10th. In a twist of the traditional one long-distance course per event on the professional marathon swimming circuit, the organizers held three different elimination races on one day that were held at two-hour intervals in the 15.5°C water:

* First race was 10 miles
* Second race was 5 miles, limited to the top 12 qualifiers from the first race
* Third and last race was 1.23 miles, limited to the top 6 qualifiers from the second race

1st 10-mile Race
1. John Kinsella 3:37:06
2. Claudio Plit 3:40:35
3. Jon Erikson 3:48:00
4. Raul Villagomez 3:48:55
5. Loreen Passfield 3:49:18
6. Amin Yousseff 3:50:41
7. Ray Dixon 3:54:53
8. Cynthia Nicholas 3:57:38
9. Dennis Matuch 4:06:03
10. Baher Hamid 4:25:29
11. Guy Montpetit 4:54:42
12. Ossama Rachad 4:57:57
13. Sultan Kigab 5:11:10
14. Mohamed Gamie 5:24:37

2nd 5-mile Race
1. Claudio Plit 1:41:17
2. John Kinsella 1:43:27
3. Loreen Passfield 1:47:39
4. Raul Villagomez 1:47:45
5. Ray Dixon 1:49:58
6. Jon Erikson 1:52:53
7. Cynthia Nicholas 1:54:21
8. Dennis Matuch 1:54:40
9. Ossama Rachad 1:54:55
10. Baher Hamid 1:57:50

3rd 1.23-mile Race
1. John Kinsella 24:39.0
2. Claudio Plit 24:39.5
3. Jon Erikson 26:48.5
4. Raul Villagomez 26:59.5
5. Loreen Passfield 27:00.0
6. Ray Dixon 27:28.0

As Claudio Plit described in his WOWSA Live interview, Claudio knew that he had the upper hand in cold water against John Kinsella,” observed Steven Munatones. “In the 15.5°C water, Claudio was able to compete well against the two-time Olympic medalist. In the second race, Claudio won and was barely touched out by John in the third and last race. In an era where no drafting was allowed, this must have been a tremendously exciting series of races to watch these men go mano-a-mano. It was also a great example of how well women like Loreen Passfield competed head-to-head against the men – because men and women competed against each other before the 1991 WPMSF season in terms of prize money..”

The second race of the pro circuit was the traditional 32 km Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean, also held in Quebec on July 31st. The water was a bit warmer than usual and fluctuated between 18.8°C and 22.2°C, leading to a fast race across the roughly circular lake about six hours north of Montreal.

Overall Results:
1. John Kinsella 7:32:31
2. Bill Heiss 8:06:05
3. Claudio Plit 8:12:37
4. Nasser El Shazly 8:16:41
5. Magdy Mandour 8:22:57
6. Raul Villagomez 8:29:43
7. Marwan Saleh 8:29:43
8. Loreen Passfield 8:42:30
9. Cynthia Nicholas 8:55:59
10. Jon Erikson 9:21:33
11. Dennis Matuch 9:53:31
12. Nazala Moustaffa 9:53:55
13. Ibrahim Feidalla 9:54:09
14. Kim Lumsdon 11:06:00

Extra cash prizes were offered to the pro swimmers for a departure sprint and the arrival sprint. These cash prizes helped motivate the swimmers to swim fast in front of the crowds at the start and finish,” said Munatones. “The race course in the sprint areas was set up so the swimmers would swim back and forth parallel to the shore so the spectators had good views of the swimmers sprinting. So after racing across lac St-Jean, they would swim close to shore…but then they would have to swim parallel to shore instead of going straight in.”

Departure Sprint Men’s Top 2 Results
1. John Kinsella 9:39.9
2. Bill Heiss 10:04.10

Departure Sprint Women’s 2 Results
1. Loreen Passfield 10:34.4
2. Cynthia Nicholas 10:36.9

Arrival Sprint Men’s Top 2 Results
1. Bill Heiss 12:30.4
2. Claudio Plit 12:37.1

Arrival Sprint Women’s 2 Results
1. Loreen Passfield 10:34.4
2. Cynthia Nicholas 10:36.9

The next race in the 1977 season was the 16 km race in Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. The water temperature was 18.8°C along the shoreline, an advantage to the Indiana swimmers Kinsella and Heiss, and a relative disadvantage to cold water specialist Plit. On the women’s side, Passfield was aquatically ambidextrous; that is, she was adept at both cooler and warmer temperatures.

1. John Kinsella 3:38:35
2. Bill Heiss 3:46:00
3. James Barry 3:46:45
4. AMin Yousseff 3:48:42
5. Magdy Mandour 3:50:30
6. Claudio Plit 3:53:41
7. Magdy Farid 3:58:07
8. Marwan Saleh 4:04:45
9. Jon Erikson 4:06:50
10. Loreen Passfield 4:06:51
11. Ray Dixon 4:06:52
12. Raul Villagomez 4:07:30
14. Martin Nieman 4:14:30
15. Omneya Tantawi 4:27:30
16. Kim Lumsdon 4:36:05
17. Sharon Beckman 4:36:07
18. Martha Stortz 4:46:50
19th – 23rd swimmers did not complete the course, but were awarded prize money

Matuch explains in the bulletin about the other professional marathon swims that were held in 1977. “The following professional swims were not eligible for the point tabulation [to determine rankings]. The Capri-Napoli marathon did not meet the minimum purse standards that would allow a foreign competitor from a distant country to at least meet expenses. The La Tuque swim (not listed) was not the minimum 10-mile distance standard for a marathon race. The Paspebiac Marathon was invitational only where only 6 swimmers [were invited].”

1977 Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli was held on July 10th in 19-23°C water:

Overall Results:
1. Nasser El Shazly (Egypt) 7:36:05
2. Maher Saleh (Syria) 7:40:00
3. Erdel Acet (Turkey) 7:43:32
4. Marwan Saleh (Syria) 7:45:04
5. Guiseppe Silvester (Italy) 7:48:59
6. Magdy Mandour (Egypt) 7:51:55
7. Farid Khamis (Syria) 8:20:15
8. Hussein Abarah (Syria) 8:23:00
9. Gianni Galini (Italy) 8:23:16
10. Alwi Miki (Saudi Arabia) 8:26:02
11. Mona Hussein (Egypt) 8:26:52 – first woman
12. Alfonso Leberti (Italy) 8:38:28
13. Gamal Zarari (Palestine) 8:44:41
14. Nuri Aslan (Argentina) 8:46:53 – second woman
15. Said Faker (Saudi Arabia) 8:57:04
16. Gamal Alhag (Saudi Arabia) 9:02:17
17. Mamduh Mastafa (Sudan) 9:28:05
18. Nazla Faidala (Egypt) 9:29:53 – third woman
19. Joneski Naste (Yugoslavia) 9:51:24
20. Mohamed Abdelwahab (Kuwait) 9:53:5
21. Tina Bishoff (USA) 10:20:41 – fourth woman
22. Paolo Pinto (Italy) 11:12:09
23. Kevin Murphy (England) 11:26:2
24. Dhanerer Khatan (India) 11:54:0
25. Sara Gadallah (Sudan) 12:08:5 – fifth woman

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