The Summer Of 1968 And The Incredible Race To Block Island

Sponsored by KAATSU Global, Huntington Beach, California.

With protests currently happening from coast to coast throughout America, I recall the year 1968 when the Vietnam War was raging on as well as violent protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy while Americans debated issues ranging from the Tet Offensive to the Civil Rights Act in the background of highly visible protests on the awards podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in the midst of a fierce U.S. presidential battle.

But swimmers still swam on. As with the pandemic and global lockdowns of 2020, swimmers continued to swim in the summer of 1968.

One race was particularly memorable.

On August 24th, a 14.1-mile World Professional Marathon Swimming Association race was held from Sand Hill Cove State Beach in Narragansett Bay to New Harbor on Block Island in Rhode Island.

The final results were remarkable in that there was a tie not only for first, but also for second. The official results are below.

1. Abdel-Latif Abou-Heif (Egypt, 40) 8 hours 11 minutes
1. Horacio Iglesias (Argentina, 26) 8 hours 11 minutes
2. Antonio Scamardella (Italy) 10 hours 28 minutes
2. Regent Lacoursiere (Canada) 10 hours 28 minutes

17 swimmers started, but only 4 finished in one of the few documented cases where sharks encountered professional marathon swimmers in a race. Swimmers who did not finish included Tom Bucy (USA), Linda McGill (Australia), George Park (Canada).

Park recalls, “‘The world’s greatest marathon!’ is the way they advertised this 14.1-mile race because all the top marathon swimmers in the world were there.

The race started from the beach.

As we came out of the harbour through a gap in the breakwall, [American] Billy Barton was on my left and [Canadian] Rejean LaCoursiere on the right, I noticed something dark in the water just below us. I asked Billy, “Is that a shark?” Billy said, “It’s a shark”.

We picked up our pace and the three of us moved to the front of the pack very quickly. Billy moved away from me to the left and Rejean (Johnny) moved to the right and I swam straight ahead. The shark followed me.

After about twenty minutes, the boat that was with me put up a sign it said “Don’t Panic there is a shark 200 yards behind you. Then they wrote, “Don’t stop or change your pace”. Then they said, “The coast guard is tracking it and if it attacks…“.

Photo of George Park swimming past a shark taken by Jean Guy Lacoursiere, the handler of Regent Lacoursiere.

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