USA Long Distance International Championships
The USA Long Distance International Championships was an open water swimming competition held on August 20th 1984 under the auspices of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation in the Catalina Channel together with USA Swimming.
The event was the first race across the Catalina Channel since the Wrigley Ocean Marathon in 1927. Penny Dean, Siga Albrecht and Syndi Goldenson were the American coaches, with Dale Petranech as the USA Swimming representative. Sailors from Marina del Rey donated their time and boats.Dean recalls, Ken Jewitt was responsible for arranging the boats and navigation. Katy O'Hara was responsible for publicity and communication. Dottie York was in charge of the paddlers. The start was on Catalina Island and the finish was on Cabrillo Beach, making it a 25.5-mile crossing.
John York won the Catalina-to-mainland race in 8 hours 54 minutes under challenging conditions, finishing on Cabrillo Beach, a total of 25.5 mile, more than 5 miles further than the traditional landing point.
1. John York (USA) - 8:54:01 2. Rick Heltzel (USA) - 9:04:12 3. Mohamed Ibrahim Elwakeel (Egypt) - 9:23:06 4. Carol Lee Heltzel (USA) - 9:28:28 5. Alison Streeter (England) - 9:33 6. Lamiaa Zahy (Egypt) - 9:52:30 7. David Morgan (England) - 11:23
The night before the race all the swimmers stayed at the Coast Guard Station on Catalina Island with the volunteers, officials and administrators staying overnight in tents on the island. The highlight of the pre-race activities was a buffalo chip throwing contest for distance won by England's David Morgan.
The race started at the Isthmus on Catalina Island immediately prior to dawn by the sheriff discharging his magnum pistol into the air. "The weather and ocean conditions were ideal," recalled Dale Petranech. "There were a few watch-outs for "SeaWeed" cautions (i.e., shark sightings), but we didn't want to panic the swimmers.
The Egyptian Coach would blow his whistle to encourage his swimmer every time he took a breath. The rest of the entourage found this very annoying, but it stopped after American John York passed the Egyptian swimmer. The whistling stopped, but from what we could see, any support (e.g., feeding) was also stopped for the rest of the race." In addition to the solo swimmers, an international relay was set up to allow all the swimmers to compete in the Catalina Channel race. The winning relay was the USA Swimming national team against an international team of swimmers. The American Team comprised of Jay Wilkerson, Jim McConica, Martha Jahn, Karen Burton, Chad Hundeby and Erika Reetz won in world record time of 7 hours 2 minutes. The International Relay with Tom Hilgen (USA), Ossama Montaaz (Egypt), Nancy North (USA), Marien Farid (Egypt), Dr. Jaroslav Novak (Czechoslovakia) and Aimen Mohammed Saad (Egypt) finished in 8:14:05.
Prior to the cross-Catalina Channel race, there was also a 15K race from Huntington Beach to Seal Beach won by Tom Fristoe in 3 hours 9 minutes, followed by Tom Hilgen, Nancy North, and Dr. Jaroslav Novac.
Sid Cassidy recalls those halycon days, "We started in the dark from a rocky beach not far from the lighthouse with the paddlers and swimmer wearing the green glow sticks. Jay Wilkerson was the lead-off swimmer followed by Jim McConica because it was still supposed to be dark. It was fairly cool and there were large swells early, becoming choppier later. There was considerable discussion on where best to land in Catalina. We came quickly upon it because there was a pretty healthy marine layer all morning. We steered Jay alongside the island - swimming parallel to a very rocky shoreline looking for a clearing.
There was a wild boar stirring in the brush, eventually making himself visible and looking out to our entourage with great curiosity as if to say, "What the heck are those creatures doing out in the water?" We had minimal electronic equipment [in those days] so we were not totally sure exactly where we were. The land that we first we came upon was certainly inaccessible; there was significant trepidation about sending Jay into that very rocky shoreline. Eventually the hour passed and we got Jim in for the sprint to the beach. Undaunted, he headed him towards a fairly desolate clearing that we had spotted from the boat. We joyously dubbed it 'McConica Cove' in his honor. It was a fantastic experience."
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