Mohammed Zeytoun

From Openwaterpedia

Mohammed Zeytoun (born 1941 on the Syrian island of Arwad) was a professional marathon swimmer from Syria who represented the United Arab Republic during his short career that was tragically cut short at the age of 23. Known by his nicknames as the Nile Crocodile and Syrian Torpedo, his legacy lives with streets in Damascus (Syria), Cairo (Egypt), and his hometown of Jableh (Syria) that bear his name.

his life is chronicled in a biography written by his younger brother, Abdulwahab Zeytoun, called the World Swimmer Mohammed Zeytoun. chronicles his remarkable climb to fame and controversy before he died at the age of 23.


Renowned for pulling along fishing boats in the Mediterranean Sea as part of his training, he worked out early in the morning and often did 22 km training swims between Baniyas and Jableh in northwestern Syria as well as 5-hour pool workouts and swim upstream against river currents.

Marathon Swimming Career

After winning local sea swimming competitions near Jableh on the coast of Syria, he won his first marathon swim in a 40 km Nile River race at the United Arab Republic Cup at the age of 18 in 1959. He next won a 42 km marathon swim between Saida and Beirut in Lebanon where he met Lebanese president Fuad Chehab and the two-time prime minister Hussein Al Oweini. He won the 1960, 1961 and 1964 Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy after finishing third in his first attempt.

Before the 1960 Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli , he spent days on an escort boat studying the course between Capri and Napoli. He upset Argentinian swimmer Alfredo Camarero and 65 swimmers from 42 countries after a 3-hour delay in the start due to poor weather. He won in 10 hours 38 minutes. He won the 1961 race in 8 hours 45 minutes under better conditions.

Due to the dissolution of the United Arab Republic on 28 September 1961, Zeytoun refused to represent Syria at the 1962 Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli World Cup race and faced political prosecution. Zeytoun was given a security escort until tensions eased after the Syrian Ba’ath party seized power in the 1963 coup. He returned to competition and won the 1963 50 km International Suez Canal marathon and the 1964 Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli World Cup for the third - and last - time.


The United Arab Republic president Gamal Abdel Nasser awarded him the honorary title of dabati, allowing the amateur swimmer to receive a military salary. After his 1961 victory at the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli, Nasser upgraded his military rank to Mulazim Al Thani.

The women’s champion in 1961 at the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli was Egyptian Suhir El Ba’i, known by her nickname El Bawtiah (female crocodile) who became engaged to Zeytoun at the Egyptian embassy in Rome.

Zeytoun appeared on United Arab Republic postage stamps.


Zeytoun and four passengers died when their vehicle hit a wall on their way to a competition near Ismailia. A sixth passenger, Rajab Ali, was paralyzed. The planned parade turned into a funeral procession that included the bodies of Zeytoun, Syrian swimmer Hasan Naeem, Egyptian swimmer Saeed Abduljalill and coaches Mahmoud Aman and Kamal Abdulrahman.

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