Abdellatief Abouheif (EGY)
Honor Pioneer Open Water Swimmer (1998)
FOR THE RECORD: Abdellatief Abouheif, Honor Open Water Swimmer
World’s Great Marathon Swimmer from 1953-1972;
Longest Distance Swim – 60 miles of Lake Michigan in 34 hours, 45 minutes;
Competed in over 68 International Races between 30km and 80km in length.
1964, ’65 & ’68 World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation Champion.
Famous swims, with first place finishes, include:
1953 – Seine River (Paris) France, 18 miles, 5:46.40;
1954 – St. Nazaire LaBaule, France, 26 miles, 7:41.15;
1955 – English Channel (France to England), 21 miles, 11:44.00;
1955 – St. Nazaire – La Baule, France, 26 miles, 9:32.00;
1956 – Nile River, U.A.R., 42 miles, 17:01.01;
1956 – Ouvers, Oise, France, 11 miles, 4:24-00;
1956 – Seine River (Paris) France, 18 miles, 6:37.50;
1957 – Saida, Beirut, Lebanon, 25 miles, 13:05.00;
1961 – Saida, Beirut, Lebanon, 23 miles, 10:47.00;
1962 – Lake Ohrid, Yugoslavia, 21 miles, 9:27.07;
1963 – Capri, Naples, Italy, 23 miles, (tie) 8:49.35;
1963 – Lake Michigan USA, 60 miles, 34:45.00;
1963 – Toronto (CNE) Ontario, Canada, 15 miles, 7:37.26; 1964 – Capri, Naples, Italy, 23 miles, (tie) 10:43.57;
1964 – Rio Corond, Argentina, 38 miles, 10:38.50; 1964 – Toronto (CNE) Ontario, Canada, 30 miles, 19:00.00;
1965 – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 10 miles, 5:18.54.2; 1965 – Lac St. Jean, Quebec, Canada, 25 miles, 8:34.35;
1965 – Rio Parana, Argentina, 55 miles, 10:31.41; 1966 – Montreal, Quebec, Canada (30 hr. team race), 251 laps;
1968 – Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada, 28 miles, 9:10.00; 1968 – Molson Sprint, 10:44.08;
1968 – Narragansett, Rhode Island, 15 miles, (tie) 8:11.00; 1969 – Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada, 28 miles, 10 hr.;
1969 – LaTuque, Quebec, Canada, 24 hr. team swim, 62.5 laps.
In a country where marathon swimming is the premier sport, Abdellatief Abouheif is Egypt’s national hero. Revered and respected, his fellow countrymen bow down to him, streets and buildings are named after him and when the great Abouheif speaks, people listen. To the rest of the world, he is an extraordinary phenomenon.
Very few other marathon swimmers can match the achievements of this amazing long distance swimmer. His death defying distance swims and open water races have been held in most of the major bodies of water in the world and under extreme conditions. For example, in a swim hosted by ISHOF Gold Medallion recipient Jim Moran, Abouheif accomplished the 60 mile Lake Michigan Crossing of 1963, spending 34 hours 45 minutes in the chilly 52 degree F. water. In 1962, he spent over 9 hours in the 84 degree F. water, completing the 23 mile Mar Del Plata swim in Argentina. But like all of his swims, he endures, takes himself to the limit and recovers.
Between 1953 and 1972, he competed in over 68 international races of lengths from 30k to 80 kilometers. In 1964, 1965 and 1968, he was the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation Champion of a circuit of races held in Canada, United States, Italy and South America. Of these 68 races he most often finished first and in only 12 races did he finish below third place. International competitions were hosted by France, Argentina, Lebanon, England, Yugoslavia, Mexico and Holland.
Abouheif was born in 1929, the eighth of fifteen children and the son of a school teacher and Parliamentary member. He received his secondary education at Eaton and Sandhurst Military Academy in England. He returned to Egypt to serve in the army rising to the rank of colonel. Along the way he learned to play the piano, speak six languages, marry a beautiful Greek opera singer and become the world’s professional swimming champion.
Abouheif’s five foot ten inch frame that weighs between 200 and 240 pounds, is well covered with fat to endure the exposure to cold water. His eating had no rules and he would eat anything that smelled good at the time, which, before a race, could include two whole roast chickens and a quart of orange juice and milk.
He was held in awe by every swimmer on the circuit. If there was ever any doubt as to whether or not a race could be completed, due to weather conditions, Abouheif would erase that doubt and battle the elements to the finish line. No body of water was too difficult a challenge for him, either fresh or salt water. He has crossed or traversed the English Channel, Lac St. John, Capri-Naples, Canadian National Exposition, La Tugue, Quebec City, Chicoutimi, the Nile River, the Seine River and many more. His trademark was a flurry of strokes and a finish sprint that carries him to the finish line to strive with unyielding competitiveness and to endure in the battle with mother nature.
If an emblem were made that represents Abouheif and his feats, it would have a big set of beautiful white teeth amidst a friendly grin and a picture of a huge stomach. He became the greatest marathon swimmer in the history of the sport and set the standards for today’s open water swimmers.