The nominees for the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year Awards are below. Their exploits, histories and lifestyles are incredibly inspirational to read.
These awards are not necessarily for the best athletes, but are meant to honor the man and woman who (1) best embody the spirit of open water swimming, (2) possess the sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance that open water swimmers are known for, and (3) have most positively influenced the world of open water swimming in 2008.
The top vote-getters in each region will also be honored as the 2008 Asia/Oceania Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the 2008 European Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year and the 2008 Americas Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year.
While the nominees have enjoyed long remarkable careers in the sport of open water swimming as athletes, coaches, promoters, writers, directors and/or administrators, please vote your choice based on their achievements during 2008.
Marcia Cleveland (USA), Administrator, Promoter and Coach
Marcia is the long-time Chair of the US Masters Swimming (USMS) Open Water & Long Distance Committee, a member of the USMS History & Archives Committee, and a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame Nominating Committee, devoting thousands of hours in 2008 to developing the sport of open water swimming. She is the chief administrator for the annual USMS national championship events, including the 1 Mile Open Water Championships, 2 Mile Open Water Championships, 2-Mile Cable Championships, 5K Mile Open Water Championships, 10K Open Water Championships, 25K Open Water Championships, 1-hour Postal Championships, 5K and 10K Postal Championships, and the 3000/6000 Yard Postal Championships. She also offers coaching and clinics for open water swimmers, many in response to the publication of the second edition of her popular book, Dover Solo: Swimming the English Channel book. She navigated innumerable key issues in the sport during 2008 including the use of wetsuits and high-tech swim suits in USMS competitions. As married mother of two, she also made time to complete an unprecedented 12 hour and 49 minute 40K (25-mile) Chicago Skyline Swim.
Natalie du Toit (South Africa), Inspirational Athlete and Spokeswoman
Natalie deservedly gained global fame when she became the first amputee to qualify for an Olympic final among able-bodied athletes. Despite an admittedly disappointing 16th-place finish in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, she captured the hearts of fans around the world in 2008. She carried the flag for South Africa at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2008 Paralympics and was the feature of touching tributes from the U.S. (by NBC) to South Africa (SuperSport and ESPN Africa) to Japan (Fuji TV). She was fourth in the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships in the 10K marathon swim that served as the pressure-packed Olympic qualification race. Selected as one of the Top 100 Athletes to Watch by Time Magazine, she also spent innumerable hours giving speeches and providing motivation to many, never complaining or making excuses for her disability while smiling and sharing good times with her teammates, competitors and fans.
Jennifer Figge (USA), Atlantic Ocean Adventurer
A 56-year-old gregarious mother training for a 2,100 solo swim odyssey across the Atlantic Ocean is unprecedented. Her remarkable confidence in herself convinced a pilot and his crew to spend over two months at sea and a land-based support team to assist her. Jennifer starts on December 1 and, although she will not be finished within calendar year 2008, her audacity to even attempt a solo swim from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa to Barbados is worthy of attention and wonder. Throughout the months of December and January, and possibly into February, she will be swimming 6-8 hours per day in a shark cage and then resting on her escort boat that will float as the currents allow. The distance and time swum will be carefully logged and monitored by GPS online for all to see. Whether or not she completes her goal, the extreme nature of her marathon swim requires tremendous guts just to start and head off swimming to another continent.
Larisa Ilchenko (Russia), Olympic Champion
Larisa completely dominated the world of open water swimming and every event she participated in 2008. Her aggressive racing strategy culminated in an exciting come-from-behind victory in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim at the Beijing Olympics. In addition to her Olympic gold-medal performance, Larisa won the European Open Water Swimming Championships in the 10K and FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup races in Singapore, Hong Kong, Cancun (Mexico) and Santos (Brazil). No matter what the venue, competition or conditions, Larisa comes through at the end with her classic trademark finish. Her dominance as an athlete can be compared to many greats in other eras and in other sports, from Steffi Graf in tennis to Nadia Comaneci in gymnastics.
[Photo by Pei Qingsheng]
Britta Kamrau (Germany), Professional Marathon Swimmer
Britta shockingly did not qualify for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in early 2008, but like a true competitor, she came back from that loss. She went on to win the 15K Sumidero Canyon Swimming Marathon (Mexico) FINA Grand Prix and the $10,000 winner-take-all RCP Tiburon Mile, the world’s richest pro race. Britta also finished 2nd in the 32K Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean (Canada) FINA Grand Prix, 3rd in the 19K Sabac Swim Marathon (Serbia) FINA Grand Prix, 3rd in the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Cancun (Mexico), and competed in FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cups in Hong Kong and Shantou (China) and the 36K Marathon Del Golfo Capri-Napoli (Italy) FINA Grand Prix. She also captured a silver in the 5K individual, bronze in the 5K team trial and silver in the 25K races at the European Open Water Swimming Championships in Croatia. A versatile competitor who can swim well in both cold and warm water conditions, Britta continues to represent her sport in a professional manner.
Angela Maurer (Germany), Olympian and Mother
After retiring and giving birth to her first child, Angela learned that open water swimming was added to the Olympics. Determined to represent her country, Angela began a comeback and finished a remarkable fourth, only 0.9 seconds from a bronze, in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. In a sport dominated by teenagers, Angela won the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup in Lac St-Jean, finished 2nd at the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cups in Cancun (Mexico) and Setubal (Portugal), and finished 3rd at the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cups in Singapore and Shantou (China). Incredibly, after focusing on the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, Angela continued to travel the world and won the overall FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup series at the age of 34.
Sandy Neilson-Bell (USA), Race Director and Promoter
Together with her renowned husband Dr. Keith Bell, Sandy co-developed the very successful and innovative open water swimming events of the American Swimming Association. The races in 2008 included the Money Box Cap 2K, the 12-mile Lake Travis Relay, the Open Water Texas High School State Championships, Volente Beach Open Water Family Gala, Highland Lakes Challenge, Dam 5K, ASA Open Water Collegiate National Championships, Quarries Open Water Festival and the Polar Bear Swim. The 1972 Olympic triple gold medal sprinter made a comeback in the 1980’s by getting re-invigorated with open water training and competitions. Channeling this energy in race creation, promotion and management, Sandy and her long-distance loving husband jumped into open water swimming with a fresh perspective, a deep love of the sport and heartfelt concern for athletes, offering an open water swimming oasis among the rolling hill country of Texas.
Penny Palfrey (Australia), Marathon Swimming Adventurer
A 46-year-old dynamo and a small business owner, Penny had a tremendous year in 2008 starting off with a 3rd in the 19K Rottnest Channel Swim in western Australia only a few months after a major operation. She continued to build strength and won the 39K (24 miles) Tampa Bay Marathon Swim in Florida, only 10 minutes slower than the overall record held by a man. In July, after yet another round-trip to her home in Australia, Penny returned to defend her title at the 48K (28.5 miles) Manhattan Island Marathon Swim where she got 2nd overall as the first woman. Later, she became the first person to swim 45K (24 nautical miles) across the shark-infested Santa Barbara Channel from San Miguel Island to the California mainland, taking 11 hours and 29 minutes to fight against stiff winds and cold water. For good measure and together with her husband Chris, Penny also completed an unprecedented 10K swim in the often rough channel between the islands of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz way off the California coast. Given the number of air miles required to do these swims and her versatility to swim well in both warm and cold water and in the roughest conditions possible, Penny is the epitome of a great marathon swimmer totally committed to the sport.
Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia), Passionate Promoter and Global Administrator
2008 was the year that culminated in Shelley’s three-decade dream to bring open water swimming to the Olympics. As the Honorary Secretary of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, Shelley was instrumental in planning and pulling off the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. With attention to detail and a passion characteristic of a seven-time world marathon swimming champion, Shelley traveled the world to plan, promote and oversee the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. In addition, Shelley participated in the 19K Rottnest Channel Swim and the Eco West Coast 1000 as a swimmer. As a FINA representative, she participated in the FINA Extraordinary Congress in the U.K. to review and approve FINA open water swimming rules, the FINA Referees and Officials Clinic in Indonesia, the World Open Water Swimming Championships in Spain and the Olympic 10K Qualification Swim in Beijing, the FINA Referees and Open Water Swimming Clinic in China, the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cups in Hong Kong and Singapore, the Asian Beach Games in Indonesia. As a tribute to all her efforts in 2008 and throughout her career, Shelley was honored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame for achievements in marathon swimming and received the Davids-Wheeler Award for contributions to the sport of marathon swimming.
Edith van Dijk (Netherlands), Open Water Swimming Legend
Based on her remarkable career as multiple world champion in the 10K and 25K distances, expectations were high for Edith in 2008 when she came back from retirement after giving birth to her daughter. Ever gracious with her time and courtly in her demeanor, Edith started her comeback at the 57K Maraton Acuatica Rio Coronda FINA Grand Prix (Argentina) where she got second in 8 hours and 29 minutes. She followed up this valient comeback by qualifying for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim and taking silver in the 25K at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships. After finishing 14th in at the Olympics, Edith placed 4th in the 5K, 4th in the 10K (only 3.1 seconds behind Larisa Ilchenko) and tied for 4th in the 25K at the European Open Water Swimming Championships as a testament to her versatility and passion for the sport. As she announced her retirement after the European championships, the sport will miss this woman of stature and remarkable abilities.
Zhange "Vivien" Liang (China), Beijing Olympic Volunteer Extraordinaire
Vivien was everywhere before, during and after the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in Beijing. The amazingly patient and professional bilingual interpreter tirelessly kept the FINA delegation, ambitious athletes from 28 countries, anxious coaches, impatient administrators and high-strung media representatives up-to-date and informed about the Olympic 10K Qualification Swim in June and the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim during the Beijing Olympics.
With very little room for error, Vivien had to balance the expectations of the open water swimming community with the needs of the world’s media, Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee executives and the International Olympic Committee members.
Her translation skills and disarming smile went a long way in resolving issues to everyone’s satisfaction and making everyone feel the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim was an outstanding event.
[Photo of Vivien with the FINA President Mustapha Larfaoui]