Among an extraordinarily impressive field of outstanding open water swimming heroes, the San Francisco Bay swim of Andrew Smilley from the Cayman Islands just barely out-voted the world record setting relay team of Camlough, Ireland as the 2009 Greatest Open Water Swim of the Year.

Andrew Smilley (Cayman Islands)
Andrew SmilleyOut of 9,133 votes cast by fans around the globe, 2,086 individuals voted for Andrew and 2,003 voted for the Camlough team.

Andrew placed 107th in a field of 800 swimmers in the RCP Tiburon Mile where the Special Olympian from Cayman Islands also placed third in the 19-29 age in the non-wetsuit division in the San Francisco Bay in his first ever cold-water experience.

Special Olympics CEO and Chairman Tim Shriver said on behalf of Andrew, "Far too often, our athletes, athletes with intellectual disabilities, are viewed for what they can't do. But Andrew Smiley is showing the world what he can do and we congratulate [his effort] for being selected as the Greatest Open Water Swim of 2009. Andrew's performance in the RCP Tiburon Mile is just one example of how Special Olympics athletes are accomplishing great things that many just dream to achieve."

The Camlough Team absolutely smashed the existing record and set a new Guinness World Record for the Longest Continuous Open Water Relay Swim.

220 relay members collectively swam non-stop of 232 hours and 52 minutes (over 9 nights and 10 days) to traverse a total of 685.5K (426.5 miles) in northern Ireland.

On behalf of the Camlough Team, Maria Murphy graciously commented, "Camlough swim team is delighted to have been considered for this prestigious award."

"The event back in September brought the whole community together, along with swimmers from all over Ireland and indeed the UK."

"The organizers had a mammoth task logistically in coordinating and ensuring the event ran smoothly and safely. Andrew is a worthy winner and we wish him every success in his future endeavours in open water swimming."

The Greatest Open Water Swims of the Year are meant to honor the swims that (1) best embody the spirit of open water swimming, (2) represent 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 2009.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of individuals of every age, ability, background attempt and complete open water swims in every conceivable body of water around the world. 2009 was no different - and no swims could have been possible without the tremendous help of escort boat pilots and the watchful eyes of the swimmers' support crews, kayakers, race organizers and safety volunteers.

We salute all the 2009 nominees who performed incredible feats of courage in doing their different swims around the world:

1. 120K Lake Taupo triple-crossing in New Zealand where the women's team, including Julie Bradshaw/Lucy Roper (England), Michelle Macy (USA), Barbara Pellick/Penny Palfrey (Australia) and Heather Osborn (New Zealand) finished in 33 hours and 33 minutes while the men's team including Steve Junk/Chris Palfrey/Stephen Spence/Dougal Hunt (Australia) and Mark Cockroft (New Zealand) finished in 33 hours and 31 minutes.

2. Ram Barkai and Andrew Chin's 2.2K winter swim in Lake Zurich in February in Switzerland without wetsuits in 39°F (4°C) water with 32°F (0°C) air temperature and a 19°F (-7°C) wind chill.

3. Riaan Schoeman’s one-second victory over Chad Ho and faster than 13 Olympians and nearly 19,000 entrants in South Africa's Midmar Mile, the world's most popular competitive open water race.

4. Penny Palfrey’s 14 hour and 51 minute 70K (43-mile) Alenuihaha Channel crossing from the Big Island of Hawaii to Maui which was the first crossing by a woman in the treacherous, shark-infested, very difficult channel in Hawaii.

5. Melissa Gorman’s 5K victory at the World Swimming Championships, an exciting last-stroke upset victory over the most dominant professional marathon swimmer of the current era.

6. Angela Maurer’s 25K victory at the World Swimming Championships where the 35-year-old mother beats the world’s best professional marathon swimmers under tough conditions.

7. Tasmin Powell’s 11 hour 34 minute 70K Round Jersey circumnavigation where the 15-year-old swimmer from Jersey swam valiantly while battling elements and seasickness.

8. Chantelle Le Guilcher’s 10 hour 37 minute 70K Round Jersey circumnavigation where the 15-year-old swimmer from Jersey swam quickly against the tides while battling tough elements.

9. Keri-Anne Payne’s 10K victory at the World Swimming Championships where she led nearly the entire way against the toughest and fastest female field assembled in 2009.

10. Thomas Lurz’s double victory in the 5K and 10K races at the World Swimming Championships where his two courageous victories came back-to-back over a 2-day period against the world’s fastest men.

11. Petar Stoychev’s 6 hour 58 minute victory in the 32K Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean where he captured his ninth consecutive victory in the world's most famous professional marathon swim against the world's fastest marathon swimmers.

12. Valerio Cleri’s 25K victory at the World Swimming Championships which was a very hard-fought comeback victory under tremendous pressure in his home country against world’s fastest marathon swimmers.

13. Rostislav Vitek’s crossing of the English Channel in 7 hours and 16 minutes which was the fastest English Channel crossing of 2009 and the fourth fastest solo single-crossing of all time.

14. Jade Scognamillo’s 19 hour 59 minute 52K crossing of Canada's Lake Ontario where the 15-year-old becam the youngest person to ever swim across the lake.

15. Kane Radford’s victory in the US$10,000 RCP Tiburon Mile where he won a fast 1-mile swim against several Olympic gold medalists and world champions in a winner-take-all sprint in cold San Francisco Bay.

16. Liz Fry’s 11 hour 41 minute reverse 48K circumnavigation of Manhattan Island when she shattered the existing record of 17:48 which had only been done once before by a man (Kris Rutford in 1995).

17. Liane Llewellyn's 27 hour 35 minute double-crossing of the English Channel which demonstrated tremendous resilience under extremely difficult conditions.

18. Lisa Cummins's 35 hour 31 minute double-crossing of the English Channel which was a difficult battle against time and elements in her first attempt across the English Channel.

19. Karen Rodgers' 10 hour 50 minute 21.5-mile crossing of Lake Tahoe in California, a difficult cold-water swim at 6,225 feet (1,897 meters) in altitude.

20. Patti Bauernfeind's 10 hour and 38 minute 21.5-mile crossing of Lake Tahoe in California which broke the two-week-old record at 1,897 meters in altitude.

21. Julian Crabtree's 44-mile staged swim during the 4-part Great Swim series where he started and finished every single heat of every 1-mile swim in 4 different lakes during the Great Swim series.

This is one terrific group of aquatic adventurers who represent the best that the sport of open water swimming has to offer. We can't wait for 2010 to begin.