2020 WOWSA Awards - World Open Water Swimming Man Of The Year Nominees

2020 WOWSA Awards – World Open Water Swimming Man Of The Year Nominees

Courtesy of WOWSA Awards, Huntington Beach, California.

The annual WOWSA Awards are sponsored by the World Open Water Swimming Association and serve as an annual public recognition of the best in the world’s open water swimming community.  There are four categories:

* World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

The mission of the World Open Water Swimming Association is to educate, enthuse and entertain those who venture beyond the shoreline,” says Steven Munatones. “Today, we are announcing 13 nominees from 11 countries for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year​.  In a year unexpectedly wracked with government closures, mandates, stay-at-home orders, lockdowns and quarantines, the number of solo crossings, relays and competitive races fell dramatically.  Selecting only 13 men from the innumerable heroes in the sport is a nearly impossible task. Each of these nominees is a very special individual and are representative of the best of the sport.

World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year Winners:

The nominees of the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year include:

1. André Wiersig (Germany)

2. Evan Morrison (USA)

3. Gregorio Paltrinieri (Italy)

4. Henri Kaarma (Estonia)

5. Jaime Lomelin Gavaldon (Mexico)

6. Joe Zemaitis and John Zemaitis (USA)

7. Julian Critchlow (UK) 

8. Nejib Belhedi (Tunisia)

9. Paul Eugen Dorin Georgescu (Romania)

10. Pedro Rego Monteiro (Brazil)

11. Ronnie Wong (Hong Kong) 

12. Ryan Stramrood (South Africa)

Descriptions of the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year nominees include:

1. André Wiersig (Germany, vote here)

André Wiersig has followed up his Oceans Seven achievement with all kinds of positive dryland activities.  After encountering dolphins, whales, sea lions and jellyfish in his channel swims, Wiersig became an ambassador for the German Ocean Foundation.  His mission is to teach life lessons to others, including how to live an adventurous, eco-friendly life.  After his Oceans Seven success, he co-created the beautiful hardcover book with incredible photography (called Nachts Allein Im Ozean, Mein Weg durch die Ocean’s Seven or Alone in the Ocean at Night, My Way through the Ocean’s Seven) together with Erik Eggers and Dennis Daletzki.  He also co-produced the audio CD Ein Mann des Meeres: André Wiersig erzählt sein Schwimmen durch die Ocean’s Seven (or A Man of the Sea: André Wiersig Tells of his Swimming through the Ocean’s Seven) with Erik Eggers and Klaus Sander.  For helping to motivate and inspire others as a German icon of extreme stamina, for serving as an ocean advocate, and for leveraging his Oceans Seven success via a book, public speeches, television appearances, and a CD, André Wiersig of Germany is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

2. Evan Morrison (USA, vote here)

American marathon swimmer Scott Zornig predicted that Evan Morrison would be the most important person in the history of marathon and channel swimming.  His prediction has come to fruition.  Morrison’s influence and, in fact, dominance over the global open water swimming community is not due to his track record as a swimmer, but primarily as one of the co-founders of the Marathon Swimmers Federation.  Over the last 8 years, he has demanded transparency and carefully peer-reviewed documentation in the sport.  This year, as one example of his underlying focus on accuracy, he redefined the distance of the most iconic waterway in the open water swimming world: the English Channel.  For redefining the English Channel distance as determined by the Channel Swimming Association (21 miles) and the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation (33.52 km) to 32.3 km, for maintaining and constantly fine-tuning the LongSwims Database, and for being the globally acknowledged authoritative voice in the marathon swimming community, Evan Morrison of the USA is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

3. Gregorio Paltrinieri (Italy, vote here)

As reigning Olympic pool swimming champions, only Grant Hackett and Oussama Mellouli have attempted to add marathon swimming to their Olympic goals. But 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist Gregorio Paltrinieri is proving himself capable of exceeding their goals and setting himself up to achieve the exceedingly difficult Mellouli Double – winning Olympic medals in both pool swimming and marathon swims in one Olympic Games. But with great implications for the future for swimmers of all levels, Paltrinieri is getting faster in both the pool and in the open water at the same time, a feat previously thought impossible by pool coaches. For breaking the 1500m freestyle European and Italian national records, clocking 14:33:10 at the 2020 Sette Colli Trophy in Italy in the second fastest 1500m in history in a year of training cut short by the pandemic, for qualifying and simultaneously training and preparing for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, 800m and 1500m freestyle pool events at the Tokyo Olympics, and for being open, realistic, and positive about his chances and dreams for achieving the Mellouli Double in Tokyo, Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

4. Henri Kaarma (Estonia, vote here)

Henri Kaarma started ice swimming out of curiosity.  The credit analyst in the banking industry quickly took well to The Ice and has remained one of the icons of the global ice swimming community for over 6 years.  Nicknamed The Ice Machine, he competes all over the world freely sharing his experiences and know-how with others, training with friends and teammates, while explaining his passion with the media, swimmers in his native Estonia, and people who just stare at his accomplishments in utter astonishment.  The humble Ice Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmer was inducted in its inaugural class with world records and many titles to his credit.  For initiating and constantly growing the sport of winter swimming in Estonia including the Pirita Open winter swimming festival, for organizing the Estonian Winter Swimming Championships including a 505-person record-setting mass relay, and for gladly serving as a global ambassador of ice swimming and being a living laboratory of what is physiologically possible, Henri Kaarma of Estonia is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

5. Jaime Lomelin Gavaldon (Mexico, vote here)

For 44 years, Jaime Lomelin Gavaldon has loomed large over the Mexican open water swimming community.  He has won all major Mexican open water races between 1986 and 2020; some of them many times over.  The 57-year-old’s latest victory in the shortened 2020 season cluded the 32 km Los Cabos Open Water Acuarium Swim in rough waters in 10 hours 36 minutes in Cabo San Lucas.  His participation and support of domestic swims from shorter (5 km Maratón Guadalupano and 6.1 km Durango Reto de Aguas Abiertas) to longer (10 km Por La Libre Cancún-Isla Mujeres and 18 km Cañon del Sumidero) and longest (22 km Reto Acapulco and 42 km Cancún International Swim​) over 4 decades is his testament to his speed and stamina, passion and dedication.  For ably representing Mexico for decades in professional marathon races from Italy to Argentina, Canada to the USA, Australia to Brazil, for swimming quickly across channels as a soloists (9 hour 50 minute English Channel in 1990 and 3 hour 27 minute Strait of Gibraltar in 2019, and for serving as a global ambassador of the sport, Jaime Lomelin Gavaldon of Mexico is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

6. Joe Zemaitis and John Zemaitis (USA, vote here)

Joe and John Zemaitis could not be more similar and more alike.  In a year like no other, the two brothers from Arizona took to the seas, rivers and lakes from coast to coast during their off times.  And swim they did, in warm and cold, tranquil and turbulent.  Older brother Joe and younger brother John bring two totally different approaches to the sport: one is intense and diligent, the other is laidback and swims whenever.  They both smile broadly and laugh frequently; they both enjoy adventures and love travel.  They set a goal when both their work schedules allow and did 644 km worth of tandem swims in 2020.  For their swims across Monterey Bay, Lake Tahoe, Santa Barbara Channel, twice around Manhattan Island, for Joe’s 112 km solo Roosevelt Lake swim in 47 hours 23 minutes, and for the boundless joy and goodwill and appreciation they have for others and the sport, brothers Joe and John Zemaitis of the USA are worthy nominees for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

7. Julian Critchlow (UK, vote here

Besides crossing the English Channel in 2004, 2014, 2017 and 2019, Julian Critchlow has researched, analyzed and explained the feats of swimmers of all ages and abilities across the English Channel for 16 years.  He is analytical like no one else; he patiently and thoroughly documents the details of 2,804 English Channel crossings since 1875.  His genius insight on the data enables him to view, present and comment on the English Channel community from both obvious and non-obvious perspectives, about both solo swimmers and relays.  For his uncanny, thoughtful, highly inquisitive observations of the English Channel community, for his deep thinking and historical analyses of solo swims and relays across the most iconic waterway of the world, and his comprehensive accuracy in building, maintaining, and sharing the most authoritative English Channel solo and relay swimming database, Julian Critchlow of the UK is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

8. Nejib Belhedi (Tunisia, vote here)

Nejib Belhedi, a former special operations officer and Lieutenant Colonel, has a long and varied career in the open water.  He has been successful as a channel swimmer, cold water swimmer, stage swimmer, boat pull swimmer, extreme swimmer, and a marathon swimmer.  While promoting and organizing Ouma events for children and teenagers throughout his native Tunisia, Belhedi has continued to create well-promoted televised marathon swimming events that inspire people from all walks of life and ages to take up their own personal, healthful challenges.  For his 47 hour 50 minute record-setting 155 km circumnavigation swim around Djerba Island in Tunisia that was organized by Ajim from the Governorate of Mednine, for generating a tremendous amount of creative publicity and positive inspiration through national television programming, and for accomplishing these feats at the age of 69 years in his post heart surgery life, Nejib Belhedi of Tunisia is a worthy nominee of the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year. 

9. Paul Eugen Dorin Georgescu (Romania, vote here)

Paul Georgescu, a 42-year-old multi-talented triathlete, physical therapist, coach, referee, water polo player, and professor at the International British School of Bucharest, took up his newly developed talent as an ice swimmer to an entirely new level.  Less than a year after completing his first Ice Mile in 3.02°C water in a pool in his native Romania, he traveled to Hanusse Bay, Antarctica and set a Zero Ice Mile world record in 0.0°C water and 2.0°C air in 22 minutes 44 seconds at the bottom of the world.  He then completed the 104 km Iron Gates of the Danube Swim in the middle of the pandemic.  In a year of uncertainty and unknowns, Georgescu continues to seek adventures to inspire his students and the next generation, giving them confidence to face challenges with a strength of character and an air of positivity.  For continuing to demonstrate a wide range of aquatic talents in cold and warm temperatures including at the Antarctica 2020 International Swim, for inspiring and mentoring swimmers of all ages in his native Romania with a record-setting Zero Ice Mile, and for transforming himself from a water polo player and triathlete to the fastest Zero Ice Mile swimmer in the world and an accomplished marathon swimmer, Paul Georgescu or Romania is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

10. Pedro Rego Monteiro (Brazil, vote here)

With its economy trying to recover from a deep recession, Brazil became one of the hardest hit countries by the COVID-19 pandemic.  It was a double punch to event organizers, but Pedro Rego Monteiro found a way to continue the largest and most popular ocean swimming series in Brazil, the Rei e Rainha do Mar (King and Queen of the Sea) that he founded in 2013.  Monteiro and his staff at Effect Sport worked diligently and creatively to stage the largest ocean multi-race event in Rio de Janeiro under strict safety protocols.  The result was an unbridled celebration of communal excitement and athletic competition by thousands of open water swimmers where everyone adhered to strict face masking and social distancing rules.  The Copacabana Beach extravaganza, with its music and television audience, was a welcomed change to balance the news of a recession and a pandemic.  For his relentlessly positive and creative leadership to maintain a semblance of normalcy and safety among open water swimmers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, for organizing wide media coverage and spectator-friendly courses for the Rei e Rainha do Mar series in various locations in Brazil, for his massively huge promotional turn buoys and practical course solutions in the water and on the shore to host enjoyable events, Pedro Rego Monteiro of Brazil is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

11. Ronnie Wong (Hong Kong, vote here

Ronnie Wong has always worked hard, starting before he qualified for two Olympic Games in the 1970’s.  But in the Year of COVID-19, he had to work especially diligently behind the scenes, making sure that the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim event was not removed from the Olympic calendar as had been rumored.  Wong, the 68-year-old chairperson for the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, worked the phones and gathered information and allies from the global open water swimming committee to convince the International Olympic Committee to, at least until the 2024 Paris Olympics, to keep with the only open water swimming event in the Games.  For remaining an energetic and influential force while never calling attention to himself in continuing to promote and organize the sport at its highest levels, for working with the organizers of the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics to navigate the delay of the marathon swim, and for remaining so passionate and objective after over two decades of service to the sport, Ronnie Wong of Hong Kong is a worthy nominee of the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.​

12. Ryan Stramrood (South Africa, vote here)

Give Ryan Stramrood a challenge and he will find a way to get it down – or he will push himself to his maximum physical and mental limits, calmly and with humility. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Stramrood achieved his Century Swim of the Robben Island in his native South Africa.  By June, the 47-year-old had completed a total of 114 crossings at a 100% success rate over the cold, rough 7.4 km stretch of water between Robben Island and Cape Town.  The 5-time Ice Mile swimmer with extreme swims in Patagonia, Russia and Antarctica including the first Ice Mile in -1°C water in the Southern Ocean is a motivational storyteller, writer and speaker who inspires many through his experiences dramatically told.  For delivering inspirational messages with a powerful force of personality and through his speeches and articles based on mind-boggling extreme swims, for setting the bar at 114 for the most number of Robben Island solo crossings, and for being so versatile, hard-nosed and passionate in his aquatic adventures as a teammate, relay member, second, and solo swimmer, Ryan Stramrood of South Africa is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

To vote for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, visit here.

For more information on the WOWSA Awards, visit here.

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Steven Munatones