Alick Wickham Honored by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame

Alick Wickham Honored by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame

Ned Denison, chairperson of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, announced the induction of Alick Wickham of the Solomon Islands as an Honor Coach in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Class of 2022.

Alick Wickham

It is a great choice – both to honor Alick and the fact that Alick was selected as an Honor Coach, explains Steven Munatones. “Alick did a lot of things in the open water – from being the national 50-yard freestyle champion of Australia and setting a high diving world record that still stands at 205 feet. He also played a role in the development of body surfing, as he was one of a group of powerful swimmers who congregated around Manly Beach in Sydney and who were keen to foster skills and techniques in the early days of surfing.

But the Solomon Islander from Roviana Lagoon will be forever remembered as the person credited with being one of the first to demonstrate the ‘crawl stroke‘ to Australia.

When Wickham was working in Sydney and was seen swimming in the sea-baths at Bronte Beach, swimming as did many people at that time throughout parts of the South Pacific.  George Farmer, a prominent Australian coach at the turn of the century, saw Wickham and gave his stroke the name that has survived to this day. Farmer said, “Look at that kid crawling” – as a result, the crawl stroke was first defined. Other local Australian swimmers adopted Wickham’s style and the freestyle stroke as we know it today was introduced to outside the South Pacific and limited other locations around the world – at a time when breaststroke was the dominant swimming style.

But it was not only his rotating overhead arm strokes that were unusual in Australia at the time, but also his flutter kick. Arthur Freeman witnessed his kick, “Wickham’s six-beat kick reminded me of an outboard motor.” Because Wickham swam head up (as do water polo players and bodysurfers taking off on a wave), a strong kick was important in order to swim fast.

Famed Australian coach Forbes Carlile described Wickham, “In 1898 this boy from the British Solomon Islands arrived in Sydney – Alick Wickham – whose brother Harry wrote me several letters in 1950 when I was investigating the beginnings of the crawl stroke. These letters explained that Alick came to Australia on his father’s trading schooner, when he was seven years old, and stayed in Sydney for his schooling. Alick was keen on swimming, he played around in the water continually, and in 1898 was entered in a 66 yards U10 handicap race in Australia’s oldest rock pool at Bronte, near Sydney.

It was here that Alick astonished onlookers with his speed and unusual stroke. Charlie Bell, who raced against him, told me that Wickham swam with his head held fairly high, turning it quickly from side to side breathing with each complete stroke, his wooly head apparently not getting wet. The entry of his arms was short and towards the centre line of the body with the elbows well bent. His arm action was very fast and short. Each arm performed a symmetrical action with the head turning from side to side as if breathing on each side, but only breathing on one side to each stroke.”

Denison describes Wickham’s induction, “Alick is the person who ‘Introduced the crawl stroke to the sport of the Western World’. This was observed by Frederick Cavill of the Cavill Family, IMSHOF Class of 1967, who refined the stroke and promulgated its usage. The early marathon swimmers used breaststroke and trudgen. These strokes would not have allowed today’s swimmers to have accomplished such amazing distances in such incredible times.

Alick was therefore the most influential coach who allowed the sport to grow hugely in the next 100 + years. Records for 10+ kilometer marathon swims start in about the mid-1800’s. It is well documented that swimmers from the First Nations in the Americas, Africans and Asiana Islanders excelled in the open water swimming long before the recorded start of our sport.

Alick was an all-around aquatic pioneer and carnival attraction. He set the unofficial world record for 50 yards freestyle in 1910 and was the inaugural Australasian dive champion in 1904, and from 1908–1912, the New South Wales state champion for both diving and swimming. He also set a world diving record, attracting 70,000 spectators in 1918, for a 62-meter swan dive into the Yarra River, Melbourne and is also credited in the development of body surfing.

Wickham is a dual inductee. He was inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Contributor in 1974 and, now is inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Coach in its Class of 2022.

A video demonstrating the evolution of the Australian Crawl is shown here where Wickham is mentioned.

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Steven Munatones