Going Back In Open Water History, From Hinsdale to The Kinneret

Going Back In Open Water History, From Hinsdale to The Kinneret

Mark Lambert of Hinsdale, coached by the legendary Don Watson, won the 6-mile Sea of Galilee swim back in 1970. The holder of national high school pool records became a Face In The Crowd in Sports Illustrated as a result. His story, as a young teenager flying around the world, is fascinating.

After finishing behind Mark Spitz in the USA national championships in the 200m freestyle and then participating on a world record setting 800m freestyle relay in Tokyo, Japan, the schoolboy was contacted by the AAU and asked to travel to Israel to swim in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

His invitation was to represent the United States at the annual Sea of Galilee open water swim that commemorates the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) from Ein Gev to the finish in Tiberias.

Well, why not?” replied Lambert who traveled with chaperone Red Barr from Southern Methodist University. “I had to get permission from the Illinois High School Association. Before I left Hinsdale, I did a final rehearsal swim in a 25-yard pool – 440 lengths or 11,000 yards with 439 turns in 2 hours 30 minute. I went home to change, went to my high school football game and homecoming dance. I then left from Chicago, got to New York, then head to London and then to Geneva. Finally, I landed in Tel Aviv and was on my way to Tiberias. My driver was armed with a 9mm pistol and an Uzi in the trunk.

I was finally able to do a warm-up swim where Jesus converted fishermen into fishers of men, but the night before race, a Syrian guy comes to my room and bets money that his swimmer would win.”

Young and jet-lagged as Lambert was, he was one of the world’s best-trained swimmers at the time. He recalls race day. “The start was a run through large rocks, although I walked. My boat crew barely understood any English [so] I did my own navigation. I took aim at a white cottage in the middle of an olive grove that I had noticed during the warm-up swim. The swim was easy, but I did chew an entire pack of Dentyne gum during the race.”

He won 18 minutes over the top swimmer from Syria and was able to collect some cash to bring his sisters gifts from Israel before visiting Bethlehem, Haifa, Nazareth, Jerusalem, and competed in a swim meet in Tel Aviv.

As Lambert remembers, “All good things must come to an end.”

But the memories remain.

Image of the February 1969 Swimming World Magazine with Mark Lambert (lower right), Gary Ferraro, John Kinsella and Phil Dodson on a record-setting relay team courtesy of Swimming World Magazine.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones