The Will To Live By Alfred Hajós

The Will To Live By Alfred Hajós

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

25 men and 25 women competed in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swims held in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. Those athletes were the top finalists in the Olympic open water swimming competition.

But, the history of open water swimming at the Olympics goes back over 100 years.

At the Athens Olympics, on April 11th 1896, four swim races were held in the Bay of Zea in the Aegean Sea: a 100-meter race, a 500-meter race, a 1200-meter race and a special race only for Greek sailors. Reportedly, 20,000 spectators were said to have watched the four events off the Piraeus coast.

According to Allen Guttmann in his book The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games, Alfred Hajós of Hungary, the gold medalist in the 100 and 1200, described his races, “I won ahead of the others with a big lead, but my greatest struggle was against the towering twelve-foot waves and the terribly cold water.”

In April, the ocean water was 50°F (or 10C°). Due to the cold water, Hajós covered his body with a thick half-inch layer of grease. The swimmers were taken to the starting point in a boat and told to head towards shore. Upon winning the 1200, Hajós said, “My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.”

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association