Toughness Defined In The 1972 Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean

Toughness Defined In The 1972 Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean

Alejandro of Neptune’s Swimming Club in Queretaro, Mexico gave tribute to a great Mexican swimmer Raúl Villagómez Curiel [shown above on right] who competed in the Pan American Games and the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Villagómez was a specialist in the 200m butterfly and the 400m individual medley, two notoriously difficult pool events.

Villagómez utilized his innate toughness in 1972 at the 32 km Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, conducted in the non-GPS era.

Villagómez was joined by many of the toughest, most hardened, most experienced professional marathon swimmers in the world participated in the 1972 Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean. It was a particularly tough swim from Péribonka to Roberval in Quebec, Canada. The race across the nearly circular lake is never easy and was definitely not a simple 32 km point-to-point race in 1972.

On a mid-summer day in August, Mother Nature threw nearly everything she had at the 21 professional marathon swimmers. Only 3 athletes finished – including Villagómez – when rains fell and the winds came up with gusts came up to 27 miles per hour (45 km per hour) – creating oncoming turbulence right in the face of the swimmers.

The year before saw the swimmers face the water temperatures around 15ºC (59ºF) when Jan Van Scheijndel of the Netherlands finished second in 9 hours 7 minutes. But a year later in 1972, Van Scheijndel [shown below] won in 10 hours 48 minutes – a full 1 hour 41 minutes slower even with the water 16ºC (61ºF) slightly warmer.

The conditions are always difficult in tempestuous lac St-Jean, but the 1972 race’s difficulty was highlighted when 5-time winner, Horacio Iglesias of Argentina, pulled out after 9 hours 26 minutes. Others who had to retire in the lake included one-time winner Judith de Nijs in 3 hours 8 minutes and three-way English Channel swimmer Jon Erikson after 11 hours 3 minutes, 3-time finisher Diana Nyad of the U.S.A., 4-time finisher Stephen Lake of England, 4-time finisher Marwan Saleh of Syria, and 14-time finisher and one-time winner Régent Lacoursière of Canada.

18th Traversée Results – August 6th 1972 Péribonka-Roberval 32 km
1. Jan Van Scheijndel (Netherlands) 10 hours 48 minutes
2. Raul Villagómez (Mexico) 11 hours 37 minutes
3. Dennis Matuch (USA) 11 hours 37 minutes

* Carlos Aguirre (Argentina) 44 minutes
* Johan Schans (Netherlands) 1 hours 22 minutes
* Naste Jonceski (Yugoslavia) 3 hours 4 minutes
* Judith de Nijs (Netherlands) 3 hours 8 minutes
* Michel Poirier (Canada) 3 hours 55 minutes
* Mahmoud Khamis (Syria) 4 hours 19 minutes
* Marcello Guiscardo (Argentina) 5 hours 25 minutes
* Diana Nyad (U.S.A.) 5 hours 47 minutes
* Horacio Iglesias (Argentina) 9 hours 26 minutes
* Philip Gollop (England) 10 hours 11 minutes
* Stephen Lake (England) 10 hours 52 minutes
* Jon Erickson (USA) 11 hours 3 minutes

Left water after time limit
* Mohamed Gamie (Egypt)
* Régent Lacoursière (Canada)
* Samia Mandour (Egypt)
* Yvon Montpetit (Canada)
* Marwan Saleh (Syria)
* Hafez Shedid (Egypt)

Jan van Scheijndel, winner of the 1972 raversée internationale du lac St-Jea

Antonio Argüelles, an Oceans Seven swimmer also from Mexico City, remembers him, “Raúl was my coach and someone who inspired long distance swimming in me. His sister is married to [International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmer] Claudio Plit. I remember seeing Raúl doing a set of 100×100 meters one day, all at a 1:30 pace. I was doing them at a much faster pace, so I asked him why I was going so slow. He said, ‘This is my pace for 12 hours of swimming.’ That is when I understood long distance swimming is a matter of pace.”

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Steven Munatones