When Legends Meet: Tomi Stefanovski and Niko Nestor

When Legends Meet: Tomi Stefanovski and Niko Nestor

The photo above shows legendary marathon swimmers and water polo players Tomi Stefanovski and Niko Nestor of Macedonia. While Stefanovski is known among contemporary marathon swimmers, Nestor set the standard for earlier generations of swimmers in Macedonia.

Stefanovski competed for many years on the FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup and FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix series where he had numerous podium positions in the Traversée internationale du lac Memphrémagog, Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, Jarak-Šabac Marathon Swim, and the Ohrid Lake Swim Marathon.

They both also crossed the English Channel: Stefanovski in 2009 in a fast 7 hours 42 minutes. But Nestor was the first Macedonian to complete the crossing. On September 9th 1959, Nestor swam the English Channel in 12 hours 6 minutes.

Athletes in the 1959 English Channel race including Niko Nestor

Starting from Cap Gris Nez in France 36 minutes after midnight, Nestor raced against the Who’s Who of the 1950’s and 1960’s including Brojen Das, Gordon Hill, Bastiaan Weemhoff, James Thoas Grander, William Pickering, Shaukat ul Islam Khan, Alfredo Camarero, Kenneth James Wray, Herman Willemse, Ala el Din el Nawab, John (Jack) McClelland, Myra Thompson, R. Willard, Osman Ghandour, Baptista Pereira, Alfieri Cesare, Erik Erikson, Major Zasson Zirganos, Primo Ferreira, William Burgess Bristow, Helge Jensen, Greta Anderson, Gunnar Poulsen, Don E. Jonz, Raphael Morand, Bimal Chandra, Rosemary George, Steffan Hasselberg, Richard Callahan, Paul M. Herron, Pascual Guerrero, Arati Saha, Christina Free, Carlos Larriera, John N. Simpson, Imre Szerasi, Eyjolfur Jonsson, William M. Halday, Vatier Osman, Sheila M. Skinner, Magda Meiar, and Haldun Ismen.

The following month, Nestor was escorted by his coach Kliment Zarov and the Channel Swimming Association observers, and finished in 12 hours 6 minutes to become the first man from the former Yugoslavia to complete a crossing of the English Channel.

It was not surprising that Nestor found his way in the water. Born in what was then Yugoslavia, Nestor began swimming in the Black Drim river flowing from the Ohrid Lake as a young child. In 1948 at the Juniors Championship held in Ohrid, Nestor earned five championship titles in the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle. Later, he set Macedonian records in the 50m, 200m, 400m, 1000m and 1500m freestyles as well as in breaststroke and backstroke (at a time when the butterfly was not part of formal competitions). Between 1949 and 1954, he dominated domestic distances including the 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m and 1500m freestyles.

On August 2nd 1954, he won a 2.5 km race in Ohrid Lake from Gorica to Ohrid. He later set new distances from St. Stefan to Ohrid, from Pestani to Ohrid, and from St. Naum to Ohrid. In 1958, he became the first person to swim 33 km from St. Naum to Struga in 11 hours 28 minutes. In 1959, Nestor swam 24 km from St. Naum to Ohrid in 6 hours 45 minutes that led to an annual race that continued as a stop on the FINA professional marathon swimming circuit.

He also competed in the 1960 Around the Island Atlantic City Swim in New Jersey where he won the amateur division. In addition to his swimming exploits, Nestor also played water polo and became the Honorary Life President of the International Ohrid Lake Swimming Marathon in Macedonia.

He was later selected to become a member of the Macedonian Olympic Committee where he inspired and contributed to the re-establishment of the Ohrid Lake International Swimming Marathon, one of the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix events. Due to his legacy, he was recognized as its Honorary Life President while he continued as an active member of the Macedonian Swimming Association with responsibility to lead youth sport education. He passed away at the age of 81.

Nestor explains, “I swam for my people. And the people best know how to appreciate and reward that dedication.”

Among his numerous awards, he was honored with the following:

* Silver-plated Captain Webb Award for achievement for ‘The first man from behind the Iron Curtain to swim the Channel’ by the Channel Swimming Association
* Channel Swimming Association trophy for 50th Anniversary of his crossing
* Certificate for the Best Sportsman for 1959
* Gold Medal of the Sport Federation Alliance of Macedonia
* Gold Medal 50th Anniversary of the Organisation ‘Ohridski Branovi’ Ohrid
* Klime Savin Award
* Gold Medal – award of the TV channel Sitel
* Centenary Sportsmen in Macedonia for Marathon Swimming
* Award from the President of the Republic of Macedonia for Special Achievement in Sports

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Steven Munatones