Open Water Swimming: The Bucket List of Achieving the Triple Crown

Triple crown dinner

Open Water Swimming: Achieving the Triple Crown

The term “Bucket List” caught the public’s attention in 2007 with the release of a film by the same name starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Their characters were suffering from terminal illnesses and had a list of things they wanted to accomplish before they died. This concept has become increasing popular in open water swimming and there are at least 40 bucket list options.

The most popular is the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming”: English Channel (33 km between England and France); San Pedro Channel (usually called the Catalina Channel; 31.6 km between Catalina Island and the mainland toward Los Angeles); Around Manhattan Island (45.9 km of New York City). Steven Muñatones of the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) declared this brand name in 2009 and consistently promoted successes. As of the end of 2022, 265 swimmers have completed this bucket list. Munatones had several advantages in popularizing this bucket list:

1. From 1987 to 2009, 29 swimmers had already accomplished his “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming”. This gave it starting momentum, with a good mix of the most famous/accomplished marathon swimmers in the world and amateur marathon swimmers.

2. The concept and name “Triple Crown” already existed. Marathon swimming had an original Triple Crown in the 1970s – two swimmers having completed the English, North and Bristol Channels. The concept was also well known from horse racing.

3. The three swims could be completed in a single summer (with great scheduling) or a handful of years.

4. WOWSA was the leading publisher in the sport and pushed the brand/successes strongly for the last 13 years.

This bucket list appeared on marathon swimmer’s resumes, became a recognition badge as swimmers met around the world and was celebrated. Only one in eight English Channel swimmers can introduce themselves as Triple Crown swimmers. Pictured is the annual Triple Crown Dinner in Cork Ireland with the veterans welcoming the seated swimmers who more recently achieved the title – and yes logo shirts and gold crowns (made of plastic!).

Munatones then named more than 25 other Triple Crowns, including Irish, Kiwi, Italian, African, Canadian, etc. Each had at least one major local marathon, often the Catalina Channel and always the English Channel. None of these caught on with swimmers and they received very little marketing push. Two local sets of organizers/promoters took two of these, reformed with just local marathons, saw success and promoted the brands. The California Triple Crown now lists 30 successes and the Australian Triple Crown 8 successes.

Munatones had a second major success with the Oceans Seven. These included the better known major marathons around the world: English, Catalina, North, Molokai and Tsugaru Channels plus Cook and Gibraltar Straits. To date, 21 swimmers have completed this bucket list and 10 are Honorees of IMSHOF. Swimmers have taken four to 25 years and completion can cost $100,000 for fees and swimmer/crew travel.

Another success has been the Triple Break consisting of any three prison Island swims named in 2016. 19 have completed this bucket list with IMSHOF Honoree Jacques Tuset completing 45 unique prison Island swims.

Many other Triple Crowns have been named, but at present have been accomplished by fewer than five swimmers, hence the brand isn’t yet strong: Lake Monster Swims (example Loch Ness), Stillwater Eight (fresh water), Toughest Thirteen (by the Marathon Swimmers Federation), Ice Sevens (an ice mile in each continent) and Extraordinary Marathon Century Club (100 lifetime marathons – with only a few duplicates or shorter ones allowed).

There are also many bucket lists that aren’t branded or publicized. A few examples would include all the longer Scottish Lochs or all of the lakes in Northern Vermont or northwest England.

For a swimmer with a zest for American travel, try a named swim in each of the 50 States!

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