Catalina Channel stats: An epidemiological view

The second in a series of posts taking a statistical look at the history of Catalina Channel swimming. These analyses have not been validated or endorsed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and should be considered “unofficial.” 2011 swims are included, but are unofficial until the ratification banquet on November 5.

CCSF’s official list of successful swims is available here. Penny Lee Dean’s authoritative history is here.

On January 15, 1927, George Young was the only one of 102 participants to finish the Wrigley Ocean Marathon, and in so doing, became the first person to swim across the Catalina Channel. For his achievement Young earned a $25,000 prize – approximately $325,000 in 2011 dollars, and richer (even in nominal dollars) than any current cash prize in professional marathon swimming.

Seven of the DNF’s in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon – four men and three women – returned later that year to try again; four finished. But Catalina Channel swimming didn’t catch on after this rousing first year. Over the next 25 years only two more swimmers added their names to the list. Despite a brief resurgence in the late 1970’s (including double-crossings by Penny Lee Dean, Cindy Cleveland, Dan Slosberg, and John York), the typical number of calendar-year crossings was still 5 or fewer into the mid-2000’s.

Catalina Channel solo crossings per year, 1927-2011

Then it took off. In 2005, 12 swimmers crossed the Channel. Followed in subsequent years by 13, 8, 25, 16, and 29 crossings. So far in 2011, there have been 22. What happened? My guess would be the marketing of the “Triple Crown.”

Catalina Channel solo crossings - Cumulative


2 thoughts on “Catalina Channel stats: An epidemiological view”

    1. The “Triple Crown” concept seems to have arisen sometime in the mid-1990s but did not gain widespread legitimacy until Steven Munatones started promoting it on his blog in 2007-ish. Ned Denison wrote the following in the Channel Swimmers chat group last year:

      We can clearly trace the term “Triple Crown” to California based Scott Richards in about 2006. I independently used it later that year as part of my “let me in please” essay when I applied for MIMS. Another California based swimmer Rendy Lynn used it widely around the same time. While we can’t seem to exactly trace it some have memories of “Triple Crown” being mentioned in a magazine Outside or the USMS magazine in an article about open water swim around 1995. Anybody got an old collection and nothing to do on a Saturday can try and find it!

      Starting in 1996, MIMS in press releases started to refer to our “Other marathon ‘sister’ swims: English Channel (21 miles), Catalina Channel, California (21 miles)” as a way to try to explain marathon swimming to the general public. The only event the press was familiar with was the English Channel. Most USA media on the East Coast press knew little about Catalina. While MIMS has always been proud to be mentioned along with these two other great swims – it is not right to imply (as a few swimmers did recently) that MIMS was in some way taking advantage. MIMS was and is a great swim in its own right and folks all over the world seek out New York City as a tourist and life destination and for swimmers – the allure of a 28.5 mile swim around the Island keeps the events over subscribed each year.

      Steve Munatones gave the “Triple Crown” gravitas and credibility by promoting the idea further in the last few years.

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