Must one be a Fast swimmer to be a Great swimmer?

An excerpts from an interview with Kevin Murphy, the real “King of the English Channel”:

I don’t regard myself as a great swimmer. What I’ve got is an overwhelming ability to keep going, physically and mentally; I’ve got this obsessive willpower to keep going. As a swimmer, there are lots of people who are much better than me; there are a lot of swimmers who are a lot fitter than me. But the point about what we do is… I like to say that 50% of it is willpower; 25% swimming ability; and 25% fitness. The only thing about it is, the fitter you are and the better swimmer you are, the less it hurts psychologically.

Kevin was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977 – and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2009. Among other feats, he’s completed 34 crossings of the English Channel.

And he is not a fast swimmer. (His fastest E-F crossing was 13 hours, 31 minutes).

This cuts to the heart of marathon swimming and is perhaps the most significant difference from pool swimming (in which athletes are judged only on the basis of time/speed). Marathon swimming is mostly about persistence and stubbornness, or as Murphy says, “willpower.” It’s nice to be fast, of course; but it’s a relatively minor detail. A luxury.

Kevin Murphy is not a fast swimmer. Yet he is undoubtedly a great swimmer.