The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Cliff Lumsdon

Marathon Swimming

1949


Photograph of swimmer Cliff Lumsdon

Photograph of swimmer Cliff Lumsdon

Date
1949
Collection
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Dropping like flies…

On September 2, 1949, at 11:27 in the morning, three minutes ahead of schedule, Toronto Mayor, Hiram E. McCallum fired the starting gun. Forty-five of the best professional marathon swimmers in the world jumped into the unusually chilly waters of Lake Ontario to contest the World Marathon Swim Championship in a grueling fifteen mile race. They were also after a share of the $12,000.00 prize money put up by the race host, the Canadian National Exhibition.

A forty-sixth man sitting on the dock dipped his toes into the frigid waters and decided to let the others go without him!

Only 23 of the swimmers remained after 3 miles, and by 1:00 p.m. there were only 19, the cold water to blame. Race officials posted 62 °F lake water but competitor’s own tests indicated 54 °F. A chilly breeze made matters much worse.

Ultimately, only three would finish that race. To the rest of the field, young Cliff Lumsdon must have appeared as though from a different planet. The 18-year-old from New Toronto took the lead at the half-mile mark and never relinquished it. Just before 8:00 that evening, after an exhausting 7 hours, 54 minutes and 55 seconds, Lumsdon was able to reclaim the warmth and comfort of dry land, a half-mile ahead of 1947 World Champion, Ben Gazel who later heaped nothing but praise on his victorious competitor. In a sport that often rewards experience, 38-year-old Gazel of Toronto, and the only other finisher, Bill Sadlo 49, of New York, were trumped by the durable youth who was young enough to be called ‘son.’

Cliff Lumsdon would validate his credentials claiming the World Marathon Swim Championship four more times in the next six years becoming somewhat of a one-man marathon swimming dynasty. Lumsdon, who started swimming at six as a member of the Lakeshore Swim Club under innovative coach Gus Ryder, became well known as a mentor, friend and regular training partner to another fine young swimmer. Together with his protégé Marilyn Bell, the 1954 Lou Marsh Memorial Award winner, they swam the Credit River for countless hours.

For all his notoriety, Lumsdon remained firmly grounded and was known to possess character even greater than his skills as a swimmer.

Lumsdon has Premier as his cheer-leader, receives Marsh Award Adobe PDF Transcript


Highlights

1949
Canadian National Exhibition marathon swim, first place
1949
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
1950
Canadian National Exhibition marathon swim, first place
1952
Canadian National Exhibition marathon swim, first place
1953
Canadian National Exhibition marathon swim, first place
1955
Canadian National Exhibition marathon swim, first place
1956
Atlantic City Around the Island Marathon, first place
1959
Atlantic City Around the Island Marathon, first place