Heroes of swimming: Abdel Latif Abu Heif
This Egyptian battleship tore through open-water marathon swimming with ease, finesse and generosity
Heroes of swimming would like to issue an apology. Some weeks ago, we described Johnny Weissmuller as the greatest swimmer ever. We may have misled you, and if we did, we're sorry.Who, though, is Johnny's rival for Heroes of swimming's affections? An Egyptian swimmer called Abdel Latif Abu Heif: a legend not of the pool, but of the open water. If you haven't heard of him, you're not alone. Outside his native country – where streets and children were named after him, and he was feted wherever he went – Abu Heif's name is familiar only to a small circle of open-water marathon-racing fans.
Even in his prime, Abu Heif was no one's idea of what a swimming champion looks like. He was 5ft 10in and broad-shouldered, but far from the chiselled physique most of us associate with elite swimmers. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, at something around 95kg (15st) Abu Heif was a bit pudgy. His nickname was "Crocodile of the Nile", but the unkind might have said hippo was more appropriate. Even one of his fans once said that Abu Heif's emblem would have been: "A big set of beautiful white teeth in a friendly grin, and a picture of a huge stomach."