Orson Spencer

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Orson Spencer, Open Water Swimming legend in Utah in 1941 is awarded first place trophy in the Antelope Island To Black Rock Race (8 Miles)
Orson Spencer gets a fresh water rinse after winning the Great Salt Lake Marathon Race in 1941

Orson Spencer was an American open water swimming legend in state of Utah that dominated many races and set records, most notably in the Great Salt Lake. His 8.2-mile swim from Antelope Island across the Great Salt Lake was the inspiration behind the Great Salt Lake Open Water Marathon Swim held annually in June.

In the 2011 Great Salt Lake Open Water Marathon race, Steve Spencer shares details of his father's swimming legacy and displays his trophy won in 1941.


Open Water Swimming Champion

It was recorded in Dale L. Morgan's book, The Great Salt Lake, that "In 1919 a professional swimmer, C.S. Leaf, negotiated the distance between Antelope Island and Saltair in 2 hours, 28 minutes and 27 seconds, and 7 years later a marathon swim was staged; the event was won by Chick Mitchell. The marathon was revived in 1930 and for 3 years was won by Orson Spencer; his record time, 2:20 was set in 1932." The Antelope Island to Saltair course estimated between 6 and 7 miles. Over time, the receding lake level resulted in the finish line for the course to be changed further southwest to Black Rock Beach. The new distance measured at 8.12 miles. Spencer won the Great Salt Lake races in 1930, 1931, 1932, 1937, 1938, and the only finisher in 1941.

He also won a 2 mile open water race in Utah's Pineview Reservoir in 1941.

In 1940, Spencer was injured in an automobile accident and forced to withdraw from racing for that year. He was referenced by other top Utah swimmers as being the swimmer to beat. Ken Lyman, winner of the 1940 Great Salt Lake Race was quoted in the newspaper saying, "I've lost two of these races to Spencer. With Orson out, I figured this was my chance."

World Records

Spencer still holds the Antelope Island to Saltair course (6.5 miles) record at 2:20.

In the longer Antelope Island To Black Rock course (8.12 miles) his world record of 3:40:52 was set in 1937 and was unbeaten for over 70 years until September 2010.

Inspiration To Modern Swimmers

It was Spencer's legacy which inspired the race to be revived and on 11 June 2011 the Antelope Island to Black Rock Marathon swim was held. Steve Spencer, Orson's son was present at the race to share stories of his father and to display the trophy that Orson won in 1941.


Steve Spencer, Son of Orson Spencer, gives details of Orson's swimming career at the start of the Great Salt Lake Open Water Marathon Race on June 11, 2011.

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