The Zezela Swimming Champion


This fact deserves attention because it is interesting and extraordinary, if not downright outstanding. Zezela swimming means moving through the water in an upright position while using only the feet and keeping both hands above the water. And Georgia has a world champion in it! His name is Beglar Elbakidze. The 58-year-old Georgian “sea-walking” athlete, who is also a musician, became the third-time winner of the title: setting a new record in the Zezela old-Georgian martial-training swimming style, swimming 21 km all the while holding in his right hand the Georgian flag and in his left, the Batumi City emblem. This curious but little-known sporting event took place on Sunday, September 2, inside the marine belt of Georgia, within the framework of the Golden Fleece Sporting Program and traditional festival of Batumoba.

Beglar’s third sea-record marathon has no analog in the history of Mankind. Moving in the water only with the help of his legs and feet and using no flippers or special swimsuit or any other swimming aids, he covered 14 Olympic distances (14x1500=21000 meters): a total of 21 kilometers in 13 hours and 35 minutes. The marathon began at the Batumi Lighthouse at 08:45 a.m. and finished in the Kobuleti coastal waters at 10:00 p.m.

The principal organizers of the marathon swim were the Georgian Union for Support of World Achievements and Travels (GIORGI), the Phasisi Georgian Geographical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. The sponsors of the event who made the whole thing possible were Adjaran NGOs, the Union of Veteran Sportsmen, the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Adjara Autonomous Republic, the Khashuri and Kobuleti municipalities and the Batumi Navigation Training University.

From start to finish, the weather was fine: warm and sunny with an air temperature of +30° and sea water temperature of +26-27°. And still, the marathon swimmer had to bravely handle frequent alterations of wind direction and water currents and, because of this, the distance covered by zigzag exceeded the planned one. In spite of these unexpected circumstances, Elbakidze displayed amazing courage, stamina and great spiritual and physical effort. He overcame all obstacles and successfully finished the set-out program.

The marathon swimmer was all the way accompanied by a lifeboat BRIG-300 with a crew including navigator Lasha Robchin, rescue diver Koba Mzhavanadze, Commissioner of Special Referees, acting under the statute of the World Records Movement, ocean-going captain professor Dursun Tsintsadze, world and Olympic champion in wrestling, marathon pilot Vakhtang Blagidze, correspondent of the Associated Press, operator Givi Peikrishvili, and the marathon organizer and coordinator Gvanji Mania. The second group of the Commission moved by land and managed organizational matters.

As unique human achievements go, the world has already recognized the Georgian script, polyphonic singing, Qvevri (clay amphora), wine, and national-style wrestling. It is probably high time for Zezela Swimming to also be recognized, being a sporting event which could also be a powerful rescue measure and a form of martial arts.

There is also another swimming style called ‘Menchurua’ dating back to the time of the Kolchis, involving swimming with tethered hands and feet. Fans of the style are hoping that at some point in future it might become an Olympic swimming event. But for now, Georgia is happy to celebrate the record of Beglar Elbakidze, which will doubtless soon attract the attention of the wider public here and abroad.

By Nugzar B. Ruhadze

06 September 2018 19:06