Eight Amazing Swimming Feats
What characteristics distinguish a superb swimmer? Discipline, toughness, superb technique, a crazy desire to conquer the world’s most hostile bodies of water? This list explores eight incredible swimming accomplishments to keep in mind when you head to the pool or beach.
1.Lord Byron Takes A Dip In The Dardenelles (1810).
According to Greek tradition, Leander swam three miles every night to traverse the Dardenelles (previously known as the Hellespont), the strait dividing Europe and Asia, to meet his lover, Hero, on the other side. That is until Leander’s luck ran out one winter night when he drowned in the frigid stream. If that heartbreaking narrative doesn’t make you want to jump in and try it for yourself, nothing will. You are not a particular 19th-century English poet/aristocrat with known impulse-control problems. On May 3, 1810, George Gordon Byron, an exceptional swimmer and all-around daredevil, jumped into the water near Sestos on the European side and set sail towards the opposite coast, escorted by Royal Navy Lieutenant William Akenhead. The pair slogged out, freezing and exhausted, four hours later at Abydos on the Asian side, becoming the first people in recorded history to complete the swim. Byron’s commemorative poem compares his success to Leander’s and finishes on a humble note: “It was difficult to say who fared the best/Sad mortals!” As a result, the gods continue to plague you! He lost his labour; I lost my wit; because he drowned, and I have the ague. “
2.At The Olympics, Duke Kahanamoku Dominated The 100-meter Freestyle (1912 and 1920).
When a 20-year-old upstart from a distant Pacific island smashed the world record in the 100-yard freestyle in Honolulu Harbor in 1911, the Amateur Athletic Union refused to recognise his time; it was simply unthinkable that a 20-year-old upstart from a distant Pacific island had beaten the world’s best by four and a half seconds. But Kahanamoku was soon given the opportunity to show himself on the world stage. His strong kick helped him win gold medals in Stockholm in 1912 and Antwerp in 1920.
He very likely would have won if the 1916 Olympics had not been postponed due to World War I. Kahanamoku was dethroned in 1924 when he finished second to Johnny Weissmuller. But swimming was only Kahanamoku’s day job. He was also an accomplished surfer and is known as “the father of surfing” for his role in popularising the sport outside of Hawaii.
3.Gertrude Ederle Completes A Record-breaking Crossing Of The English Channel (1926).
Gertrude Ederle had an impressive swimming resume by the age of twenty, having won a gold medal and established a world record in the 4 x 100-metre freestyle relay and the Paris Olympics in 1924, he won two separate bronze medals in classical events. After Paris, she set her eyes on becoming the sixth person and the first woman to safely cross the English Channel. Of course, there were sceptics; numerous failed attempts by women (including Ederle’s initial attempt in 1925) had led many to believe that women simply weren’t up to the challenges of swimming the channel. Ederle proved them wrong in spectacular fashion on August 6, 1926, finishing the swim in 14 hours and 39 minutes, about two hours quicker than the fastest male pace. Her reception on the English beach? An immigration officer requested her passport.
4.Dawn Fraser Is The 100-meter Freestyle Champion (1956, 1960, 1964).
Australia generates a disproportionate number of champion swimmers. Despite continuous clashes with Australian swimming officials over a range of minor breaches, she comfortably won gold in swimming’s main event, the 100-meter freestyle, in Melbourne in 1956 and Rome in 1960. In March 1964, Fraser was severely injured in a car accident that also killed her mother. Nonetheless, she successfully defended her Olympic title in Tokyo that summer, becoming the first swimmer in history to win the same event in three consecutive Olympics. Discipline difficulties at the Tokyo Olympics resulted in Fraser’s suspension from Australian swimming for ten years, effectively forcing her to retire while still in her prime. It’s not difficult to see Fraser winning the Olympic 100 metres again in 1968.
5.Abdul Latif Abu Hef Sails Across Lake Michigan (1963).
If you passed Egyptian marathon swimmer Abu Hef on the street, you might not have recognised him as one of the best sportsmen in sports history. He didn’t match the cliché of the tall, thin sportsman, standing at five feet ten inches and weighing between 200 and 240 pounds. But pity the poor ectomorphs who had to compete with him in the water. With almost limitless physical reserves, the “Nile Crocodile” was always prepared for a sprint finish at the end of a multi-hour race when his adversaries were typically simply fortunate to be alive. It’s difficult to pick a single Abu Hef to swim from his incredible career, but as a Chicagoan, your correspondent is partial to his 1963 victory in a 60-mile race across Lake Michigan. He finished in about 35 hours, which is roughly 34 hours and 50 minutes longer than most of us can stand in that cold, choppy sea.
6.Mark Spitz Has A Seven-for-Seven Record (1972).
When Mark Spitz arrived in Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics, he had plenty of reasons to be confident. After all, he was a swimming prodigy, a 17-year-old with ten world records to his name. Was it a good idea for him to declare publicly that he would win six gold medals? Probably not—he only won two races, both relays. But his disappointment in Mexico pushed him to achieve even more. In 1972, he won gold medals in all seven of his events at the Munich Olympics, setting seven world records in the process. And he did it with flair, sporting a moustache that none of today’s drag-obsessed swimmers would attempt.
7.Lynne Cox Swam From the United States to Russia (1987).
With the Cold War in full swing in the summer of 1987, Lynne Cox, a marathon swimmer, chose to make a peace gesture by swimming from Little Diomede Island, which belongs to the United States, to Big Diomede Island, which belongs to the Soviet Union. Cox’s swim was relatively short at 2.7 miles, but the water temperature in the Bering Strait at that time of year was just above freezing, and she planned to swim without a wetsuit. To make matters more complicated, Cox’s planned swim alarmed both the US and Soviet forces; when she landed in Little Diomede, Russian ships and fighter jets from both sides were anxiously observing the situation. After learning about the swim, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev granted Cox permission to proceed. \ It went down without a hitch, and Cox was received by a welcoming party of Soviet officials and KGB agents armed with blankets, tea samovars, and nibbles on Big Diomede.
8.Michael Phelps Has an Eight-for-Eight Record (2008)
Did you expect us to go through this list without mentioning the Baltimore Bullet? He has won more Olympic medals and world championships in swimming than all but a few countries, therefore anyone who claims he isn’t the greatest swimmer of all time is being unreasonable. Phelps accomplished his greatest feat in 2008 when he outdid Mark Spitz by earning eight gold medals in eight events at the Beijing Olympics. And he accomplished it with a programme that was probably more difficult—or, at the very least, more tiring—than Spitz’s, because of the arduous 400-individual medley. With his large feet, long arms, and almost limitless pain tolerance, Phelps made it look simple even as he stormed back from behind to win the 100-meter butterfly by one-hundredth of a second. The most dramatic moment in Phelps’s campaign occurred when he was not even in the water: with the US 4 x 100-metre freestyle relay team trailing the French team on the final leg, Phelps’s teammate Jason Lezak managed to catch and pass the much more highly regarded French sprinter Alain Bernard in the final few metres of the race.