Friday, August 6, 2010

August 6, 1926: The Channel

***UPDATE: This event has been replaced. See the new one here.***

KINGSDOWN, England - She had been in the water for 14 hours and 30 minutes, fighting high winds and waves. When she stepped onto the beach on the English side of the channel, she had made history in more ways than one. Not only was Gertrude Elerde the first woman to swim across the English channel, she had done so faster than anybody ever had, man or woman. As Ederle left the water after her historic swim, there to greet her was ... an immigration officer, asking to see her passport.

The historic swim of August 6, 1926, was Ederle's second attempt to swim across the English Channel. The first time, she was disqualified after being recovered from the water by another swimmer. Ederle was disappointed by the decision and set out again to make history.

For her second trip, she had some help on her side. Both the New York Daily News and Chicago Tribune agreed to sponsor Ederle's attempt, paying for her training and giving her a salary in exchange for exclusive coverage of her attempt. She was already well-known for her three swimming medals at the 1924 Olympics
in Paris, and now she was trying to make worldwide history.

She stepped into the water at Cap Gris-Nez in France at 7:05 a.m., joined by two tugboats. There was supposed to be just one boat carrying her sister and the reporters, but the reporter from the Daily News refused to let the Tribune reporter on her boat, so a second one was hired.

The second tugboat caused some controversy, as it deliberatly sailed close to Ederle, hoping she would touch it and thus be disqualified. It was also suggested that the two boats effectively shielded her from the wind and strong current, enabling her to keep a straight course in relatively steady seas.

Regardless, she swam onward. At around the 12-hour mark, the seas became dangerously choppy. Someone from one tugboat called out to Ederle, saying she needed to come out of the water. She called back, "What for?" And she kept on.

Ederle received almost instant fame from being the first woman to swim across the Channel. She was honored with a ticker-tape parade upon her return to New York and toured the vaudeville circuit. Though an incompetent manager prevented her from reaping as many awards as she could have throughout her life, Ederle remained famous. Already hard of hearing when she made the Channel swim, Ederle was completely deaf by 1940. She spent much of the rest of her life teaching swimming to deaf students. Her time of 14 hours and 30 minutes remained the Channel record for women until 1950, 25 years after her famous swim.

No comments:

Post a Comment