REVIVAL OF CLASSIC GREAT CHANNEL SWIM RACE AFTER 50 YEAR ABSENCE
World class competitors from around the globe will, this summer, contest the first Great Channel Swim race for 50 years between England and France. The revival of the classic endurance event from Dover to Calais will take place when the tide is expected to be most favourable in a window between August 19th and 24th. Eight elite male swimmers, headed by Bulgaria’s Peter Stoychev who holds the world record time of six hours 57 minutes for the Channel swim and six women
will be invited to take part.
"I'm sure this revival of what was regarded as one of the world’s classic distance races will capture the imagination of the public," said Brendan Foster, Chairman of organisers, Nova International, the sports marketing agency, who staged the first Great North Swim last year.
Foster added: "We are in discussions with some of the worlds leading distance swimmers and the initial feedback is that they are very interested in getting involved in such a historic challenge.
"I am delighted that Cassie Patten, last summer's Olympic Games 10 kilometres open water swim bronze medallist, will carry British hopes and I'm sure she won't be overawed by either the opposition or the distance."
The roots of present day Channel swimming go back to 1875, when Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to successfully cross the channel from Dover to Calais in a time of 21 hours and 45 minutes. However it wasn’t until 1950 that top class international swimmers from around the world were recruited to take part in the first Daily Mail International Cross Channel Swimming Race.
Egyptian Army Lieutenant Hassen Abdel Rehim and Eileen Fenton, a 21-year-old religious studies teacher from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, were the first winners, their victories capturing the imagination and admiration of the nation. Only nine of the 24 starters - a third of them women - completed the gruelling 22 mile distance across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
The second race saw a local success with Sam Rockett, the manager of Folkestone Pool, reaching the shore first as 18 of the 20 entrants completed the swim, thrilling the huge crowds watching from the start and finish landmarks of Shakespeare Beach at Dover and Cap Gris Nez in France.
Holiday Camp founder Billy Butlin also funded the swim in the 1950’s and for a
number of years Egyptian swimmers were dominant.
However, the Suez Canal crisis of 1956 and the political tension it created saw Butlin take the controversial decision to ban Egyptians, which saw him receive a Government rebuke from the Foreign Office for getting involved in international affairs. He subsequently withdrew funding, instead donating it to other sporting events and the Channel Swim once again become an individual challenge.
Now Nova International, who also organise the Bupa Great North Run, the world's biggest half marathon and Britain’s biggest open water swimming event, the Great North Swim, are determined to ensure the Swim re-enacts the excitement it provoked in its golden years half a century ago. There will also be two relay boats of between 6 and 8 swimmers competing on
the day of the event. To build upon the occasion there will be a Great Channel Swim Relay with 12 boats comprising six to 10 members, on standby from August 20 to take to the sea on the first available good day following the main race.