So often it's men who make the records, because men's sports are better funded and promoted. But for one woman in the 1920s, anything men could do, she could do better - and did. Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim the English Channel and she did it in 1926. Not only was she the first woman to complete the swim, but she also achieved the fastest time to date, beating the previous record by 1 hour and 48 minutes.
This was not Gertrude's first swimming achievement; still only 20, she'd already set a number of records and won a gold medal at the 1924 Olympics in Paris (Johnny Weissmuller, who would later star as Tarzan in the movies, was also part of the team). She'd also set a number of records at a national and international level; her record swim from Battery Park to Sandy Hook stood unbeaten for an astonishing 81 years.
The drive to achieve this feat led to several newspapers sponsoring the attempts, and also endeavouring to create a rivalry between the various candidates. Gertrude was sponsored by the New York Daily Post and Chicago Tribune; the British press, who were unable to get aboard the tug accompanying the swim, stirred up accusations that Gertrude had been assisted by the tug.
Gertrude was not the first woman to attempt the crossing; a number of others had tried. Clarabelle Barrett almost beat Gertrude to the record the previous week, but had to abandon her swim. Gertrude herself had made an unsuccessful attempt in 1925, but she also had to abandon the swim when conditions became worse. On 6 August 1926, she set out at 7am on what was to be her successful effort. Conditions were difficult, with rough seas, but at 9:40pm she finally stepped ashore at Dover. An excited crowd of thousands was waiting on the beach to greet her.
Gertrude was only the sixth person to complete the Channel crossing when she made her record-breaking swim. The next successful crossing was made by Amelia Gade Corson three weeks later. However, Gertrude's record lasted until 1950, when Florence Chadwick completed the swim in 13 hours and 20 minutes.
Gertrude described the swim as the ambition of her life. Her achievement was rewarded with a parade when she returned to the United States, which drew huge crowds of 2 million people. Sadly her success was short-lived; she suffered health problems after a fall which left her bed-ridden, but survived until the age of 98.
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