Channel swimming has been considered one of the ultimate open-water swimming challenges for a century. Let’s learn about famous channel swimmers who succeeded.
Famous channel swimmers have been making headlines for over a century. The first recorded attempt to swim across the English Channel was made by J.B. Johnson in 1872. Johnson attempted the swim to win a bet, but he was unsuccessful. However, his attempt sparked interest in swimming the channel, and many swimmers followed in his footsteps.
While dozens of swimmers attempt the crossing each year, only a select few are able to break records and achieve legendary status in the world of channel swimming. These channel swimmers have all achieved incredible feats of endurance and determination, inspiring generations of swimmers to push themselves to their limits.
Looking to the future, it’s likely that we will continue to see new records broken and new challenges tackled in the world of channel swimming. As more people take up the sport and more resources are devoted to training and preparation, the sky is the limit. You might also be interested in our guide on famous Ironman triathletes.
Famous Channel Swimmers
The English Channel is one of the most challenging open water swims in the world, and only a select few have successfully made the crossing. Here are some of the most famous channel swimmers in history:
1. Captain Mathew Webb
The first successful unassisted swim across the channel was made by Captain Matthew Webb in 1875. Webb swam from Dover to Calais in 21 hours and 40 minutes.
Prior to the attempt, he gained attention after trying to rescue a drowning crewmate during a voyage. Although he failed to save the man, the Royal Humane Society rewarded him with the first-ever Stanhope medal.
Webb’s English Channel achievement then made him an instant celebrity. He later tried to swim Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls in 1883 but sadly lost his life.
2. Gertrude Ederle
Gertrude Ederle was an American swimmer who became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926. She completed the swim in 14 hours and 31 minutes, breaking the previous record by two hours.
What’s even more impressive is that although the channel swim is 21 miles (34 kilometers), Ederle was forced to swim 35 miles (56 kilometers) due to bad weather. Ederle was only 19 years old at the time, and her achievement made her an international sensation.
3. Florence Chadwick
Another notable channel swimmer is Florence Chadwick. Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions, setting a time record each time.
She also became the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel in California, completing the swim in just under 14 hours. Chadwick’s incredible achievements helped to pave the way for future generations of female swimmers, inspiring them to push themselves to new heights.
4. Alison Streeter
Alison Streeter is a British swimmer who previously held the record for the most English Channel swims. She made the crossing 43 times, including a record-breaking seven crossings in a single season. Streeter first swam the Channel in 1982 and has since become one of the most respected and accomplished open-water swimmers in the world.
5. Chloë McCardel
Chloë McCardel is an Australian swimmer who broke the record for the most English Channel crossings by a female swimmer. In 2021, she completed her 44th crossing in just over 10 hours. McCardel is considered one of the greatest open-water swimmers of all time and has also completed many other challenging swims around the world.
She initially rose to prominence in 2014 when she set a new record for the longest, unassisted swim in the ocean. McCardel swam from South Eleuthera Island to Nassau in the Bahamas. The 77.3 mile (124.4 km) trip took her 41 hours and 21 minutes.
6. Trent Grimsey
Australian swimmer Trent Grimsely holds the record for the fastest solo swim across the English Channel. In 2012, he completed the crossing in 6 hours and 55 minutes. Grimsey broke the previous record set by Bulgarian swimmer Petar Stoychev in 2007 by 2 minutes.
7. Philip Rush
The record for the fastest two-way solo swim across the English Channel is held by Philip Rush, who completed the crossing in 16 hours and 10 minutes in 1987. Rush remains the only person to complete a two-way solo swim in under 24 hours.
Rush also holds the record for the fastest three-way solo swim across the English Channel. The New Zealander finished the crossing in 28 hours and 21 minutes.
8. Otto Thaning
Famous Channel swimmers don’t let age deter them. The record for the oldest person to swim across the English Channel is held by Otto Thaning, who completed the crossing at the age of 73 in 2014.
9. Sarah Thomas
In 2019, Sarah Thomas became the first person to complete four consecutive crossings of the English Channel. It took her 54 hours and 10 minutes. She embarked on the journey a year after surviving breast cancer.
10. Tom Gregory
Just like older swimmers don’t let their age stop them from swimming the English Channel, some brave younger swimmers have taken on the challenge, too. In 1988, Tom Gregory made the crossing when he was just 11 years old. He is still the youngest swimmer to do so.
This article was researched with the help of OpenAI and fact-checked and edited by our human editor.