Greta Andersen To Engage, Entertain, Explain On The Queen Mary

Greta Andersen To Engage, Entertain, Explain On The Queen Mary

One of the greatest swimmers of all time, Greta Andersen, burst on the world’s stage when she won the gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics. Confident, personable and talented, she made quite a scene on the pool deck, on television and across channels.

She continued her unprecedented and unsurpassed career for another 20 years as the only person in history to win both an individual gold medal at the Olympics and set an English Channel record.

Dial forward 64 years and the vivacious Danish-born champion will entertain and engage the audience at the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame ceremonies in Long Beach, California on September 22nd.

She will show rarely-seen vintage footage of her swims and explain what she went through back in the day. She will explain her experiences at the 1948 London Olympic Games, her subsequent immigration to the United States, her daily 10-mile training swims in Long Beach without goggles, and her head-to-head duals against the best male pro marathon swimmers of her era.

I will talk about the 50-mile race in Lake Michigan…where the nearest man was 10 miles behind me,” she described. “Oh, we swam all over the world, in the English Channel (5 times) and with sharks in Molokai, in Mexico.” Her illustrious and unprecedented career in the pool and ocean has been documented on television and in print, but to her own words is truly special with her colorful descriptions, twinkling eyes and infectious laughter. Register here to meet and listen to one of the most vivacious, gracious, and entertaining swimmers around.

Soon to turn 86 years old, she continues to work 8 hours a day, teaching children how to swim. And she continues to do it all with a smile, creating an ambiance of joy.

After moving from her native Denmark to Long Beach, California, she did manual labor to make ends meet, sewing zippers on pants. But then she turned back to the water and developed her second aquatic career in marathon swimming. Her swims in the 1950s and 60s were well-documented in newspapers and magazines, but listening to her recollection in person is priceless. “I swam in the Molokai Channel, from Molokai to Oahu, in a shark cage. My sponsors did not want to take a chance. But after getting seasick in the turbulence caused by the cage, I swam outside the cage only to be surrounded by sharks. But then the dolphins came around…and I thought everything would be OK,” recalled the Olympic champion who most definitely had no intention of getting out.

I kept on swimming, but the sharks were all around me, circling underneath. They were always circling. Circling, circling,” she laughed with a glisten in her eye by someone who obviously relishes adventure. “I could see the sharks in the clear water. I was in the water for a long time, many hours, but then my crew finally pulled me out. There were no questions asked. They just got me out of there. I had a lot of sponsors in those days – Hilton Hotels, Roman Meal Bread – so we were disappointed. But that is our sport – there are always risks.”

But solo swims were only part of her resume. From being a sprinter in the pool to racing the best men of her era across the world, she never backed down from challenges or competitors. She trained hour every day, swimming without goggles, off Long Beach, and relentlessly swam through sharks, jellyfish, the cold and waves.

The races in the English Channel were incredible (see videos below). We had helicopters covering the races. There was so much coverage and so many boats. With the traffic in the Channel, there was a lot happening. We didn’t have all the technology like today. We just swam hard. But I was in shape. I used to hire lifeguards to paddle for me during my training. Down by Belmont Plaza [in Long Beach], I used to go for daily 10-mile swims. Every day, training hard.”

Andersen was renowned for her high tempo stroke-per-minute pace and strong kick with great body position. You can see her in a cap overtaking the world’s top men in the 1958 42 km (26-mile) marathon swim in Guaymas, Mexico:

Andersen set English Channel records – in both directions – from France to England in 11 hours and 1 minute, and from England to France in 13 hours and 10 minutes within the decade after her 1948 London Olympic victory. She kept up a strong pace and a strong kick during her 1958 victory in Billy Butlin’s professional English Channel International Race which she won in 11 hours:

She also was the first person to swim the Santa Catalina Channel both ways (see photo above). “No one else had done a double-crossing before, so it was something to do. In those days, we didn’t know about the effects of the tides on a swimmer. I remember swimming for 4 straight hours over the same rock off of Catalina. Four hours and I was swimming hard over the same rock. Instead of 26 hours, I should have down a 22-hour swim,” laughed Andersen as she recalled her historic swim in the Pacific. “If I had known what I was getting into, I wouldn’t have done it.”

After a strong first leg of 10 hours and 49 minutes, she eventually finished in 26 hours and 53 minutes. Her determination and sheer exhaustion upon her completion are quite dramatic, see below:

From London to Long Beach, she has certainly lived a remarkable life.

Register here to participate in the 2012 International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame ceremonies and Global Open Water Swimming Conference.

Upper photo of Greta Andersen finishing her historic Catalina Channel double-crossing swim by the Long Beach Press Telegram.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones