When Will The English Channel Relay Records Be Broken Again?

When Will The English Channel Relay Records Be Broken Again?

English Channel relay record database courtesy of Channel Swimming Records.

Records are meant to be broken. That is a maxim that has always held to be true in sports.

But for some reason in the niche channel swimming discipline of one-way and two-way English Channel relay crossings, record progression seems to have stopped – or at least put on hold since 1990.

When the record progression of the standard 6-person relay times across the English Channel is reviewed, records seem to stop progressing in the 20th century. We wonder why in this GPS-aided era?

England to France Relay Crossing Record Progression:

  • 1938: French Relay Team in 12 hours 35 minutes
  • 1949: Egyptian Relay Team in 11 hours 11 minutes
  • 1968: International Relay Team in 10 hours 37 minutes
  • 1969: Haagse Bluf Team in 9 hours 29 minutes
  • 1976: Egyptian Relay Team in 8 hours 5 minutes
  • 1981: Dover Lifeguards in 7 hours 17 minutes
  • 1990: US National Swim Team in 6 hours 52 minutes

France to England Relay Crossing Record Progression:

Two-way Crossing Relay Record Progression:

Three-way Crossing Relay Record Progression*:

Four-way Crossing Relay Record Progression:

One reason the one-way and two-way relay records may tough to break because there were six International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame honorees Penny Dean, Karen BurtonChad HundebySid Cassidy, and John York who joined American teammates Jay Wilkerson, Martha Jahn and Dirk Bouma with pilot Reg Brickell on their record-setting English Channel relay that set three English Channel relay records:

Historically speaking, the relay boom seemed to really get started in 1964 when a slew of teams joined the English Channel swimming fraternity:

There are specific reasons for this relay boom in the English Channel that began in 1964 with 3 successes of 10 swimmers per team from France to England. The renowned English Channel swimmer Michael Read explains, “It was obvious to the Channel Swimming Association that relay swims were to be very much part of the future, most importantly to provide more work for the pilots – who were hardly making fortunes, and for the fact that they might encourage relay swimmers to make solo attempts and of course, unwittingly, the potential to raise millions of pounds by being sponsored for charities.”

The Channel Swimming Association rules were formalized for the 1965 season, providing an important steppingstone for solo English Channel aspirants. Relays became a memorable way to experience channel swimming with friends and teammates in a reasonable first-time manner as well as a much-appreciated means to generate additional income for escort pilots.

But why did six people become the norm? Why not 2 or 3 or 4 or 7 or 8 swimmers?

Why did the one-hour rotations become the norm? Why not 15, 20 or 30 minutes or 2 hours?

The concept of six people doing a relay had profound implications for the rest of the open water swimming relay world, both short-term and long-term. Relays from the Maui Channel to the Catalina Channel adopted the standard six-person relay concept.

Read recalls the history behind the English Channel relay rules. “Relay swimming was discussed at length by the Channel Swimming Association Committee in the early 1960′s. The discussion of relays came about due to the discussions with [Honorary Secretary] John Unicum Wood who did much to further channel swimming relationships and ideas. There were two main reasons for their instigation. Firstly, as a way of getting more people into channel swimming and, as a result, hopefully get a few solo attempts from the relay swimmers. Secondly, to generate more opportunities for the escort boatmen.”

Read recalls sitting with Wood and renowned Captain Leonard Hutchinson when the idea was muted. The idea didn’t gain much initial steam because, among other issues, relays would be too difficult to organize, but Captain Hutchinson liked the concept. It was subsequently put to the Committee. The initial rules made it the same for all swims and the six-person, one-hour formula was set. Also, the Committee determined that if a swimmer could not complete his/her hour or swim when it was their turn, the team was disqualified.

The rest, as evidenced by the increasing number of relay teams over the subsequent decades around the world, is history.

* In the three-way crossing relay record progression, Sun Rice Australian Relay Team from Bondi Beach with Cyril Baldock, Michael Renford, Baden Green, Greg Stewart, Peter Tibbets and Kevin Neilsen split a 3-way time in 31 hours 21 minutes in 1993. The Aussie men went on to set the initial 4-way relay record of 43 hours 7 minutes. In 2007, Sport City Mexico with Mariel Hawley, Jorge Urreta, Luis Pineyro, Omar Díaz González, Alejandro Moreno, and Mayalen Noriega had a 3-way split time of 30 hours 7 minutes. The mixed Mexican team went on to set the 4-way relay crossing record in 42 hours 11 minutes.

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