Sunday, June 22, 2008

Long History of British Success in Open Water


David Davies of the U.K. is considered to be one of the gold medal favorites in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. On August 21st in Beijing, Davies will dive into the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park to face 24 other world-class open water swimmers, all of whom have significantly more open water experience than him.

But Davies has heart and a plan. His strategy is to begin the race at furious pace and challenge his competitors to keep up. It is a risky strategy, but one that works for him and his unbelievable aerobic capabilities.

Upon his broad shoulders, Davies will carry with him the long illustrious history of British open water swimming.

As we look back on some of renowned British swimmers who made their mark in open water swimming, Michael Read is among the first on any historian’s list.

Read was the King of the Channel® from 1979 –2000, a title he received from the Channel Swimming Association Ltd. for successfully crossing the English Channel more times than any other man - 33 times to date. 1979 was a remarkably productive year, when Read completed 6 crossings. 29 of his swims have been in the traditional England-to-France direction.

Read’s road to the record books has rarely been easy. On October 28th, 1979, Read made the latest swim of the English Channel season. Upon his departure from the British shore, there was frost on the pebbles as he walked into the Channel. His crossings have also included five unsuccessful double-crossing attempts. One admirable attempt was his final double-crossing attempt in 1975 where Read raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Lions International Club of Great Britain, despite the fact the swim was aborted one mile from the finish after Read spent a valiant 29 hours and 5 minutes in the water, struggling five mind-boggling hours to finish the last mile.

Back on land, Read has served the Channel Swimming Association in the capacity of Chairman and/or Vice Chairman for over 30 years and was elected President in November 2007.

Before hitting the shores of Dover, Read qualified for the 1960 Rome Olympics as member of Britain's 4 x 220 yards freestyle relay, but he damaged his knee just 5 days before the Olympics and served as an alternate.

He has completed more than 110 swims greater than 16 kilometers, including winning the British Long Distance Swimming Association’s 21-mile Lake Windermere championship on 9 consecutive occasions.

Over a swimming career spanning six decades, including a quadruple-crossing (42 miles) of Lake Windermere, 60 miles around the Isle of Wight, a grueling 24-mile crossing of Loch Ness in 14 hours and 23 minutes in 42.8-44.6F water (6-7C). He completed the 22-mile Loch Lomond in Scotland, a double-crossing of Lake Sursee in Switzerland (18K) and swims in the Nile River, Syria, Czech Republic, Greece, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Tunisia, Yugoslavia, and the U.S. (Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and an escape from Alcatraz Island).

Outside of the pool and waterways of the world, Read has received several Honorary Citizen awards from municipalities around the world and was invited to the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Wedding and to the state banquet at Windsor Castle to mark the “Entente Cordial” with President Chirac and other receptions hosted by the Queen.

Davies can take to heart Read's words in not only the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, but also throughout his post-career, “I never saw obstacles or boundaries, only opportunities."

Copyright © 2008 by World Open Water Swimming Association