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Known as the “Queen of the Waves”, Gertrude Ederle became a true icon in the world of swimming and sports history. She was not only one of the most talented and gifted swimmers in history, but also the first woman to accomplish one of the most difficult sporting feats ever.
Gertrude Ederle’s Early life
Gertrude Ederle, born on October 23, 1905, in New York City, was the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926.
Raised in a German-American family, she developed an affinity for swimming at a young age. Ederle’s natural talent and determination were evident early on, as she began breaking records in her teenage years. In 1924, she made her mark on the global stage by winning a gold and two bronze medals at the Paris Olympics.
Despite facing numerous challenges, including partial hearing loss and prevailing gender biases, Ederle persevered to become a pioneer in women’s swimming and a celebrated icon in the world of sports.
The first attempt
The English Channel had been the goal of long-distance swimmers for many years before Gertrude Ederle crossed it. The challenge of the crossing lay in the ebb and flow of the tide, which changed every five or six hours, forcing swimmers to go not in a straight line but in zigzags to follow the tide.
Gertrude attempted the feat for the first time in 1925, with no success. At the time, the British press claimed that she had been disqualified because someone from the support boat, which followed her through the water, had touched her. According to the rules, support boat pilots could only provide food and drink without touching the swimmers.
However, many people, including Ederle, argued that the British press had invented the story out of a sense of national rivalry.
The Queen of the Waves
Gertrude Ederle did not stop there. Despite already being a high-level athlete, Ederle continued to train hard for months.
On August 6, 1926, covered entirely in grease by her coach William Burgess, she dove into the water from the beach of Cap Gris-Nez, France, beginning her crossing. Gertrude left at 7:05 in the morning and reached England 14 hours and 31 minutes later, becoming the first woman to do accomplish the crossing in history. Ederle also managed to beat the previous male record held by Argentine Enrique Tiraboschi, who took 16 hours and 23 minutes to complete the crossing.
After the crossing, Gertrude Ederle was described by many as a boxer at the end of a boxing match. She was battered, her tongue swollen from saltwater that she could barely speak. Upon her return, Gertrude Ederle was widely celebrated for her accomplishment and her contribution to sports, becoming an inspiration for women of her time and future generations.
She passed away in 2003 at the age of 97, but her legacy in the world of sports and women’s emancipation lives on.
The first woman to swim across the English Channel
This is the story of a daring woman’s feat that helped open the doors to many other female sports achievements, adding another fundamental piece to the pursuit of gender equality in sports.
Gertrude Ederle’s record was defeated only in 1950 by American swimmer Florence Chadwick, who also became the first to complete the crossing in both directions, but that’s another story.
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