Thursday, 22 December 2011

who was the queen of the waves?


A few days ago, looking for a picture of a channel swimmer, I found Gertrude Ederle. Today, with the Daily Mail calling the people upset at there being no female candidates on the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist 'sporting suffragettes', here's a bit more about her. (Hmm. I get that this is not a good, direct or neat link. But you can see how the thought process worked.)

She was the daughter of an immigrant German butcher in Manhattan, and at nineteen she was bitterly disappointed by her haul of one gold and two bronze medals in the 1924 Olympics. In 1926, at her second attempt, she swam the channel in 14 hours and 39 minutes (or 30, or 34, depending on which bit of the internet you are looking at), a record for either sex.

'Gosh,' thought the News of the World. 'We'll offer £1,000 to anyone who can beat that!' This was real money.* Dr Dorothy Logan claimed the prize with a swim of 13 hours and 18 minutes, was feted by the paper, and then announced that she hadn't swum it at all and was just trying to show how badly channel swimming, for all that it was a newspaper craze, was being scrutinised.**

The hoax didn't go great for Logan, and because she signed a legal document swearing to having done the deed, she was fined £100. The court accepted she had committed an offence without realising how serious it was and said she expected her to be a credit to the medical profession. She wasn't struck off. I'm going to write more about her, just see if I don't.

Back to Ederle, from who I have now been distracted for about half an hour reading old newspapers***: she got a ticker-tape parade in NY and a dance step was named after her. In 1933 she fell down some stairs and was bedridden for several years. She went deaf in the 1940s and spent much of her life teaching deaf kids to swim. She never married and died in New Jersey at the age of 98.


* £43,000 via retail price index or £142,000 via average earnings.
** Some German guy broke the record later that month anyway.
*** 'Bearded Patriarch Wields Thong on Boys Who Stole'; Bonnie Prince Charlie relic shield sold for £4,000 (present value £172,000/£568,000)

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