On Saturday 6 September 2014, 73 year-old Otto Thaning from Cape Town, South Africa, became the oldest swimmer to cross the English Channel. He completed the “Everest of Open Water Swimming” from Dover (England) to Wissant (France) in 12h52, covering a distance of 36km as the crow flies; however, the total distance swum equaled more than 45km due to tides and currents. The average water temperature was 18 degrees Celsius and the swim was done wearing only a standard swimsuit, swimming cap and goggles, in accordance with English Channel rules and under the auspices of the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation.
Otto, who completed the swim once before in 1994 in a time of 10h29, had traveled to Dover for the challenge last year, but bad weather prevented an attempt. Today, the conditions were optimal with mostly flat seas and manageable water temperatures, and according to his support crew Otto was strong and positive all the way.
The age record had been held by Australian Clifford Batt (who was 67 at the time of his swim) for 27 years, until less than three weeks ago when Cyril Baldock completed the swim at the age of 70. Thaning, who also holds the record for the oldest swimmer to complete a Robben Island crossing, now set the new official record of 73 years, 5 months and 24 days.
His swim was followed on social media by hundreds of friends and fellow open water swimmers and followers from across the world, and he was showered with messages of support and congratulations.
Otto is one of five Capetonians in Dover to swim the Enlish Channel this year. On 1 September Zani Muller completed the swim successfully, while Mark De Klerk and husband and wife Anthony and Jeanine Pearse are also expected to make their attempts soon. South Africans are known for their impeccable record in the Channel, most probably due to the ample cold water training opportunities available in Cape Town.