July 22, 2018
How very Australian that our proud record as English Channel swimmers should have its genesis in an act of teenage rebellion.
Linda McGill was just 18 at the Tokyo Olympics when she and her roommate, Dawn Fraser decided they would go to the opening ceremony despite team management forbidding this because they were swimming in the first days of competition. Caught hiding on the team bus and returned to the village, Linda was not to be deterred and later got a taxi to the stadium to sit in the stands with her Dad and watch her Olympic opening ceremony.
She was to be blindsided 6 months later when on a swim tour in England. The Australian swimming authorities summarily disqualified her from competition for 4 years for defying their orders about not attending the opening ceremony. For a young swimmer at that time, and probably still now, that was a life sentence.
Without a plan, without preparation, and without much to do, Linda decided, as she was in England anyway, she would swim the English Channel and, for good measure, set the world record. She admitted at the time not knowing much about the English Channel at all. It seems no one in Australia really did at that time.
Covered in Lanolin and feeding on Coke-Cola, on 6 August 1965 Linda become the first Australian to swim the English Channel. Her time was 11 hours 12 minutes. It wasn’t a world record. She went back for that two years later and on 18 August 1967 swam an amazing time of 9 hours 59 minutes breaking the female world record and in doing so missed the men's record by just 25 minutes. She swam the channel a third time 11 days later in 13 hours 2 minutes.
Linda McGill's price for sitting in the stands with her Dad to watch an opening ceremony was her future Olympic career, her prize was the glory of being our very first English Channel swimmer.
Australian channel swimmers will forever hold a special place in their heart for the defiant teenager that found herself in England one day without much to do.