Greta Andersen, Olympic gold medalist and marathon swimmer, dies at 95

Greta Andersen, a Danish-born swimmer who gained a gold medal within the 1948 Olympics and later turned the world’s biggest marathon swimmer, crossing the English Channel six occasions and usually trouncing males, together with one she beat by greater than 5 miles, died Feb. 6 at her residence in Solvang, Calif. She was 95.

Loper Funeral Chapel in Solvang confirmed the demise however didn’t present the trigger.

Ms. Andersen broke 18 world marathon swimming information throughout her profession, by no means misplaced to a girl and was the primary particular person to swim the Santa Catalina Channel back-and-forth — in practically 27 hours, nonstop. Her domination of the game left her rivals overpowered and dazed.

In 1962, at a 50-mile swim from Chicago to Kenosha, Wis., an Egyptian crew relied on Ms. Andersen because the occasion pacesetter. That technique proved unwise. As she recalled to the Orange County Register, the Egyptians dropped out after 25 miles. In frigid water, she saved going, subsiding on dietary complement sticks. After 31 hours, she crawled ashore because the winner.

To Ms. Andersen, swimming distances most individuals would relatively drive was an train in willpower. “You just don’t think about it,” she as soon as mentioned. “You forget about it and you just swim.”

Ms. Andersen was initially extra of a sprinter. At the European Championships in 1947, she gained gold within the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay and silver within the 100-meter freestyle. The subsequent 12 months, on the London Olympics, she took gold within the 100-meter freestyle after which silver within the 4-by-100 relay.

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Her third occasion on the London Games was the 400-meter freestyle. She held the world’s finest time within the occasion the earlier two years.

“I was positive I was going to win,” she recalled years later. “Nobody is going to touch me. I was strong and healthy.”

The day of the race coincided with Ms. Andersen’s menstrual interval, so the crew’s physician steered an injection to delay it. “I thought the doctor knew better than me, so I got the injection,” Ms. Andersen mentioned.

She felt good till she hit the water.

“Then I felt like paralyzed in my legs, my stomach,” she mentioned. “I just blacked out. I don’t remember. I was sinking. I was going underwater.”

A Hungarian water polo participant and one other swimmer dove in to avoid wasting her, pulling her from the pool in one of the dramatic moments in Olympic historical past. Ms. Andersen was initially devastated. Then she turned philosophical.

“So life goes on. Find something else and get happy,” she mentioned. “Whoever has a perfect life from the beginning to the end?”

Greta Andersen was born in Copenhagen on May 1, 1927. Her father was a champion gymnast, and her mom was a homemaker. When she was 12, in 1940, Nazi forces crossed the border into impartial Denmark.

“I still remember the airplane coming over,” she mentioned on the general public radio present “Only a Game” in 2016. “They were dropping all kind of pamphlets, and they said, ‘You are occupied by the Germans. You don’t have a king anymore. We are in charge.’ That was pretty horrible.”

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Fearful that German troopers would rape her, Greta’s mother and father reduce her hair quick and dressed her in boys’ garments all through the occupation. There have been Jews residing in her neighborhood, and she or he witnessed them rounded up and killed.

“I can still hear them coming up the stairs and taking down the people and putting people up against the wall and just shooting people, just in front,” she instructed the radio present. “I saw it. They just shoot people and they don’t care.”

After the German give up in 1945, her household started to renew a traditional life. Greta’s father thought she ought to discover ways to swim. She was terrified. He took her to an area pool and pushed her in. The water was chilly. Ms. Andersen was barely capable of dog-paddle throughout.

Still, she saved going again to the pool. One day, Else Jacobsen, a famend Danish swimmer educating classes on the pool, noticed her swim.

“She made me swim 50 meters,” Ms. Andersen later recalled to “Only a Game.” “And I didn’t know how to breathe, so I swam the 50-meter holding my breath. She said, ‘Well, you’ve got good lungs. We have something to work with.’”

Ms. Andersen joined the native membership crew and, in 1947, took first place within the 100-meter freestyle on the European Championships in Monaco. In addition to the 1948 Olympics in London, Ms. Andersen competed within the 1952 video games in Finland, however she was recovering from latest knee surgical procedure and didn’t fare nicely.

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In the Fifties, Ms. Andersen moved to the Long Beach space in Southern California after honeymooning there along with her first husband, Helge Jeppesen. She turned a naturalized citizen and rapidly took up marathon swimming, typically logging greater than 800 miles a 12 months.

Ms. Andersen’s feats within the water introduced her nationwide fame. She appeared on Art Linkletter’s radio present and in journal advertisements for Nutrilite.

Ms. Andersen was married a minimum of thrice, in line with information accounts. Survivors embody her husband, Andre Veress.

Though she by no means had youngsters, Ms. Andersen taught 1000’s of them to swim at a Los Alamitos aquatics faculty she opened in 1960. She was an early proponent of educating infants to swim — a neater job, she’d typically say, than swimming for greater than 24 hours.

“It was rigorous,” she instructed the Long Beach Press-Telegram, trying again on her profession. “You would get beaten up on the rocks and would be bleeding in the water. I always compared it to mountain climbing, dangerous but challenging. It was a tough job but I really liked it.”

She particularly loved beating males.

“What woman doesn’t get extra satisfaction out of beating the stronger sex at anything?” she mentioned. “I always want to beat everybody else in any race against me, but I always feel better when I finish ahead of some men.”

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