DOVER, England, August 22. MOUNT Everest is what Christof Wandratsch, Germany's best long-distance swimmer, calls the crossing of the English Channel, a 25-mile swim that he completed on Wednesday.
And indeed the Channel's huge tidal current between Dover and Cap Gris Nez, near Calais, made it feel at times like he was mountaineering: Wandratsch was swept not onto a sandy beach, but onto a rocky promontory, where he had to climb some rocks before he finally stood completely on French soil, after 7 hours 19 minutes and 48 seconds.
That was just two minutes short of the world record, set in 1994 by American Chad Hunderby.
"The performance was there; all I needed was a bit of luck," the 37-year-old school teacher said in an article by Christian Eichler in The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Wandratsch, who won the European title in the 25k both in 1991 and 1995 and who placed sixth at this year's worlds in Barcelona, bested the previous European record of 8 hours and 2 minutes set by Dutchman Hans van Goor in 1995.
"Wandratsch wore a special 'fast-skin' swimsuit – Channel swimmers are not allowed to wear more material than Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to cross the strait in 1875," Eichler wrote. "To partially insulate himself against water temperatures of no more than 18 degrees Celsius, or 64 degrees Fahrenheit, Wandratsch had gobbled up fat-laden foods."
"When he started his crossing in Dover at 5:33 a.m., the weather and the currents seemed to be on his side. But somewhere along the way he lost the crucial two minutes – despite three hours of 'slipstreaming' in a boat, GPS navigation, carbohydrate drinks, energy gel and aspirin to thin the blood.
"Wandratsch had dreamed of completing the crossing in less than seven hours, explaining, 'When you break through that sort of barrier, you have something that nobody can take away from you.'"