Passages: Michael Jennings, Channel Swimmer and Olympic Torch Bearer, 85

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Passages: Michael Jennings, Channel Swimmer and Olympic Torch Bearer, 85

Michael Jennings, who swam the English Channel and whose open water exploits earned him a spot in the 2012 London Olympic torch relay, died on Jan. 15. He was 85 years old.

Jennings hailed from Kent and was a member of the Channel Swimming Association for 65 years. He completed his first crossing of the Channel, from France to England, in 1960 at age 22, in 13 hours, 31 minutes. In 1966, he became the 25th person to ever complete the swim in the opposite direction, needing 13 hours and 2 minutes. It was the fastest crossing of the year. He was the first person from Kent to swim the English Channel.

The former Royal Marines commando continued to swim well into his 80s. In 2010, he did the Hellespont swim from Asia to Europe, finishing second to 1960 Olympic gold medalist Murray Rose. His stature in swimming earned him inclusion in the 2012 Olympic torch relay ahead of the Games in London that year.

Jennings made headlines in 2020 when a trophy awarded to him in 1960 by Gravesend Swimming Club for his Channel swim was returned to him after being lost for a half century. He had misplaced the trophy after a divorce in 1972, but it was found in Ireland, purchased for €2 in a charity shop and eventually returned to him.

Jennings was a contributor to the CSA handbook, and he was active for many years as an observer and crew member on support boats. He was among the members of the Dover Beach crew that in 2013 won the Service to Marathon Swimming award at the annual MSF Global Marathon Swimming Awards. He continued into his support role well into his late 70s, one of CSA’s observers on Lewis Pugh’s 49-day Long Swim in 2018.

In 2010, he raised funds for and self-published a memoir, “Believe It or Not,” to mark the 50th anniversary of his first Channel swim, with proceeds of the book sales going to charity.

Jennings is survived by his wife Ann, to whom he was married for 49 years, and three children.

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1 month ago

Knew Michael well most of his life.
His parents owned Jennings newsagent, Post Office and General Store at Horns Cross which is now a Co-op Store.
Remember him swimming the Channel, a tremendous feat in that period.
He opened one of the first Pick-n-Mix Stores in the area in Dartford. (not sure of the date.)
He loved his cars and once purchasing a MGA I believe it was, delaying his marriage by a year!
His book, Believe it or Not, was based on his life in Stone and the characters he came across whilst living there.

God bless and R.I.P. Michael.

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