Part 1: A History in Numbers
The Catalina Channel was first conquered in 1927 by George Young of Canada, in 15 hours, 44 minutes, 30 seconds. Since then (through September 2011) there have been 259 successful solo crossings by 220 individuals, including 7 double-crossings.
The short list of double-crossers includes some of the greatest marathon swimmers in history.
From the mainland (M-C-M):
- John York - 16:42 in 1978
- Dan Slosberg - 19:32 in 1978
- Tina Neill - 22:02 in 2008
- Cindy Cleveland - 24:30 in 1977
From Catalina (C-M-C):
- Penny Lee Dean - 20:03 in 1977
- Forrest Nelson - 23:01 in 2010
- Greta Anderson - 26:53 in 1958
Of the 252 one-way crossings, only 19 went from the mainland to Catalina (M-C). Penny Lee Dean still holds the overall record for this direction: 7:15 in 1976.
With the exception of the Swim 22 relay last year, there hasn’t been a one-way M-C crossing since 1977. The most recent M-C crossing was achieved by Suzie Dods in 2010.
The remaining 233 one-way crossings started at Catalina and finished on the mainland (C-M). The 10 fastest C-M crossings are as follows:
- Karen Burton - 7:43 in 1994
- Todd Robinson - 8:05 in 2009
- Hank Wise - 8:07 in 2010
- Chad Hundeby - 8:14 in 1993
- Blair Cannon - 8:18 in 2011
- Gemma Jensen - 8:20 in 2006
- Jim McConica - 8:27 in 1983
- Rendy Lynn Opdycke - 8:28 in 2008
- John York - 8:32 in 2000
- Penny Lee Dean - 8:33 in 1977 (first leg of a C-M-C double)
My 8:55:59 ranks as the 24th-fastest swim, a mere 11 seconds ahead of David Blanke, Elizabeth Fry, and Marcia Cleveland’s tandem crossing in 2005.
The slowest C-M crossing was achieved by Paul Chotteau of France in 1936 - a herculean 33 hours, 50 minutes! The median C-M crossing is 11 hours, 10 minutes.
Of the 240 C-M crossings (including legs en route to a double):
- One was faster than 8 hours (Karen Burton);
- 26 were between 8 and 9 hours;
- 38 were between 9 and 10 hours;
- 51 were between 10 and 11 hours;
- 32 were between 11 and 12 hours;
- 26 were between 12 and 13 hours;
- 23 were between 13 and 14 hours;
- 8 were between 14 and 15 hours;
- 17 were between 15 and 16 hours;
- 10 were between 16 and 20 hours;
- and 8 were longer than 20 hours - the most recent being Jamshid Khajavi of Iran in 1995 (20:47).
Four swimmers have crossed the channel using a stroke other than what we now call “freestyle”:
- Henry Sullivan - 22:45 breaststroke in 1927
- Vicki Keith - 14:53 butterfly in 1989
- Tina Neill - 10:37 backstroke in 2008
- Jason Lassen - 15:59 breaststroke in 2010
Part 2: A Growing Sport
On January 15, 1927, Wrigley Ocean Marathon, and in so doing, became the first person to swim across the Catalina Channel. For his achievement Young earned a $25,000 prize - approximately $325,000 in 2011 dollars, and richer (even in nominal dollars) than any current cash prize in professional marathon swimming.
Seven of the DNF’s in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon - four men and three women - returned later that year to try again; four finished. But Catalina Channel swimming didn’t catch on after this rousing first year. Over the next 25 years only two more swimmers added their names to the list. Despite a brief resurgence in the late 1970’s (including double-crossings by Penny Lee Dean, Cindy Cleveland, Dan Slosberg, and John York), the typical number of calendar-year crossings was still 5 or fewer into the mid-2000’s.
Then it took off. In 2005, 12 swimmers crossed the Channel. Followed in subsequent years by 13, 8, 25, 16, and 29 crossings. So far in 2011, there have been 22. What happened? My guess would be the marketing of the “
Part 3: Men vs. Women
From 1927-2004, there were 90 successful swims by men and 44 successful swims by women (a ratio of 2.05 to 1). From 2005-2011, there were 80 successful swims by men and 49 successful swims by women (a ratio of 1.63 to 1). So, the gap is narrowing…a bit.
Here, again, it would interesting to see the data on failed swims. Is the ratio of men to women the same for failed swims as for successful swims?
Side note: I decided to split the data-set at 2005 because it offered similarly-sized groupings, and because this was the year when there was a surge in popularity of Catalina Channel swimming (possibly due to the advent of the “triple crown”).
And here are the average & median finish times for each group (C-M one-way crossings only):
In both eras, women are faster - despite lower levels of participation. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given that women have the overall records in both directions - Karen Burton from Catalina (7:43) and Penny Lee Dean from the mainland (7:15). Interestingly, in my analysis of MIMS times I also found women were almost uniformly faster.
These analyses have not been validated or endorsed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and should be considered “unofficial.”