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Greta Andersen

Posted on: 16th February 2023

It is with deep sadness that we have to report the death of Greta Andersen 1 May 1927 – 6 February 2023) at the age of 95.

Greta was a Danish swimmer, born in Copenhagen in 1927, she moved to USA in 1950 and married John Sinnichsen. She became an American subject in 1958 and competed as a USA citizen from then on, where she set several world records in marathon swimming in distances up to 50 miles.

Greta made five successful Channel swims: 1957, time 13hrs 53mins and 1958, time 11hrs 01mins, were both Butlin’s Race swims, both won by her outright; in the 1959 Butlin swim she was the first lady home, time 15hrs 25mins; as a result Billy Butlin presented the trophy to her outright.

She swam England to France in 1964 in a new record time of 13hrs 14mins – this was a two way attempt, she swam for 9hrs 20mins on the return, setting an unofficial record for the longest Channel swim.

In 1965 she swam from England to France in 13hrs 49mins. Greta also had 3 unsuccessful swims.

Between 1957 and 1965 she crossed the English Channel five times, setting a record for the most Channel swims by a woman, as well as a speed record for women at 10:59 h in 1958.

Greta began swimming in a club aged 16 while also doing gymnastics. In 1947, she won two European medals at her first international competition. The next year she won two more medals at the London Olympics, a gold in the 100m freestyle and a silver in the 4 × 100m freestyle relay. She failed to finish her 400m freestyle race due to sudden stomach cramps – she fainted and was rescued from drowning by fellow competitors Nancy Lees and Elemér Szathmáry. According to her recollections, an injection her coach had given her to delay her period caused her legs to be paralyzed and for her to subsequently faint. In 1949 she set a world record in the 100 yard freestyle of 58.2 seconds, which stood for seven years. She took part in three events at the 1952 Olympics but could not use one leg due to a recent knee surgery and failed to medal. Her best result at those Games was a fourth place in the 4 × 100m freestyle relay. During her career in Europe, she won nine individual Danish titles, several team titles, and four individual Scandinavian titles.

In the mid-1950s she immigrated to Long Beach, California and there she switched to marathon swimming.

She was winner of the Ladies World Professional Championship at Atlantic City in 1956, the distance was 25miles, and Greta completed the swim in 10 hours 17 minutes. She is the holder of forty trophies, and 150 gold and silver medals. In 1958 she was the first person to swim the Santa Catalina Channel in both directions, (42.8miles) time 28hrs 28mins. She also set world records at 10, 25, and 50 miles.

In 1960, she opened a swimming school along with her husband Sonnichsen. The school continued until 1980. Andersen was among the pioneers in encouraging babies to swim, and continued as swimming instructor after the school had closed.

In 1969 she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF). In 2015, ISHOF honoured her with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The President, the Board and all the members of the Channel Swimming Association send their deepest condolences to Greta’s family as we say “good bye” to a truly inspirational and phenomenal Channel swimmer.