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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Google doodle celebrates Arati Saha

Similar to the program's format in 2012, swimming featured a total of 34 events (17 each for men and women), including two 10 km open-water marathons at Rio Olympics – it was one of the main attractions of the games. 

The English Channel,  is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates Southern England from northern France and links to the southern part of the North Sea by the Strait of Dover at its northeastern end. It is the busiest shipping area in the world. It is about 560 km (350 mi) long and varies in width from 240 km (150 mi) at its widest to 34 km (21 mi) in the Strait of Dover.  Crossing this channel has been a challenge !  In 1816, the  French paddle steamer Élise (ex Scottish-built Margery or Margory) was the first steamer to cross the Channel. 

After a seaman had floated across the Channel on a bundle of straw, Matthew Webb made the crossing without the aid of artificial buoyancy. His first attempt ended in failure, but on 25 August 1875, he started from Admiralty Pier in Dover and made the crossing in 21 hours and 45 minutes, despite challenging tides (which delayed him for 5 hours) and a jellyfish sting. 80 failed attempts were made by a variety of people before Thomas William Burgess, who on 6 Sept 1911 became the second person to successfully make the crossing .. .. and years later an Indian woman crossed the channel becoming the first Asian woman to cross the channel. 

Google, today  is celebrating Arati Saha, a groundbreaking Indian long distance swimmer and Olympian, on what would have been her 80th birthday.  Today’s Google doodle is   dedicated   to swimmer Arati Saha , who has many firsts to her name, was the first woman to be awarded the Padma Shri in 1960.  Saha was born on Sept 24, 1940 in Calcutta. She learned to swim on the banks of the Hooghly river. She later trained under Sachin Nag, one of India’s best competitive swimmers. At the age of five, Saha had won her first gold medal. By 11, she had broken several swimming records. At 12, Saha joined India’s first team to participate in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. She was one of the only four women to make the team.

On 29 September 1959 she became the first Asian woman to cross the English Channel, swimming 42 miles from Cape Gris Nez, France to Sandgate, England. She told interviewers later in her life that she was inspired by Indian swimmer Mihir Sen. Saha earned multiple honors in her early career, including setting an all-India record in 1949 and breaking Dolly Nazir's all-India record in a 1951 West Bengal state meet. Nazir and Saha would represent India together at the 1952 Olympics, and was one of the four women participants.

After the Olympics, Saha focused on practicing the breaststroke, consistently her best category. She also started participating in a long-distance swim competition in the Ganges. She reached out to congratulate Bangladeshi swimmer Brojen Das when he became the first Asian swimmer to cross the English Channel in 1952. He went on to recommend Arati Saha to the Butlin International Cross Channel Swimming Race organizers for the 1953 event.  Arati Saha’s training regime was more than rigorous. At one point, she swam for eight straight hours at the pond in Deshbandhu Park, and then went on to double her time. After six years of training, Saha traveled to England in  July 1959.

A total of 58 participants including 5 women from 23 countries took part in the competition. The race was scheduled on 27 Aug 1959 at 1 am local time from Cape Gris Nez, France to Sandgate, England. However, the pilot boat of Arati Saha did not arrive in time. She had to start late by 40 minutes and lost the favourable condition. By 11 am, she had swum more than 40 miles and came within 5 miles of the England coast. At that point she faced a strong current from the opposite direction. As a result, by 4 pm, she could only swim about two more miles. While she was still determined to carry on, she had to quit under pressure from her pilot.

On 29 Sept 1959 Arati Saha made her second attempt at crossing the English Channel. She was for an astonishing 16 hours and 20 minutes, covering 42 miles. When she reached the English shores, Saha hoisted the flag of India. After her historic victory, she married her longtime manager Dr. Arun Gupta in 1959. The next year she was awarded Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honors, in 1960. The Department of Posts created a postage stamp in her honor in 1999.   She passed away on 4 August 1994.

She represented India at the 1952 Summer Olympics along with compatriot Dolly Nazir. She was one of the four women participants and the youngest member of the Indian contingent. At the Olympics, she took part in 200 metres breast stroke event. At the heats she clocked 3 minutes 40.8 seconds. After returning from the Olympics, she lost in 100 metres freestyle to her sister Bharati Saha. After the loss, she concentrated only on breast stroke.

Lilly King, American swimmer, currently represents the Cali Condors which is part of the International Swimming League. At the 2016 Summer Olympics she won the gold medal in the 100 meter breaststroke competition and also won a gold medal in the women's 4 × 100 m medley relay, in which she swam the breaststroke leg. She is the current world record holder in 100-metre and 50-metre breaststroke (long course).

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


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