It’s not the longest or toughest event on the British Long Distance Swimming Association’s calendar but it’s probably the maddest and certainly (and somewhat bizarrely) one of the most popular.
The Champion of Champions is a 9-mile swim in Dover Harbour broken into three separate races of 5, 3 and 1 miles, all swum on the same day on a triangular half-mile circuit. The winner is the person with the lowest cumulative time.
In the women’s race this year, Chloë McCardel, who last year completed a record-breaking 126km swim in the Bahamas, cruised to victory with almost a 20-minute margin. Her total time of 3:45:30 was enough to put her comfortably in second place overall. In second place (and fifth overall) was Nikki Fraser, who at 22 years old already has an English Channel and two-way Windermere swim to her name. Twenty women completed the event with 56-year old Kathleen Long bringing up the rear after an impressive total of six hours and 50 minutes in the 14 degree water. 62-year old Val Greenwood completed both the 5-mile and 3-mile swims but didn’t start the final mile.
In the men’s race, 39-year old Oliver Wilkinson lapped the entire field (with the exception of McCardel) in the 5-mile swim. The former Manhattan Island Marathon Swimming champion eventually secured overall victory by more than 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Brian Allen moved from tenth place after the 5-mile swim to second, overcoming an eight minute deficit in the 3-mile and 1-mile swims.
Special mention should be made of the two breaststroke swimmers, James Boucher (54, 5:58:04) and Philip Yorke (43, 6:59:06). The latter had barely any time between swims to rest or recover but seemed totally unaffected by the cold.
The youngest swimmers of the day were James and Pedro Irvine, both 13, who are currently training for an English Channel relay. They took part in the final 1-mile race alongside 14-year old Taine Carrick who was the only person of the day to challenge Wilkinson. His 23:41 for the mile was just six seconds behind the overall winner, who he pushed all the way to the line. At the other end of the age scale, multiple English Channel swimmer and president of the Channel Swimming Association, 74-year old Mike Read, completed the 5-mile swim in 3:21:38 before retiring from the competition.