Late Olympian Arati Saha is in the news today for two reasons. One is that today is her 80th birth anniversary and the other reason is Google has dedicated its today’s Doodle to her to pay tribute.
There have been many athletes in the country, but why she is still remembered. The reason behind this is that Saha, a groundbreaking Indian long-distance swimmer, on September 29, 1959, made her country proud by becoming the first Asian woman to cross the English Channel. The legendary swimmer swam 42 miles from Cape Gris Nez, France to Sandgate, England.
As the country today pays respect to one of its legendary athletes, here is how Saha achieved the feat of crossing the English Channel.
She was a fighter and had started tasting success at a very young age. Born on September 24, 1940, in Kolkata, she won her first gold medal for swimming at the age of five. At that time, Saha was mentored by Sachin Nag.
Till the time she turned 11, she was already known as a swimming prodigy. In her early career, Saha caught attention by setting an all-India record in 1949. One of her biggest milestones in the career came when she broke Dolly Nazir's all-India record in a 1951 West Bengal state meet. Saha and Nazir went on to represent India at the 1952 Olympics.
Her journey for the English Channel began because of a Bangladeshi swimmer named Brojen Das. He was the first Asian swimmer to cross the English Channel in 1952. Das recommend Saha to the Butlin International Cross Channel Swimming Race organizers for an event that was to be held in 1953.
However, it was not that simple for her. She struggled to arrange funds for travelling to England. Finally, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came forward to support Saha.
She underwent rigorous training while preparing to swim in the English Channel. Following six years of training, she went to England in July 1959.
Saha also faced hurdles there in her attempt at crossing the Channel. Finally, on September 29, 1959, she created the history by reaching the English shores, after covering 42 miles in 16 hours and 20 minutes.