Storm thwarts latest Czech attempt to swim Channel

Richard Haan et Petr Mihola, photo: CTK

Earlier this week, two Czech long-distance swimmers, Petr Mihola and Richard Haan, attempted for the second time to swim the English Channel. Unfortunately, the attempt failed due to bad weather. But they're not the first Czechs to try - in fact five Czech swimmers - including two women - have already succeeded in making it from the coast of France to the white cliffs of Dover.

Just over 31 years ago, on July 30th 1971, Frantisek Venclovsky became the first Czechoslovak citizen ever to swim across the English Channel. He was the 122nd person to make it, and only the second citizen of a land-locked country, after Denis Person from Rhodesia in 1959. Venclovsky swam the distance of over 56 kilometres in 15 hours and 26 minutes. His time was not one of the best, but Venclovsky was quoted as saying he was 'the first man to succeed who could not swim'. Venclovsky tried for the first time in September 1970 and started in Calais, but in terrible weather the swimmer - severely exhausted - had to be pulled out of the icy water just 6 kilometres from the White Cliffs of Dover. But he did not give in and fought for a second chance. A film, called "The Winner Who Lost" shot back then by the Communist controlled Czech Television, made Venclovsky try again. But he was forced to say he was swimming across the Channel to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. On July 30th, 1971, the 39-year old Venclovsky succeeded and became a national hero.

Since then, five more Czech long-distance swimmers have made it across: Jan Novak in 1974 and 1975, Richard Blatny and Libor Lastik in 1998 and there were also two women - Ludmila Jelinkova in 1988 and Dana Zborilova last year.

Richard Haan et Petr Mihola,  photo: CTK
The latest attempt was made three days ago by two swimmers from the Moravian city of Brno, Petr Mihola and Richard Haan. "There's a heat wave in Britain these days, and ship captains say the good climatic conditions will last for the next two days, so we mustn't hesitate," they said in Dover on Tuesday. The two sank into water at 3.30 p.m. Central European time and started to swim, each in his own style - Petr Mihola doing the breaststroke and Richard Haan swimming freestyle. 45 minutes after midnight they could already see lights in Calais - but they were only halfway. Around 3 o'clock in the morning a huge storm began over the Channel and the two Czech swimmers were forced to give in. But not for the last time - they say they're ready to try a third time as soon as possible, to add to the number of brave Czechs who've conquered the English Channel.