At the height of the Cold War, a woman swam from the US to the Soviet Union. A three-mile swim which became a metaphor for the proximity of the two countries, at a time when they couldn't be further apart ideologically. It marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War, as people on both sides began asking themselves: how can something so close be so distant?
Orange County Woman Swims to Soviet Union
by Rich Roberts, Times Staff writer, 8 Aug 1987
BIG DIOMEDE ISLAND, Soviet Union — Exhausted, half-frozen but exhilerated, Lynne Cox stumbled ashore to a Russian picnic buffet here Friday after swimming the icy Bering Strait from Little Diomede Island in the United States to the Soviets' Big Diomede in 2 hours, 5 minutes.
A temporary thaw fell upon the chilled waters with the historic swim of the cheerful, 30-year-old Los Alamitos woman, who brought the superpowers together in glasnost for a day.
"Obviously, this isn't just about swimming," she said afterward. "The swimming part was a challenge, but it was everything else that made it special."
Vitaly Medjannikov, a Soviet swim coach who was in the reception party, said in broken English: "This is very much risk, very difficult. Lynne Cox is a hero, a women's hero."
Until Cox fulfilled an 11-year ambition to swim the 2.7-mile part of the strait where the International Dateline marks the only common border between the United States and the Soviet Union, nobody had even attempted it.
The water freezes over in the winter, when interlopers have walked across and been sent back by Soviet officials. Friday it was 44 degrees Fahrenheit, and Cox swam it without a wet suit or grease over her thin Speedo swimsuit.
Accompanied by an entourage of coaches, physicians, reporters, Eskimo villagers and, for the last part of the journey, the Soviet Navy, Cox maintained a pace of 70 strokes per minute. At times fog limited visiblity to 100 yards, but the northerly current was weaker than expected at about three-quarters of a knot. Because of the current, she could not churn directly across the Strait and had to swim four to six miles.
It was only at the end, she said, that she tired and the current became a problem.
"It felt like I was in a big dishwasher," she said. "I could feel it zigzagging and I got caught in the folds of it."
Along the way scientists, accompanying her in walrus-skin boats called \o7 umiaks, \f7 monitored her temperature with a thermosensitive capsule called a "radio pill" that was attached to her body and transmitted a signal to an instrument on the boat. Cox would roll over and backstroke for a minute while the doctors held an aerial over her stomach on the end of a long stick to take her temperature.
Dr. William Keatinge, an expert on hypothermia from the London Medical College, said Cox's success "showed somebody with Lynne's body composition and determination can get across in this water. Most people would get into trouble very quickly."
Cox is 5 feet, 6 inches and 180 pounds. Keatinge estimated her body fat content at 35%, giving her important insulation from the cold.
"Her temperature had fallen a half-degree halfway across, but we weren't able to get further readings until she had landed," Keatinge said. "However, 10 minutes after she landed her temperature was 94--just on the margin of hypothermia."