A Swim That Thawed the Cold War
In 1987 the cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union was at it’s worst. An American swimmer named Lynne Cox, braved the ice cold waters of the Bering Strait to swim from the USA to the Soviet Union. At one side of the strait was Little Diomede Island part of Alaska and just over 2.5 miles away was Big Diomede Island which was in the Soviet Union.
The water though between the two countries was very, very cold. Cox recollects how the instant she stepped in the water she lost her breath -
“The cold was like a vampire pulling the heat from my body. I looked down at my fingers and they were totally grey like the hands of a cadaver.”
There were more problems – permission from Moscow was only allowed at the very last minute. Her guides across the strait got so excited about seeing their relatives across the water spent the night celebrating and overslept. Both military had demonstrated the air of mistrust by mobilising jet fighters, MIGs and Naval ships.
In the end the permission granted and the Straits were calm – it was that very cold was the main enemy. In fact her medical team urged her to finish quickly by just touching the clilffs rather than the longer swim to the beach and the Russian delegation. She bravely decided for the beach as the point was to promote world peace and it seemed much more relevent to shake someones hand rather than touch a piece of rock.
The Russians in the end came up trumps, even organising a beach party with tea and biscuits on the other side. A soviet docter caller Rita Zakarova covered her with hot water bottles and a sleeping bag and embraced her to warm her up.
This brave swim actually turned her into a Cold War celebrity in both USSR and the USA. It was said that Gorbochov talked to Regan about Jenny when signing a Nuclear Arms treaty – mentioning how her courage demonstrated how close people actually were to each other.
There have been a series of documentaries about Lynn Cox on American TV stations. You should be able to find them on NBC and possibly Hulu if you’re lucky. If you don’t live in the USA then you’ll need to connect via a USA Proxy in order to access them.