Mihir Sen (16 November 1930 – 11 June 1997), was an Indian long-distance swimmer. He was not only the first Indian but also the first Asian to swim across the English Channel in 1958.
Mihir Sen was born on 16 November 1930, in Bengal Presidency, British India. Mihir earned a law degree from Utkal University in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. He wanted to go to England to prepare for the bar but didn’t have the money. With the financial support of then Chief Minister Biju Patnaik, he boarded a ship to England in 1950 to pursue his studies.
In England, Sen worked at India House for Indian Ambassador Krishna Menon. On 21 February 1951, he enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn to study law. On November 23, 1954, he was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn.
When Sen read an article about Florence Chadwick, the first American woman to swim the English Channel, he was inspired to do the same. As he had no experience in swimming, he took lessons at the local YMCA until he mastered the front crawl (UK / freestyle US).
He conquered the English Channel from Dover to Calais in 14 hours and 45 minutes on Sept 27, 1958.
In 1966, he became the first person to swim the oceans of five continents in one year. At first, he had to raise Rs 45,000 to pay the Indian navy for recording and navigating the Palk Strait swim. Sen raised half the money through sponsors (including the Kolkata daily, and The Statesman) and the rest came from Indira Gandhi. Moreover, she offered him the full support of the Indian Navy (INS Sukanya and INS Sharada) to swim the Palk Strait with him.
On 5–6 April 1966, Sen swam 25 hours and 36 minutes between Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Dhanushkodi (India) to become the first Indian to do it. In 8 hours and 1 minute, he became the first Asian to cross the Straits of Gibraltar, and 13 hours and 55 minutes later, he became the first to swim the 40-mile Dardanelles (Gallipoli, Europe to Sedulbahir, Asia Minor). Sen was also the first Indian to swim the Bosphorus (Turkey) in four hours and the first non-American (and third man) to swim across the Panama Canal in 34 hours and 15 minutes in the same year.
Awards and Achievements
He was a National Hero and one of the most prominent youth icons of his generation.
In 1959, he was awarded the Padma Shri by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
In 1966, he was the only person to swim the oceans of five continents. It included the Palk Strait, the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus, Gibraltar, and the entire Panama Canal. As a result, he made it into The Guinness Book of Records as the “world’s greatest long-distance swimmer”.
He died on 11 June 1997, in West Bengal, India.