South African Otto Thaning, 73, is oldest channel swimmer

Image caption,
The swim between England and France has attracted hundreds of endurance swimmers

A 73-year-old South African heart surgeon has become the oldest person to swim the English Channel.

Otto Thaning said he had wanted to show what older people are capable of if they look after themselves.

He took the title from Australian Cyril Baldock, who only last month swam the channel three months shy of his 71st birthday.

Mr Thaning, who first swam the channel in 1994, said the temperature of the water was the biggest problem.

Media caption,
Otto Thaning: "I was absolutely exhilarated to the the point of tears"

He said he had suffered cramp in his feet early on in the swim.

"My wish was basically to promote the idea that people over the age of 70 can do things like this if they look after themselves and work hard," he said.

"The biggest problem is to maintain one's core temperature because the water is cold. We averaged 18C (64F), and that was particularly helpful to me because that's reasonably warm for the channel. The channel is usually a little bit colder at this time of year."

The English Channel route is 34km (21 miles) straight across but currents mean it is rare for a swimmer to cover it in less than 40km.

Mr Thaning trained medically under Dr Christian Barnard, who performed the world's first successful human-to-human heart transplant in 1967.