July 30, 2008 / 6:43 PM / 11 years ago

One-armed Frenchman almost makes Channel swim

PARIS (Reuters) - A retired French carpenter came agonizingly close to becoming the first one-armed man to swim the English Channel, but was forced to abandon his bid within sight of the French coast.

Olivier Desmet, 56, whose left forearm was amputated after a motorcycle accident in 1976, said he had dreamt of attempting the 35-kilometre (22-mile) crossing for the last five years.

“For me it’s a great success and not a failure”, Desmet told Reuters, despite having to give up the challenge on Monday when strong currents dragged him off his planned route.

“I was in tears when the captain of the boat with me made me come aboard, because I still had plenty of energy left even though I’d spent 14 1/2 hours in the water”, he said.

Desmet said he trained for eight months in a local pond and put on over 10 kilos (22 lbs) with a rigorous diet of chips and beer to build up the layers of fat needed to resist the cold Channel water.

The pensioner from the village of Wargnies le Grand in northwest France has already won gold for triathlon 13 times in the handisport world championships, and wants to continue adding to his sporting achievements.

But he said he was not thinking of trying the channel swim again.

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