Greta Andersen

Biographical information

Medals OG
Gold 1
Silver 1
Bronze 0
Total 2
RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameGreta Marie•Andersen (-Sonnichsen, -Veress)
Used nameGreta•Andersen
Born1 May 1927 in København (Copenhagen) (DEN)
AffiliationsDKG, København (DEN) / Svømmeklubben Triton, Ballerup (DEN)
NOC Denmark


Greta Andersen began swimming at the age of 16 in the swimming club Triton, where she was discovered by former Olympic bronze medallist Else Jacobsen. In 1946 she switched to Denmark’s Christian Gymnasiastbevægelse (DKG) where she was coached by the renowned gymnastics teacher Ingeborg Paul Petersen and swam with fellow Danish medallists Karen Margrethe Harup and Fritze Carstensen. Simultaneously, she started her education as a gymnastics and swimming teacher at DKG. In 1947, Andersen participated in her first European Championships in Monaco, winning bronze in the 100 m freestyle and gold in the 4×100 free relay.

At the London Olympics, Andersen won gold in the 100 freestyle and a silver in the 4×100 relay. She was also the favorite to win the 400 free, but fainted suddenly and almost drowned because of stomach cramps in the heats, before being towed ashore by fellow competitors Nancy Lees and Elemér Szathmáry. In her autobiography Andersen attributed this incident to dysmenorrhea. In 1949 Andersen set a world record of 58.2 in the 100 yard freestyle, which stood until 1956. At the 1950 European Championships in Vienna, she won another bronze in the 100 freestyle and silver in the 4×100 free relay. In her career Andersen won nine individual Danish championships, several team championships, and four individual Scandinavian titles.

In the mid-1950s she emigrated to the United States, where she settled in Long Beach, California, and later obtained US citizenship. She then began a new career as a professional straits swimmer. She was the first person to swim a major channel both ways (Santa Catalina, California). With her six trips across the English Channel during the period 1957-65, she set the record for the most Channel Swims by a woman, and even won open competitions in Channel Swimming while competing against men. In 1958 she set the record English Channel time for women at 10:59 hrs. Her world records extended from 100 y (1949) to 50 miles (Chicago to Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1962). She and her husband John Sonnichsen, who she married in 1957, opened a swimming school in 1960. In 1969 she was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1948 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) DEN Greta Andersen
100 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 1 Gold
400 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) AC h3 r1/3
4 × 100 metres Freestyle Relay, Women (Olympic) Denmark 2 Silver
1952 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) DEN Greta Andersen
100 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) =12
400 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 8
4 × 100 metres Freestyle Relay, Women (Olympic) Denmark 4

Special Notes