Sally Bauer was a Swedish swimmer who was best known for her long-distance swimming. The height of her fame was achieved in 1939 when she became the first Scandinavian to swim across the English Channel. Bauer swam across the Sound (1931; 18km; 6.22 hours), Kattegat (1938; 48 km; 17.05 hours), the Sea of Åland (1938; 30 km; 13.06 hours), and twice across the English Channel (1939 and 1951; 27 km; 15.22 hours and 14.40 hours respectively). Furthermore, in the years 1934 to 1937 she set all 17 individual Swedish freestyle distance records between 200 and 1609 meters (equivalent to one British mile), and also won three Swedish national championship gold medals, of which one was an individual 400 meter freestyle.
Bauer was brought up in Helsingborg where her father, Carl Axel Ludvig Bauer, was an estate agent. She graduated from high school in 1928 and completed a one-year further education course at Helsingborg handelsgymnasium in 1929. Bauer’s professional life included working as a secretary and swimming instructor, and for a time she was a national trainer for the Swedish swimming association. She lived in Malmö from 1945, when her son Carl-Axel was born, until 1987 when she moved to Lund.
Bauer began swimming as a child at Helsingborg’s Simsällskap, and began to compete as a sixteen-year-old. She changed her swimming club to Malmö Simsällskap. Her greatest strength was endurance in long-distance swimming. Her first long-distance swim was across the Sound, between Helsingborg and Helsingör. That same year, 1931, she also swam between Limhamn in Malmö and Dragör in the southern part of the Sound. In 1938 a Danish company offered a prize of 5 000 kroner to anyone who could defeat the Danish record for swimming across the Kattegat. Bauer failed on her first attempt, but successfully crossed the Kattegat in 17 hours and 5 minutes on her second attempt, which was 12 hours faster than the existing Danish record. Only eight days later she swam the 30 kilometre stretch between Grisslehamn and Signilskär on Åland in 13 hours and 6 minutes.
Bauer’s first international breakthrough occurred in 1939 when she swam across the English Channel, a feat she had dreamt of achieving since the American Gertrude Ederle undertook the same swim in 1926. A total of 500 attempts had been made earlier, but only 15 swimmers had succeeded. The 34-kilometre stretch contains very tricky tidal currents. By obtaining sponsorship from amongst others Banankompaniet, Gröna Lund, Sandrews as well as the newspapers Idrottsbladet, Arbetet and Göteborgs-Posten Bauer travelled to London on 14 August 1638 and then made her way to Cap Gris-Nez near Calais in France.
Bauer began to swim at 5:50am on 27 August and stepped onto English land at 9:12pm the same day, making a total of 15 hours and 22 minutes – barely an hour and a half over the world record. This was, of course, just around the outbreak of the Second World War. Sally Bauer became a national celebrity after this swim and was celebrated by large welcoming crowds on her return to Sweden. Bauer undertook the same swim in 1951 when she was 43 years old and had hardly trained, and this time she completed it in 14 hours and 40 minutes. This Swedish record remained in place until 2010.
In 1939 Sally Bauer published her autobiography Kattegat, Ålandshav, Kanalen, where she described her long-distance swims. She detailed her preparations and the hard work to finance her swims, how the swims went and the accolades she received after swims not only in Denmark, but also in Malmö and in Helsingborg.
Sally Bauer has had a local train service in Scania and a school in Helsingborg named after her. In 2004 the author Sara Stridsberg published the well-received book Happy Sally, which is a fictional account of Bauer’s life. The book was turned into a play which was performed on only two days in 2009 at Eriksdalsbadet in Stockholm.