Alain Charmey arriving in Geneva.
Alain Charmey arriving in Geneva. Swiss National Museum / ASL

Across Lake Geneva in 22 hours

On 6 August 1986, Alain Charmey from Vaud became the first person to swim the entire length of Lake Geneva. A press photographer was on the spot to capture the moment.

Alexander Rechsteiner

Alexander Rechsteiner

Works at the PR department of the Swiss national museum and holds an M A in modern English literature and political science.

“Following an aborted attempt last week and after consulting the meteorologist, Alain Charmey decided to enter the water today at Villeneuve. He is attempting to swim Lake Geneva along its entire length of 72 kilometres.” This was the announcement put out by press photo agency Actualités Suisses Lausanne (ASL) on 5 August 1986. It was followed the next day by the announcement of Charmey’s successful completion of his feat: “Thanks to his remarkable preparatory work […] he made it not only in less than the 26 hours set, but in the potentially record-breaking time of 22 hours, 42 minutes and 30 seconds.”
Alain Charmey shortly before the start in Villeneuve.
Alain Charmey shortly before the start in Villeneuve.
Alain Charmey shortly before the start in Villeneuve. Swiss National Museum / ASL
ASL sent a special correspondent to Lausanne and Geneva to record Alain Charmey setting off, and his arrival at his destination after this sporting exploit. The pictures at the start show a laughing Charmey, his body smeared in grease (the lake temperature was 18 degrees on the day), with thick swimming goggles, a swimming cap on his head and a digital watch on his wrist. The Vaud native was determined to take on the challenge. He had celebrity support: Bernard Dunand, meteorologist and 1968 silver medal winner in sailing, advised the swimmer regarding weather and nutrition in the water.
Coverage by RTS from 6 August 1986. The video shows Charmey taking on some much-needed nutrition while in the water. YouTube / RTS
On his arrival in Geneva, the swimmer was greeted by a cheering crowd and swarms of journalists. A photo by the ASL photographer shows a seated Charmey surrounded by onlookers, besieged by microphones and cameras, exhausted, with the imprint of his goggles etched deeply on his face. When asked by the reporter whether he was already planning his next challenge, Charmey responded with a laugh: “No, I’ll have a bath and a rest first.”
Arriving in Geneva.
Arriving in Geneva. Swiss National Museum / ASL
After Charmey, only two other swimmers have officially managed to swim the length of Lake Geneva in under 26 hours. In 2016, Spaniard Jamie Caballero beat Charmey’s time by three minutes. And just recently, on 17 July 2021, Noam Yaron from Vaud set a new record of 19 hours and 53 minutes.

The press photo agency ASL

The press photo agency ASL
Actualités Suisses Lausanne (ASL) was founded by Roland Schlaefli in 1954, and until its closure in 1999 was the leading press photo agency in western Switzerland. In 1973, Schlaefli also took over the archive of Agentur Presse Diffusion Lausanne (PDL), founded in 1937. The holdings of the two agencies comprise approximately six million images (negatives, prints, slides). In the broad range of subjects covered, there is a focus on federal politics, sport and western Switzerland. The agency opted not to take the step into the digital age. Since 2007, the archives of ASL and PDL have been held by the Swiss National Museum. The blog presents, in a loose chronology, images and photo sequences that particularly stood out when the collections were being recatalogued.

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Swiss National Museum

Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM).