TRIBUTES have been paid to a local world record holding-swimmer who has died at the age of 81.

Barry Watson held the record for the fastest time to swim the English Channel for 17 years from 1964 to 1981.

The avid swimmer, from Crossflatts, was heavily involved in the Bingley Harriers and Athletics Club, and coached double-Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee and his two-time Olympic medallist brother Jonathan Brownlee.

In 1964, at the age of 26, Mr Watson swam the 21 miles from England to France in a record time of nine hours and 35 minutes, a record he held for almost two decades.

A decorated long-distance swimmer, described as a “true legend”, Mr Watson was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1973.

Ten years ago, aged 71, he stated he wanted to return to the Channel to try and become the oldest man to swim the Channel.

Tim Midgley, from Bingley Harriers, said: “Myself and hundreds are deeply shocked.

“I’m honoured to have known such a legend. Barry Watson’s legacy lives forever.”

Mike Read, president of the Channel Swimming Association, paid tribute to his friend of 65 years.

He said: “Barry was a legend in Channel swimming.

“He was a wonderful sportsman, the sort of swimmer who would stop and wait whilst you emptied your leaking goggles and still go on to beat you.

“In 1964, he was just one of nine swimmers to complete the Channel and in doing so, escorted by pilot Val Noakes and in a flat calm sea, he set the English Channel World record from France to England in 9 hours 35 minutes at the age of 26, the record would last eighteen years.

“He went on to complete a further 3 England to France Channel swims in 1968,1969 and 1970.

“He was also a wonderful British Long Distance Swimming Association supporter, he swam the length of Lake Windermere more than 20 times.

“He was the BLDSA champion in Lake Windermere in 1963 and 1964, the 1967 BLDSA Loch Lomond champion, the BLDSA two-way Lake Windermere champion in 1966, 1967 and 1968, and the BLDSA champion from Fleetwood to Morecambe in 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1967.

“In 1966 he won the Windermere International Championship, swimming 10.5 miles in five hours, 28 minutes and 16 seconds.

“A true legend, who will be greatly missed, the Board and all the members send Linda and his family our deepest condolences.”

Mr Watson received a B-active award from Bradford Council in 2004 on the 40th anniversary of his record-breaking swim.