Olympian, Masters Great Al VandeWeghe Passes Away

TULSA, Okla., Aug. 17. AL VandeWeghe, 86, a silver medalist behind the USA's Adolf Kiefer in the 100 meter backstroke at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, died last Tuesday morning, August 13. VandeWeghe, who had been battling cancer, died of pneumonia.

An inductee in the International Swimming Hall of Fame for his swimming exploits in the 1930s and '40s, Al was also one of the top Masters swimmers in his age group, several times setting USMS and world records in the backstroke.

Among Al's accomplishment:
* He was the first backstroker to break the one minute barrier for 100 yards.
* He invented the backstroke flip turn.
* He was a world record holder in the 100 meter back.
* Because of World War II, the Olympic Games were canceled in 1940 and 1944, but he was a member of the USA National and honorary USA Olympic team.

Al attended Princeton University where he obtained a degree in Chemical Engineering and upon graduation worked for DuPont. While swimming at Princeton he was undefeated.

One of my personal stories related to his collegiate career is this: A few years ago I held the state record for the 1500 meter freestyle and I had a certificate on my office wall acclaiming that accomplishment signed by the state's record chairman, Al VandeWeghe. A gentleman who was consulting with our company, by the name of Sanford (Sandy) Platter, noted the record and, more importantly, noted the signature on the certificate.

He just about crumbled to his knees as he asked with a tremor in his voice: "Do you know Al VandeWeghe?" I replayed, "Yes."

Sandy then related the following story to me. Sandy swam the backstroke for Yale approximately 20 years after Al had completed his collegiate career. When Sandy entered Yale in his freshman year, on the wall of the Yale pool was posted the current record holder for the 100 back and it was Al VandeWeghe. Sandy was finally able to break that record in his senior year at Yale.

I do not remember the year, but I imagine Sandy was in his 50's and Al in his 70's when I brought Sandy to our Masters workout at the Downtown Tulsa YMCA to meet Al for the first time. It was very neat for all of us who understood what was going on.

The last I knew, Sandy was a Masters swimmer with a group out of Boulder, Colorado.

Adolf Kiefer called Al's son, Ted, to offer his condolences to his family on the day of Al's funeral. That was very much appreciated by Al's immediate family and his Masters family.

Al will be missed greatly, both as a swimmer and above all as a great gentleman and friend.

Our condolences to the VandeWeghe family.

–John Kopsky

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Author: Archive Team

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