PHOENIX, Arizona, November 21. YESTERDAY, President Barack Obama awarded President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and 14 other worthy citizens the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This year’s awards ceremony was especially touching because it marked the award’s 50th anniversary. Late President John F Kennedy established the award in 1963.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the United States’ highest civilian award. It recognizes individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
In Swimming World Magazine’s upcoming December issue, Phillip Whitten argues that Adolph Kiefer, arguably the most successful swimmer in history, deserves to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Read Whitten’s Voice for the Sport, reprinted in full below:
A Voice for the Sport
Medal of Freedom for Adolph Kiefer
BY PHILLIP WHITTEN
Not long ago, a group of swimmers, former swimmers and coaches got together to talk about our favorite sport.
“So who do you think was the most influential swimmer of all time?,” someone challenged. “That’s easy,” replied one of the younger swimmers, “It’s got to be Michael Phelps.”
“Not so fast, dude,” came a rejoinder. “Michael is almost certainly the greatest swimmer in history, but the question is: who was the most influential? I think you can make a strong case for Mark Spitz.”
Other names were offered: Johnny Weissmuller, Duke Kahanamoku, Gertrude Ederle, even Benjamin Franklin.
We didn’t resolve the question, of course, but the conversation got me thinking: who was the most influential swimmer ever? Was it one of the superstars whose name figured prominently in our discussion?
Then it hit me. It could only be one person: Adolph Kiefer.
That’s when I decided to write an article about this incredible man. So I dashed off a proposal and sent it to Brent Rutemiller, the publisher of Swimming World.
“Great idea, Phil,” he told me, “but let’s take it one step further. Let’s nominate Adolph for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
* * *
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the USA’s highest civilian award. Created by President Harry S. Truman, it rewarded war-related acts or services during World War II. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy expanded its scope to honor individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the security of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant endeavors.
Unquestionably, Kiefer is a deserving candidate for the award. His greatest accomplishment–and the one of which he is most proud–was having created a survival curriculum for downed U.S. airmen during WWII that saved at least 4,000 lives.
This was his greatest service to the United States, and for this alone, Kiefer should be awarded the medal.
* He is the most successful swimmer in history, losing only once in more than 2,000 races.
* He was the only American male swimmer to win Olympic gold at the 1936 Games in Germany.
* He set world records at every distance in the backstroke, some of which lasted for two decades.
* He also coached a U.S. Navy team to a national title in 1948, placing four of his five swimmers on the U.S. Olympic team.
His accomplishments as an inventor are equally impressive. Kiefer is the proud owner of 14 U.S. patents, including the first kickboard, non-turbulent racing lane lines and the nylon swimsuit (replacing woolen suits).
At 95, Kiefer still swims an hour a day and attributes his longevity to the swimming and a “pretty good diet” prepared by his wife, Joyce, of 72 years. He no longer competes in swimming, but he does play bridge three times a week, where he gives free reign to his competitive instinct. “I may not place first every time, but I always win something,” he says. It also provides a captive audience for the activity he enjoys the most, according to his son, Jack: talking.
The oldest living Olympic gold medalist in any sport, Kiefer was named the “father of American swimming” two years ago by USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Nowadays, he may be confined to a wheelchair by neuropathy, but his mind is nearly as sharp as it was 60 or 70 years ago.
If you would like to support our nomination of Adolph Kiefer for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, contact: Executive Office of the President, The White House, Attn: Executive Clerk’s Office, Washington, DC 20502. Phone: 202-456-2226; Fax: 202-456-2569.
Phillip Whitten was editor-in-chief of Swimming World from 1992-2006.
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NY Daily News Coverage of yesterday’s awards ceremony: President Obama Honors Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey with Presidential Medal of Freedom