50 Year Lookback of 1968 Mexico City Olympics: Debbie Meyer Wins Third Gold Medal of the Meet in 800

Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archive

Each day through October 26, Swimming World will take you back 50 years to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and will re-tell the stories of those Games through archived meet recaps via the Swimming World Vault.

Read More on the 1968 Olympics

October 24, 1968

Women’s 800 Free

Debbie Meyer, took the women’s 800 meter freestyle as easy as water running off a duck’s back.

Miss Meyer grabbed the lead immediately and did the first flip ahead of Karen Moras, Australia, the fastest qualifier at 9:38.3, with Maria Teresa Ramirez, Mexico, and Pam Kruse, USA, following closely. Debbie had a body length lead (1:05.8) over Karen (1:07.0) with Ramirez (1:07.4) ahead of Patty Caretto, USA (1:07.7). Debbie increased the margin to three strokes at the 150 and stretched it to a body and a half lead at the 200 with 2:15.9 over Miss Moras, 2:18.5, Señorita Ramirez, 2:19.3, and Miss Caretto, 2:20.0. Meyer had five strokes on Moras at the 250 and, ever pressing, extended it to three body lengths at the 300 with 3:27.0 to Karen’s 3:31.5, followed by Maria Teresa, 3:32.2 and Miss Kruse, 3:32.6, with Patty now back in fifth place at 3:33.4.

At the 350 Debbie had moved to an eight  stroke lead and was four and a half body lengths ahead at the 400 in a spectacular display of swimming ability. She posted  4:38.6 ahead of Moras, 4:44.9, Kruse, 4:45.1, Ramirez, 4:45.8, Caretto, 4:48.0, and Angela Coughlan, Canada. 4:51.1. Debbie was breezing and Kruse moved up even with Moras at the 450. At 500 Debbie had 15 meters on Kruse, now second at 5:57.6, with Moras at 5:58.9, and Ramirez, 5:59.3. Ramirez was stroke for stroke with the Australian at 600, only two tenths off Karen’s 7:13.0 pace with Kruse steadily moving away, 7:10.3, and Debbie out of sight at 7:02.3. Caretto had dropped back about three body lengths behind the medal contenders at 7:19.5.

Coming off the 700 flip Miss Meyer had a very comfortable lead at 8:14.6 with Miss Kruse, 8:23.9, two body lengths ahead of Miss Moras, 8:27.1, and Ramirez, a tenth back. At 8:49, Debbie flipped her 750 turn and now the race was for third as she and Kruse were assured of medals. Attention was now on the Australian and the Mexican battling for the bronze medal.

Debbie finished easy at 9:24.0, and Olympic record in a new event. Pam nabbed second in 9:35.7, and the natatorium went loco as Ramirez touched out Moras by a tenth, clocking 9:38.5. Fifth went to Caretto, 9:51.3, trailed by Coughlan, 9:56.4, Denise Langford, Australia, 9:56.7, and Laura Vaca, Mexico, 10:02.5 (10:01.8 in prelims). It was a great swim for Meyer, who won by about 18 meters.

Debbie talked about the race afterwards, “I didn’t have any real definite plan. I just paced it all the way. It felt easy! I didn’t try and hit any particular splits, I just swam it. I might swim one or two more years. I might even swim on to Munich if I can make the team. It feels great to win three gold medals. I’m going to give one to Sherm, he’s the greatest.”

Pam said, “l was just trying to hold my pace and it just so happens that I pulled out ahead of the rest. I think they just slowed down a little from going out so hard. I thought about beating Debbie but at 400 I thought it was pretty doubtful. I plan to swim one more year for sure!”

Señorita Ramirez stated, “It was a hard race, but I am really happy with my place. When I beat her (Moras) I just couldn’t believe that I’d finished third.”


  1. Debbie Meyer, USA, 9:24.0
  2. Pam Kruse, USA, 9:35.7
  3. Maria Teresa Ramírez, MEX, 9:38.5

Historical Notes:

  • This was the first time the women’s 800 free was contested at the Olympics as it was the debut of six new women’s events. The 100 breast, 200 free, 800 free, 200 back, 200 fly and 200 IM made their Olympic debuts in 1968.
  • The Americans would go on to win this event nine total times at the Olympics.
  • Meyer was the first female swimmer to win three gold medals at the same Olympics.
  • Meyer was the only woman to ever win the 200, 400 and 800 in the same Olympics until Katie Ledecky did so in 2016.
  • Meyer is one of seven women to win the 400 and 800 in the same Olympics. Ledecky (2016), Rebecca Adlington (2008), Brooke Bennett (2000), Janet Evans (1988), Tiffany Cohen (1984) and Petra Thumer (1976) are the others.
  • Meyer’s margin of victory (11.7 seconds) is still the largest in any women’s event. Ledecky won by 11.38 seconds to win the 800 in 2016.
  • Ramírez’s medal is still Mexico’s only swimming medal on the women’s side.

Debbie Meyer in 2018; Photo Courtesy: Debbie Meyer


Debbie Meyer in 1968; Photo Courtesy: International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)

Men’s 200 Fly

All three United States men false started in the 200 meter butterfly in protest of not being allowed in the pool to get wet prior to competition.

The field went out even, for only 1.3 seconds separated the first (John Ferris and Mark Spitz, USA, 2:10.6) from the last qualifier (Peter Feil, Sweden, 2:11.9). At the 50 it was tough to pick a leader, but Martyn Woodroffe, Great Britain, Volkert Meeuw, West Germany, and Carl Robie, USA, were all about half a stroke ahead of the rest. At 75 there was still no leader, and seeing this, Robie accelerated into the lead with Woodroffe right with him. Much to everyone’s astonishment Spitz was last and Ferris next to last at this point. Robie’s 100 time was 1:02.5, followed by Woodroffe, 1:02.9, Feil, 1:03.3, and Meeuw and Valetin Kuzmin, USSR, 1:03.7. At 125 meters Ferris broke away from Spitz and proceeded to pick up the field. At 150 meters Robie and Woodroffe were almost even, but Carl had a slight edge, and Fell was just ahead of Kuzmin and Ferris. At 175 Robie looked like he would have a tough time against the determined Englishman, but he hit the wall perfectly to win by touch in 2:08.7 over Woodroffe, 2:09.0, and Ferris, 2:09.3, the latter coming on like gangbusters after splitting 1:04.3. Fourth went to Kuzmin, 2:10.6, with Feil, 2:10.9, Meeuw, 2:11.5, Victor Sharygin, USSR, 2:11.9, and Spitz, last, 2:13.5.

Robie was matter of fact about his victory and the gold medal, which eluded him in 1964 when he was second. “Actually I was confident of winning after our trials. It seemed nobody was swimming that well, and I was very confident after the first 100 meters here because the second part of my race is the strongest for me. It’s been touch and go with me since Tokyo because I spent a year in law school and was fortunate to train this summer. I’m very happy to have won,” Carl said.

Woodroffe displayed confidence in his performance, “At the beginning I thought that Carl would win and not Spitz, and I was in the next lane (Lane 1) so I just hung onto him and that’s all there is to it. Spitz has been swimming since the beginning of the week andhe’s lost a couple of times already and this was Carl’s only swim and so he must have had a better taper and psychological advantage,” Woodroffe said.

“That was partially my reason too,” Robie stated. “That was his seventh swim that he had this week (Actually it was Spitz’ 10th) and I know the 100 butterfly was a big disappointment to him and psychologically he was down. In training camp at altitude he didn’t train that much butterfly and I know that swimming a 200 meter butterfly at altitude is more difficult than at sea level. After watching him swim today I really had my doubts as to whether or not he could win,” Carl said.

Woodroffe, who didn’t have a coach until nine months ago, paid his coach homage, despite his own courage and guts. “Well, it’s very obvious that I’ m very thankful to my coach, Roger Eady, and I’d be lost without him I think.”

Ferris was depressed after the race and through a terrible coughing spell said: “I had everything left after the race. I was swimming Mark Spitz. I’d take it out a lot harder if I could do it again. I felt I could do a six here. I’m disappointed with third. I expected Mark to be the one to beat, but he wasn’t. I thought I could win, but I figured the person I was going to have to beat was Mark. I talked over strategy with Don Gambril and he too felt Spitz was the one to beat. He told me to go out slow and build up flow, but I had a lot left. I feel perfectly fine. I fainted after the 200 IM. Whenever I overexert and don’t get enough oxygen, I just faint. I’ve been fine except for this cough I’ve had all week. If I’d have known before the race Mark was going to do this, there would have been no doubt in my mind I would win. I would have swam my usual race and gone out hard. I was trying something new here like Doug Russell did. I figured this might work for me too. But I went out slower even considering that I wanted to be out slow because of the fact I wanted to be with Mark.”


  1. Carl Robie, USA, 2:08.7
  2. Martyn Woodroffe, GBR, 2:09.0
  3. John Ferris, USA, 2:09.3

Historical Notes:

  • This was the fourth time this event was contested at the Olympics as Robie won USA’s third gold.
  • Spitz went on to win gold in 1972 in the event with a new world record of 2:00.70.
  • Robie is one of four swimmers to upgrade from silver to gold in this event as he won silver in Tokyo behind Australia’s Kevin BerryMichael Gross (1984-1988), Tom Malchow (1996-2000) and Michael Phelps (2012-2016) are the other three.
  • Robie was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1976.


Women’s 200 Fly

Likable Ada Kok, 21, of Holland, had been nipped in Tokyo by Sharon Stouder in the 100 and lost the 100 here, finishing fourth. But she overcame the odds and swam a beautiful race for the gold medal in the 200.

Margaret Auton, Great Britain, was the early leader, but at the 50 meter turn Heike Hustede, West Germany, led over the field. At the 75 the Americans were out of the picture and the race into the 100 was between Hustede, who turned in 1:08.9, Helga Lindner, East Germany, 1:09.8, Miss Kok, 1:10.2, with Ellie Daniel, USA, 1:10.8, and Miss Auton’, 1:11.0, trailing. The two German girls fought it out down the third lap with Daniel pulling even with Kok. At 150 meters, the Germans turned together with Kok third, and Daniel fourth. Toni Hewitt, USA, was coming up but had a long way to go and it did not appear that she could win. (Hewitt was the fastest American in the U.S. trials and in qualifying for the finals in the Games). Coming home, Kok passed Hustede and inched slowly ahead of Lindner, touching first in 2:24.7, an Olympic record in a new event. Miss Lindner was second in 2:24.8 and Daniel was third in 2:25.9. Miss Hewitt took fourth, 2:26.2 followed by Miss Hustede 2:27.9, Diane Giebel, USA, 2:31.7, Miss Auton 2:33.2 and Miss Yasuko Fujii 2:34.3 (2:33.4 in prelims).

Ada, six feet, 172 pounds said, “I will retire in a year or so depending how long it takes me to taper off. I am definitely quitting after this Olympics. I wasn’t worried about being behind because the race is 200 meters not 100 meters, so I still had a 100 to go. I do better in the 200. I like it because the 100 is a chance event, but the 200 gives you more of a chance to think.”

Miss Lindner, 17, commented, “I didn’t think I’d win. I wasn’t surprised to find myself leading, because I thought I’d do a very good time. I’m very happy to place this high, I thought I could win when I got ahead but I didn’t expect it.”

Miss Daniel said, “I wanted to swim against Ada and Toni. I figured they’d be the toughest, but I got hung up with Toni instead of the field. If I could have done it differently I would have gone out a lot harder. I tried my hardest, but it just didn’t go the way I expected. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t think Add would do that well judging from her 100.”


  1. Ada Kok, NED, 2:24.7
  2. Helga Lindner, GDR, 2:24.8
  3. Ellie Daniel, USA, 2:25.9

Historical Notes:

  • This was the first time the women’s 200 fly was contested at the Olympics as it was the debut of six new women’s events. The 100 breast, 200 free, 800 free, 200 back, 200 fly and 200 IM made their Olympic debuts in 1968.
  • This was the Netherlands’ first gold medal in swimming since 1948.
  • The Americans have the most gold medals in this event (four) while East Germany has three.
  • Kok was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1976.

Men’s 200 Free

The men’s 200 meter freestyle was almost as easy for Australia’s Mike Wenden as his 100 victory and certainly just as much of an upset when he defeated world record holder Don Schollander, USA. Mike led from the start and had half a body length on Don at the 50 with the rest of the field spread even.

Coming into the 100 meters Wenden had almost a body length on Don, 56.4 to 57.1 with John Nelson, USA, 57.4 and Ralph Hutton, Canada, 57.5, the closest challengers. Nelson made his move on the third 50 and pulled up to Schollander’s shoulder, but couldn’t press further. After the turn it was apparent that only Don had a chance to catch Wenden.

Schollander closed over the last 25 meters, but he couldn’t pull out the victory and Wenden won the gold, 1:55.2 to Don’s 1:55.8, with Nelson third, 1:58.1 and Hutton fourth, 1:58.6. Alain Mosconi, France, 1:59.1, Robert Windle, Australia, 2:00.9 and Semyon Belits-Geiman, USSR, seventh, 2:01.5 (2:01.2 in prelims) trailed in order. Steve Rerych, USA, who qualified sixth in 2:00.6 was absent from the final due to illness five minutes before the race.

Wenden said he didn’t hold any particular reverence for Don Schollander in the 200. “I only looked on Don as a first class competitor and one that I had to fear so I treated him cautiously. I tried to take it out rather hard because I know that Don and John like to swim their races evenly. I think my turns were rather slow but I don’t worry about them except in the sprint. The facilities in Australia are not very numerous, but that’s because of the population. What we have are adequate,” Wenden said.

Schollander, who is hanging up his suit after an illustrious career commented, “I feel very fortunate to have gained the success I’ve achieved. I think it’s a career I’ll be able to look back on and be very pleased about. I would have liked to have won because it is my last race but I did as fine a job as I could. I’m not disappointed a bit.”

Don continued: “I think I swam just the way I wanted to. I wanted to be out not too quickly yet not too slowly, fairly relaxed. Knowing Mike has bad turns and I have good turns I tried to use that to my advantage. I tried to swim into the 100 and come out hard and be somewhat ahead by that move. Then I hoped to be able to break his rhythm on the third length. What actually happened was I found myself behind after the 100 and I had to blast the third lap instead of swimming it as a pickup. I still hadn’t caught him at the end of the third length. Well, I didn’t know exactly what was happening because I was breathing on the right side coming home and he was on my left, and I just didn’t make up enough to close on him. I consider a disappointing race one in which I swim poorly or else I miss a turn or something so in that respect I don’t consider this a disappointing race. However, I am disappointed because this is my last race and I would like to have won it.”

Nelson said, “Yes I swam about the same race as I did against Don in our trials. I’m not disappointed. I figured I had a chance but when I dropped back I just swam for a medal. I only swam a little better than I did on the relay but I was fresher then. I hope to recover in time for the 1500 in which there are heats.”


  1. Mike Wenden, AUS, 1:55.2
  2. Don Schollander, USA, 1:55.8
  3. John Nelson, USA, 1:58.1

Historical Notes:

  • This was the second time this event was contested at the Olympics, as it was first swum in 1900 and discontinued for 68 years.
  • Australia and the United States each have won three golds in this event, the most of any country. Duncan Armstrong (1988) and Ian Thorpe (2004) have won gold for Australia.
  • Wenden is one of three men to win the 100 and 200 free in the same Olympics. Mark Spitz (1972) and Pieter van den Hoogenband (2000) are the others.
  • Wenden was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1979.

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