By Bruce Wigo.
This History of Diving: 1920 – 1924 through cartoon art is the second in a series of articles about aquatic champions from early 20th century as seen through an art form used by sports journalists to entertain and educate the public about the sports heroes of the day.
It is an unfortunate fact that retired champions lose much of their glamour with each passing season and if history tells us anything, it won’t be long before today’s champions are forgotten. But while times, techniques, training and equipment improve over time, we should not lose sight of the fact that in their day, Olympic Champions of bygone eras were like our recent medalists in Rio – the best in the world in their sports. The athletes of bygone eras faced many of the same psychological, physical and economic challenges today’s athletes face. Some of them provide great examples what to do while others, what not to do. In every story, of every past champion, there is a takeaway if we want to look and learn from them.
In this article we take a look the era when the USA emerged as the world superpower of diving. Eight years earlier, at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, that title belonged to Sweden. But then, shortly after the Games, Ernst Brandsten and Greta Johansson relocated to San Francisco, started coaching at Stanford University and the world of diving changed forever.
Brandsten was the Swedish champion for many years, but failed to medal at the 1912 Olympics. His future wife, Greta Johannson did win a gold that is on display in the ISHOF today. After the Olympics, Ernst emigrated to California where he started his coaching career at Cal in 1913. He moved over to Stanford with his new wife two years later. The couple would have a major influence on divers from all over the USA and in 1920, American divers won five of the six medals in the 3-meter springboard and 10m competitions. with Stanford’s, Clarence Pinkston winning gold from 10m and silver off the 3m board. He finished second behind “Hap” Kuehn in the springboard event. In 1924, divers from Stanford won all six Olympic medals, with Albert White winning double gold with Pinkston coping double bronze medals.
At the 1920 Olympic Games, 14 year old Aileen Riggin also won the gold medal in the 3m springboard event, with her teammate, Helen Wainwright, from the Women’s Swimming Association of New York taking silver and Thelma Payne of the Multnomah Athletic Club the bronze.
One of the glamour girls of the 1924 Olympic Games was Betty Becker of Atlantic City, N.J. The year 1924 was a “comeback” after her failure to make the 1920 team. She won the gold medal in Paris off the 3m springboard with Riggin, the 1920 champ, taking silver. In the 10m event, she won silver, behind Caroline Smith of the Multnomah Athletic Club.
More about Olympic swimming champions Ethel Lackie and Sybil Bauer in future articles. Below, images from the Chicago Tribune of divers in practice and competition at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
The stories of past champions in sports cartoon art will continue in future articles.