League of Olympic Swim Legends: Mary T. Meagher Tops 100 ‘Fly Podium With Sjöstrom & De Bruijn

Mary T. Meagher
Mary T. Meagher - Image Courtesy: SwimSketch

What would have unfolded had Tokyo 2020 gone ahead as planned this week – and where would it all have fit in the thread of Olympic swim legends like Mary T Meagher, Sarah Sjöstrom and Inge de Bruijn?

To mark the eight days over which the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have unfolded had the coronavirus pandemic not forced postponement, the team at Swimming World is filling the void with a Virtual Vision Form Guide and League of Olympic Swimming Legends.

Tokyo Vision: Sarah Sjostrom Chases History, Repeat in Women’s 100 Butterfly

Day 2, event 1 … the first title that might have been a crown retained

Women’s 100m Butterfly

Mary T. Meagher – Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archives

The Podium

  1. Mary T Meagher (USA)
  2. Sarah Sjöstrom (SWE)
  3. Inge De Bruijn (NED)

The Other Finalists (Listed Alphabetically):

* – in our series, we will use Lane 9 to add an athlete whose story reflects extraordinary situations of different kinds

All-Time Battle Of Olympic Swim Legends Goes To Mary T. Meagher

Ahead of her time by at least a generation, the United States’ Mary T Meagher secured her first gold medal in League of Olympic Legends competition, as she got to the wall ahead of Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and Dutchwoman Inge de Bruijn. For Meagher, the Legends gold complemented her triumph at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The original Madame Butterfly of the pool, Meagher was headed for Olympic gold at the 1980 Games in Moscow, only to have that pursuit short-circuited by U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the Games in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Meagher’s dominance in the event was defined by her 19-year reign as the world-record holder. On July 24 in Moscow at the 1980 Olympics, the title went to Caren Metschuck in 1:00.42 at the helm of a GDR sweep, Andrea Pollack second in 1:00.90 and Christiane Knacke on 1:01.44, three years after she had become the first woman to break the minute. At U.S. Outdoor Nationals on August 2, 1980, Meagher clocked 59.41 ahead of Tracy Caulkins on 1:00.75.

The battle for the Legends silver medal was a tight affair, as Sjostrom and de Bruijn fought to the finish behind Mary T Meagher, with the Swede narrowly prevailing. In addition to claiming gold at the 2016 Olympics as the first Swedish woman in Games history to lift a swim title, Sjostrom has set five world records in the 100 fly. As for de Bruijn, she backed up her 2000 Olympic title from Sydney with a bronze medal in 2004. De Bruijn set three world records during the 2000 season, and her 56.61 showing from Sydney endured as the world record for nine years.

Dana Vollmer of the United States, the 2012 Olympic champion and first woman to crack the 56-second barrier, was fourth. She was also supported by her bronze medal from 2016.

Wendy Boglioli makes our Lane 9: she took bronze behind two East German swimmers at Montreal 1976 and had it not been for State Plan 14:25 and systematic doping with Oral Turinabol and other substances by the GDR would have joined the thread of Olympic champions over 100m butterfly – and may even have been a World record holder, the history of the 100 ‘fly standard

Olympic Swim Legends – Our Winner’s Winning Ways:

Mary T Meagher’s First Olympic Gold Four Years Beyond Boycott


The 1984 podium: Mary T. Meagher, Jenna Johnson and Karin Seick – Photo Courtesy: AP

1984 Los Angeles – Women 100m Butterfly: Athletes: 35;  Nations: 23

  1. 59.26 Mary T. Meagher USA
  2. 1:00.19 Jenna Johnson USA
  3. 1:01.36 Karin Seick FRG
  4. 1:01.56 Annemarie Verstappen NED
  5. 1:01.58 Michelle MacPherson CAN
  6. 1:01.78 Janet Tibbits AUS
  7. 1:01.94 Cornelia van Bentum NED
  8. 1:02.11 Ina Beyermann FRG

Date of final: August 2, 1984

After missing out in 1980 because of boycott, American Mary T. Meagher thrilled a home crowd with victory in both the 100m and 200m butterfly at the Games in Los Angeles.

By 1980, then 15, Meagher, of Louisville, Kentucky, held the World records in both events. Boycott halted what would almost certainly have been a double triumph at Moscow 1980. In 1981, Meagher showed just how far she was ahead of her time: 57.93 over 100m and 2:05.96 global marks over 100m and 200m at Brown Deer. They remain among the most phenomenal performances in swimming history.

She would never match that speed again but until 1999 over 100m and 2000 over 200m, neither did anyone else – and Meagher was a league apart for most of her career, a World champion over 200m in 1986 and third in the 100m behind two GDR swimmers, before bronze over 200m at the 1988 Olympic Games behind two GDR swimmers. Mary T Meagher might have been the first woman to join Dawn Fraser in the triple crown club (same title at there Games) – but we will never know.

In the fourth heat of the 100m at Los Angeles , Meagher set an Olympic record of 59.05 ahead of teammate Jenna Johnson, on 59.99. In the final, Johnson shot ahead out of the blocks and turned first in 27.47, well up on Meagher’s world-record pace of 27.75. Meagher turned in 28.07. She then came home in 31.19 for a 59.26 victory. Johnson paid the price for that blistering opening length but her 1:00.19 effort was good enough for silver ahead of Karin Seick (FRG).

Highlights of Los Angeles 1984, including gold in the 100m Butterfly for Mary T. Meagher

A memory of one of the greatest performances in swimming history – Mary T. Meagher – under 2:06, 200 ‘fly, 1981:


Another Great 100m ‘Fly Moment In History

When Inge de Bruijn Murray Rose retained the Crown by the same margin of victory over Tsuyoshi Yamanaka as he had in 1956

2000 Sydney – Women 100m Butterfly: Athletes: 49; Nations: 39

  1. 56.61wr Inge de Bruijn NED
  2. 57.97 Martina Moravcova SVK
  3. 58.20 Dara Torres USA
  4. 58.49 Petria Thomas AUS
  5. 58.73 Jennifer Thompson USA
  6. 59.13 Junko Onishi JPN
  7. 59.27 Susan O’Neill AUS
  8. 59.43 Diana Mocanu ROM

Date of final: September 17, 2000

On May 20, 2000, in Monte Carlo, Inge de Bruijn, of Barendrecht, Holland, clocked 25.83 in the 50m butterfly, the first of six world records she would set in 14 days. In Sheffield six days later, she lowered the mark to 25.64 and, half an hour later, equalled the 50m freestyle record of Le Jingji (CHN) at 24.51.

A day later, she shattered the 100m butterfly world record in 56.69. Shockwaves rippled around the world of swimming: not only was the average time of the fastest ten women over 59sec at the time, but De Bruijn had wiped 1.19sec off the world record that had stood to Jenny Thompson (USA) and improved from personal bests of 58.49 in 1999, and 59.28 in 1998. Only the 57.93 of Mary T Meagher (USA) in 1981 had made such an impact in the history of the event.

In the 100m butterfly at Sydney 2000, De Bruijn went much further and faster than she ever had in World or Olympic waters before. On July 16, De Bruijn demoralised her opponents with efforts of 57.60 and 57.14 in the heats and semi-final respectively. The draw of the new standards she was setting dictated a time of 59.12sec just to qualify for the final.

The next day, De Bruijn led the way in the final, turning in 26.67, a time that only one woman (1996 champion Amy Van Dyken, USA) had ever beaten in a straight 50m butterfly race before 1999. The field tried to travel at the same speed and some paid a hefty price: Thompson was closest, at 26.79, Dara Torres (USA) next, on 27.06, followed by Martina Moravcova (SVK) on 27.17.

The journey home was a joy for De Bruijn, who sailed away to a world record of 56.61, 0.03sec inside her previous high, while her rivals struggled. Moravcova came home second, in 57.97, the second sub-58 swim ever in an Olympic final. The sport had never seen the like before: the Dutch woman’s 1.36sec margin of victory exceeded anything that had gone before in an event that had never witnessed a champion who had defeated her nearest rival by more than a second.

At 33, Torres was the oldest woman medal winner of the modern era in the pool, her bronze earned in a lifetime best of 58.20. She had made a comeback after seven years out of the sport, won bronze medals in the 50 and 100m freestyle and then she retired. Not forever: in 2007, she launched a second comeback at the age of 40 in time to race at 2008 Olympic trials 24 years after making her first Olympic team, at Los Angeles in 1984. Torres swam faster in 2007 than she ever had before, setting an American record in the 50m freestyle.


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