Penny Pence Taylor Turns 91 In Her 10th Decade Of Dedication To Swimming (1948 U.S. Olympic Trials Video)


Penny Pence Taylor was born Carol Jane Pence this day, May 11, 91 years ago in Indianapolis. She was a member of the Lafayette Swim Club in Indiana, swimming for Hall of Fame Coach Dick Papenguth while attending Purdue University.

At 19, she raced for the United States in the 200m breaststroke at the London 1948 Olympics, the first Games to feature an indoor swimming pool.  That was just the beginning of a lifetime of dedication to swimming.

Today, she turned 91. Happy birthday ma’am.

At the London Games, Pence competed in the preliminary heats of the 200m metres breaststroke, and finished with a time of 3:28.1 at a time when half the participants were still swimming what we know as breaststroke today, the other half much faster and racing with a double-arm butterfly recovery.

Here’s how that looked at the 1948 U.S. Olympic Trials:

Pence raced in the days where there was no 100m on her stroke, no medley relay, no butterfly, indeed, at least not officially. It was July 23, 1952 when FINA voted 52 votes to 22 to split the strokes: butterfly was born as an official stroke. Racing in one event with some performing a completely different stroke to the rest had lasted almost 20 years by then, the years of the Second World War standing in the way of debate over a combination of ‘overarm breaststroke’ first seen in Olympic waters at Berlin 1936.

By London 1948, the writing was on the wall and in the men’s 200m breaststroke won by Joe Verdeur, the first seven men home swan ‘butterfly with a breaststroke kick, Dutchman Bjorn Bonte not far off the pace as last man home racing what remains to this day traditional breaststroke. That race would spark the champion spirit in Australia’s John Davies, too: he was given fourth place even though his official time was 2:43.7, to American Bob Sohl‘s 2:43.9. The official times remain that to this day but it was Sohl who took home bronze. Davies took home determination – and in 1952 he was back, this time for gold.


Penny Pence – Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

Penny Pence was there cheering teammate Joe Verdeur and mates on at London 1948, the cheer the loudest ever heard for Olympic swimming until then, courtesy of the four walls that sound had to bounce off. It was a  Games of eight golds for the USA at the Empire Pool in Wembley, the 4x200m free world record the only global standard to fall at the first post-War Games. It was set by Walter Ris,  James McLane, Wallace Wolf and William Smith at a time when four others raced the heats, full switch-overs allowed.  Ris won the 100m solo, Smith the 400m crown, McLane the 1500m title.

Pence Taylor was there when the start of the men’s 100m backstroke final was held up to preserve the modesty of her teammate Allen Stack: the cord of his suit snapped as he entered the water. The World record holder was allowed a quick dash back to the changing rooms to swap suits. It rattled him, his 1:04 world mark a goal gone in the rush but in 1:06.0 the gold was his, 0.1sec thread of teammate Robert Cowell, France’s Georges Vallerey third, his name recognisable for many years to come by all who raced at World Cups in Paris  down the years, the venue the Piscine Georges Vallerey.

The American men swept all six golds, Ann Curtis the sole American woman, over 400m free, in the women’s events and a double gold medallist as a member of the 4x100m free quartet with Marie Corridon, Thelma Kalama and Brenda Helser. It was also the Games of double gold for Vicki Draves and a debut gold for Sammy Lee off the boards. Memories never to be forgotten.

Pence did not make the 200m breaststroke final in which Eva Szekely, the Hungarian who would claim gold four years later, finished fourth, the title to Dutch World record holder Nelly Van Vliet.

And all of that was just the start for Carol “Penny” Pence Taylor, who would go on to become USA National Team Manager and Olympic Chef de Mission for USAS.

Penny Pence’s Paragon Award For A Lifetime Of Service


Penny Pence Taylor – Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

In 2012, when Pence received the Paragon Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, it was a question of celebrating eight decades of a swimming life.

By then, Carol ‘Penny’ Pence Taylor had done it all: racer, coach, official and administrator. After London 1948, she would race on a further Olympic cycle and in 1951 was a member of the U.S. Team for the first Pan American Games. She claimed gold as a member of the 3x100m  medley relay and a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke.

Penny Pence was a six-time U.S. National Champion and American record holder in the 100, 200 and 250m breaststroke events for a span of five years. In 1951, she was also one of the ten finalists of the coveted “A.A.U. Sullivan Award” for the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. Penny competed in Masters swimming for over forty years, and has been a National Champion and record holder in breaststroke events in her age group.

For 35 years as a professional swim coach in the St. Louis area, she organized and developed three swim teams. Ferguson – Ritenour YMCA Team won three National Women’s Team Championships. The Parkway Swim Club, a team of 400 swimmers, won numerous state and district team titles.

There were 12 years of her career during which she was a club coach with Tom Jager, the 50m free pioneer who was the first to take the pace of dash below 22sec and ended his own racing career a three-time gold Olympic gold medallist.

Penny Pence was a pioneer in other ways: a charter member of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA), she was the first woman to be elected to ASCA’s Board of Directors. In 2013, she became an ASCA Hall of Fame Inductee.


Penny Pence Taylor with her award in 2012 – Photo Courtesy: ISHOF and ASCA

As a volunteer and administrator, Penny has served in many positions for USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport. At the 1984 and 1992 Olympic Games, Penny was the team leader for USA men’s and women’s teams in Los Angles and Barcelona. She was Head Manager at the 1986 FINA World Championships in Madrid and the 1991 FINA World Championships in Perth. She was Manager for the United States Swimming National Teams in numerous international competitions. She was a volunteer deck marshal for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

She was Chef de Mission (head of delegation) for all aquatic sports for the 1994 FINA World Championships in Rome, the 1998 FINA World Championships in Perth and the 2001 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka. She continued in this capacity at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona 2003, Montreal 2005, Melbourne 2007, Rome 2009, Shanghai 2011 and in Barcelona again in 2013.

A member and secretary of the Olympic International Operations Committee of USA Swimming for 24 years, Pence Taylor served her eighth term in the role from September, 2012 as an octogenarian with a spring in her step that belied her years. She  served as Central Zone Director of USA Swimming and was a member of the Board of Directors of USA Swimming for five years.

In 1999, Pence was the recipient of the prestigious United States Swimming Award presented annually to one person for their contribution to USA Swimming. In 2005, she was inducted into the Purdue Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame. When she received the Paragon Award in 2011, a line in the citation read:

“Penny is organized, productive and admired for her efficiency above and beyond the pool. Her friendly and efficient manner has placed her in high esteem”.

Happy 91st, Penny Pence Taylor, who is a One-in-a-Thousand supporter of the International Hall of Fame. You can be one, too: here’s how.