Penny Pence Taylor Turns 92, Plans on Attending U.S. Olympic Swim Trials

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Penny Pence Taylor - racing for the USA at the London 1948 Olympics was just the start of a lifetime's dedication to swimming - Photos Courtesy: ISHOF
Penny Pence Taylor continues to be involved with swimming, something that has been such a big part of her life, which now spans 92 years.
Taylor, a 1948 U. S. Olympian, will celebrate her 92nd year by attending the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in June, according to sources. The trials have been a place for national team reunions in the past.
She turned 92 on Tuesday, May 11.

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.

More from last year’s tribute to Penny Pence Taylor:

At the London Games, Pence competed in the preliminary heats of the 200 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.

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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.

She was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2012.

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Helen H Bayly

    This brilliant article manages to capture a little of the extraordinary woman Carol “Penny” Pence Taylor ! Happy birthday May 12th Penny, and enjoy your journey to the US Olympic Swim Trials…You’ll go crazee in Omaha with all your old friends and teams. Thank you again for your nonstop years of doing everything this article writes about you – plus your special contributions to Arizona Masters Swimming /AZLMSC when you lived in Tucson. Hope you’re having a fun party for your 92nd – with masks!…thanks for the memories. Stay well; we all miss you and send abrazos and good wishes.

    • avatar
      Gail Moll Pebworth

      Carol Pence was one of my “heroes” when I swam for the IAC (Indianapolis Athletic Club) in the 1950’s. She was very kind to us younger swimmers and motivated us to work hard, try new techniques and pursue excellence.
      Have a great journey to the Olympic Trials!
      Gail Moll Pebworth

  2. avatar
    Kelli King

    PENNY, my second mom. I adore her and she groomed me to become an amazing swimmer and person. I’m so grateful 🙏 ❤