The Early Years of Competitive Swimming in Meadville, Pennsylvania


Commentary by David Levinson (History of Meadville Swimming)

Most of today’s swimmers have grown up with palatial 50-meter pools, touch pads and electronic scoreboards, jammers, goggles, and inclined starting blocks.  But there was a time when dedicated competitive swimmers lived in a world with no goggles, no backstroke flags, no lap counters for distance events, no swim caps for men, and no interval training.

Many meets were held in 4-lane, 20-yard pools, often located in dark basements of old YMCAs and ancient high schools; starting blocks had horizontal tops, or the pools had no starting blocks at all; butterfly was not a separate stroke, just a style of breaststroke; lane lines consisted of ropes supported by bobs three feet apart or pools had no lane lines whatsoever.

It was a time when swimmers were timed with mechanical stop watches accurate to only a tenth of a second; races were started with a pistol shot from the side of the pool; hand touches were required on backstroke turns and freestyle turns; a swimmer’s head could not be submerged in breaststroke except for one kick and one pull off of walls.

Swimmers wore baggy nylon swim suits and did starts with roundhouse arm swings and belly-smacker entries into the water.

There was no 15-meter rule.  Each heat was allowed two false starts without disqualifications, charged to the entire field regardless of who went in.  There were only six finalists per event in championship meets, and consolation finals did not exist.  In dual meets, only the first three finishers in individual events could score and only a winning relay received points.

This well-researched article takes us to the small town of Meadville, Pennsylvania, back to the days when this was the way competitive swimming was, and provides a factual account of the exploits of the swimming stars of that place and time.

Download this article for free by clicking here.   Copyrights 2006 to David A. Levinson

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  1. avatar

    Great job David true facts

  2. avatar
    Tom Meehan

    Great article, Dave. In winter seasons from 1957-1965, I trained in a 20 yard four lane pool in the Washington DC area (we could fit five if everyone swam straight). Practices were like little meets, four or five swimmers doing their race, the next four or five doing theirs when the first group finished, each group starting to the “ready, Ho!” commands of coach Joe Rogers (son of the longtime U. Mass. coach). We first did intervals in the 1960-61 season, thinking 10 40’s free on one minute was a brutal set. Those times the early Meadville guys were doing in the 40 free and the 100’s of free, fly and backstroke were very good. Thanks for the research.

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