Voice For the Sport: The Rich History of Swimming Should Never Go Overlooked

Johnny Weissmuller - Duke Kahanamoku - Buster Crabbe - Did You Know - ISHOF First Inductees Honorees - Swimming World - International Swimming Hall of Fame

From the April issue of Swimming World Magazine, Editor-in-Chief John Lohn discusses the importance of appreciating history in his latest Voice for the Sport column.

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I’m a history nerd, and proud of that designation. I love a good documentary or article on iconic events, whether it be the sinking of the Titanic or the D.B. Cooper airplane hijacking. I appreciate a deep investigation of the tactics used during World War II or how the United States won the race to the moon via Neil Armstrong’s monumental steps.

So, I was like a little kid recently as I made my way to Fort Lauderdale for business, a trip which involved a stop at the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF). Although I have been involved with Swimming World in some capacity for two decades, it took until March 2022 to venture to South Florida and get a peek inside the Hall. Sure, I wanted to visit earlier, but life has a way of being complicated, and—well—better late than never.

The truth is, ISHOF wasn’t in full force during my stop. With the Hall of Fame set to enter a spectacular new venue in the next couple of years, one that will stand alongside a world-class aquatic facility, many artifacts were packed away or in the process of being boxed up and stored. Yet, I was able to look right, look left and look up, and put eyes on several awe-inspiring exhibits. In an instant, I was able to immerse myself in history and enrich my love for the past—and for a sport that holds a special place in my life.

The minutes spent inside the current version of the Hall, which will be bulldozed and replaced with a more splendid structure, were memorable. There was the exhibit honoring Johnny Weissmuller, one of the first stars of the sport whose immense skill places him in the legends category. There were Olympic warmups from the likes of Olympic champions Mark Spitz, Kieren Perkins and Amanda Beard. There was a surfboard to pay homage to the greatness of Duke Kahanamoku, whose Olympic-champion talent in the pool was equally matched by his prowess as the Father of Surfing.

All inductees of the Hall of Fame are represented by posters honoring their career achievements. There were medals from various international events, including the Olympic Games, and there was a plethora of images that captured some of the greatest moments the sport has known, headlined by the famous underwater picture of Michael Phelps edging Milorad Cavic for gold in the 100 meter butterfly at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

And from the are-you-kidding-me realm of disbelief, there was even a medical cup that contained the preserved appendix of Dick Roth. Wait, what? Yes, Roth’s appendix is an ISHOF artifact, and tells the story of a man who battled appendicitis, refused medical attention, and went on to win the gold medal in the 400 individual medley at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

With each step and turn, I was amazed.

The crux of this column is simple: Tip your cap to history. While we are in the middle of a wonderful era in the sport, thanks to the likes of Katie Ledecky, Adam Peaty and Caeleb Dressel, take a minute to delve into the past. Go back 30 years and learn about the premier performers of the early 1990s. Venture back to the 1950s and 1960s and enjoy the tales of Dawn Fraser, both as a freestyle ace and a rebel who found herself in hot water with Japanese authorities at her final Olympics in 1964. Examine the swimwear and technique of the early 1900s.

The sport of swimming has a rich history, and it would not be in its current state without the influence of the past. All sports work that way, with developments and contributions consistently made. It’s easy to get caught up in the present, and to deem the here and now as the best it has ever been. But that approach is shortsighted and doesn’t fully embrace all that needs to be appreciated.

History is a great thing. Dive into it.

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Chuck Kroll
8 months ago

Just watched the new PBS American Masters documentary on DUKE Kahanamoku this evening. Well researched, interviews past and those done for the doc itself are outstanding. Would encourage any and all who love swimming, surfing and American history to watch and enjoy 90 wonderful minutes. I look forward to watching again soon. Aloha, Chuck Kroll