The 10 Most Memorable Moments in Olympic Swimming History
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Swimming has been part of the modern Olympics since the 1896 Games in Athens.
At those games, competitors had to brave the chilly waters of the Bay of Zea. Now, they compete in modern, heated pools.
From Alfred Hajos to Mark Spitz to Michael Phelps, here's a look back at the most memorable moments in Olympic swimming history.
2008: Jason Lezak Keeps Michael Phelps' Bid for 8 Gold Medals Alive
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History will long remember Michael Phelps' record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. But Phelps didn't complete the feat alone. He needed a clutch performance by U.S. teammate Jason Lezak in the 400-meter freestyle relay.
Phelps swam the lead-off leg, followed by Garrett Weber-Gale and Cullen Jones. However, when the anchor leg began, Lezak and the Americans were behind France, which had Alain Bernard—the world-record holder in the 100 freestyle.
The Americans set a world record of three minutes, 8.24 seconds, and Lezak recorded the fastest relay leg in history at 46.06.
1972: Mark Spitz Wins 7 Gold Medals
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To say that Mark Spitz had an audacious goal at the Munich Olympics is an understatement.
The Californian was entered in seven events—four individual events and three relays—and his intention was to win all seven.
He did that and more. Spitz and his American teammates in the relay set seven world records in the events: the 100-meter freestyle, 200 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly, 400 freestyle relay, 800 freestyle relay and the 400 medley relay.
After the Olympics, Spitz became the most sought-after pitchman in advertising—flashing his seven gold medals, a straight-out-of-Hollywood smile and that iconic mustache.
1960: John Devitt Edges Lance Larson—or Did He?
Credit unknown/Lance Larson, left, and John Devitt after the 100 freestyle.
The most controversial finish in Olympic swimming history came in the men's 100-meter freestyle at the Rome Olympics. John Devitt of Australia and Lance Larson of the U.S. were even as they approached the finish.
At the time, electronic timing was in its infancy. Instead of the touch-pads that automatically tell who finished first in use today, three judges were assigned to use their naked eyes to determine each place.
At the finish, two of the three judges assigned to call the winner had Devitt in front. However, two of the three judges assigned to call second place had Devitt behind Larson. The electronic timing system, used as a backup at the time, had Larson in front, 55.10-55.16.
However, chief judge Hans Runstromer declared Devitt the winner. The United States appealed, as there was no provision for the chief judge to break a tie. The appeal was denied.
1976: The Americans Finally Beat East Germany
Wendyboglioli.com/The medal ceremony after the 400 freestyle relay.
The Montreal Olympics were a tough one for the U.S. women's swim team. Favored to at least be competitive with the powerful East German team, the Americans were dominated, as East Germany won 11 of 13 gold medals.
Worse, the Americans—especially Shirley Babashoff—were accused of being poor sports for fanning rumors that the East Germans were doping.
Finally, in the 400-meter freestyle relay, the U.S. team got a measure of redemption. The team of Jill Sterkel, Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli and Babashoff not only beat the East Germans, they set a world record of three minutes, 44.82 seconds.
Many years later, Babashoff was vindicated when it was revealed that the East German government had been systematically doping its athletes, including the women's swim team.
1896: Alfred Hajos Wins Gold at First Modern Olympiad
Credit unknown/Alfred Hajos
The Games of the First Modern Olympiad were held at the site of the ancient Olympics: Athens, Greece. And most sports fans wouldn't recognize the swimming competition.
There were four events: the 100-meter freestyle, the 500 freestyle, the 1200 freestyle and the sailors' 100 freestyle.
All of the events were held in the Bay of Zea, which wasn't quite like a modern heated pool—the temperature of the water was 55 degrees.
The first event was the 100 freestyle, and Alfred Hajos of Hungary was the victor. In the 1,200 freestyle, competitors were taken by boat out on the open water and had to swim to shore.
Hajos later said, “I must say that I shivered from the thought of what would happen if I got a cramp from the cold water. My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.”
2008: Dara Torres Medals in Fifth Olympics
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Dara Torres began her Olympic career in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics when she was just 17 years old.
There, she swam a leg on the gold-medal winning 400-meter freestyle relay for the U.S. That was the first of 12 Olympic medals Torres would win in her career.
Big deal, you say? Michael Phelps has 14 gold medals all by himself. Sure, except Torres earned her hardware over the course of five Olympiads.
In 2008 at Beijing, Torres earned a spot in the 50-meter freestyle, 400 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay. She earned silver medals in all three.
1912: The First Women's Races
Credit unknown/The gold medal winning British 400 freestyle relay team.
The Stockholm Olympics were the first time that women were allowed to compete in swimming. The men had been swimming since the first modern games in Athens, but the attitudes of the day kept women out of the water.
That changed in 1912. Australia's Fanny Durack won the first individual women's gold medal, taking the 100-meter freestyle over countrywoman Wilhelmina Wylie.
The Great Britain team of Belle Moore, Jennie Fletcher, Annie Speirs and Irene Steer won the 400 freestyle relay in the only other event contested.
1924, 1928: Tarzan Wins Gold
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However, before he became a matinee idol, Weissmuller was the greatest swimmer the world had ever seen, setting 67 world records before the age of 25.
Weissmuller won his first U.S. championships in 1921 and in 1922, becoming the first man to break the one-minute mark in the 100-meter freestyle.
In 1924, at the Paris Olympics, he won three gold medals in swimming and helped the U.S. win a bronze medal in water polo. Four years later, in Amsterdam, Weissmuller won two more gold medals.
The next year, he signed a modeling contract, and from there, he went into movies.
In 1932, he starred in Tarzan the Ape Man. The movie was such a huge success that Weissmuller continued in the role before moving on to Jungle Jim, a part he played for several more years.
1984: First Tie in Olympic Swimming
Nancy Hogshead, left, and Carrie Steinseifer after they tied for the gold medal.
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The women's 100-meter freestyle at the Los Angeles Olympics produced two gold medals.
Nancy Hogshead and Carrie Steinseifer were roommates on the U.S. team, and as if to prove how close they were, the two friends were together in front of the pack in the final.
The two touched the wall at exactly the same time—55.92 seconds—producing the first official tie in Olympic swimming history.
Hogshead would swim legs on the gold-medal winning 400 freestyle and 400 medley relays as well as earn a silver in the 200 medley. Steinseifer, who was just 16 at the time, also swam a leg on the 400 freestyle relay.
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Americans Gary Hall Jr. and Anthony Ervin tied for first in the 50 freestyle.
1964: Dawn Fraser Becomes First 3-Time Winner of 100 Freestyle
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Australia's Dawn Fraser was considered the greatest female sprinter of her day. Her list of accolades is long. The first woman to break one minute in the 100-meter freestyle, she set 27 individual world records and swam a leg on 12 world-record relay teams.
Her last remaining world record stood until 1972—eight years after she retired as a competitive swimmer, an eternity for a world record in the sport.
But perhaps her greatest accomplishment came in 1964, when she won the 100 freestyle gold medal for the third-consecutive Olympics, an unprecedented feat. At the time, she was 27, nearly twice the age of 15-year-old silver medalist Sharon Stouder.
Fraser was named Australia's greatest female athlete in 1988 and had a daffodil, a rose and an orchid named after her in her native country. She later served in Parliament.