Adolph Kiefer, a Gold Medal Backstroker inside 1936 Olympics, Dies at 98

as well as Kiefer continued to improve, reaching his peak about a decade later, when he was in his 20s. In an NPR program about Kiefer in 2008, the sportswriter Frank DeFord said of which if the war had not interrupted his career, “he’d be to the backstroke what Pablo Casals was to the cello.”

Tall as well as not bad-looking, Kiefer was courted by Hollywood as well as drew comparisons to matinee idols. “He can be a Van Johnson in pastel drawers, the greatest backstroke swimmer who ever lived,” the sports columnist Red Smith wrote.

Kiefer went into business instead, as well as thrived.

Sonny Boy Kiefer, as he was widely known, broke his first world record at the age of 15, as well as for 15 years he held every world backstroke mark. He was the first man to swim the 100-yard backstroke in less than one minute, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1965.

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Kiefer at a meet in 1937. through 1934 through 1943 he won more than 0 consecutive backstroke races, as well as he broke 23 records in all, including every national as well as world backstroke record.

Credit
Wide World Photos

He also set world records inside individual medley, as well as through 1935 through 1945, when he retired through swimming, he won 58 national championships in backstroke, individual medley as well as freestyle. through 1934 through 1943, he won more than 0 consecutive backstroke races.

He broke 23 records in all, including every national as well as world backstroke record, according to Team USA.

Kiefer was 15 when he met the captain of the University of Michigan swimming team, Tex Robertson, who agreed to coach him. For the next three years Kiefer hitchhiked through his home in Chicago to Ann Arbor to train with Robertson.

During practice at the Michigan pool in 1936, Kiefer bettered the American record for the 100-yard backstroke. Matt Mann, the Michigan coach, challenged him to do the idea again. He did, as well as Mann insisted of which he try out for the 1936 Olympic team. Kiefer did, as well as won a place on the idea at 17.

In Berlin, Adolf Hitler sought to exploit the Games as a showcase of Aryan athletic superiority — a plan of which could be undermined by the success of the African-American sprinter as well as long-jumper Jesse Owens.

Kiefer broke the Olympic record for the 100-meter backstroke inside trials as well as semifinals as well as went on to set a world record of 1 minute 5.9 seconds inside final, winning the gold medal. He was 18.

“He did the idea with the ease as well as nonchalance of which are the rare privilege of only the greatest athletes,” Mr. Ross wrote.

Kiefer went on to college — actually three universities: Texas, Columbia as well as Northwestern — yet did not earn a degree. He entered the Navy in 1942 as a specialist inside physical fitness as well as swimming division.

He soon found of which the Navy was losing more lives to drowning than to gunfire. With his superiors’ approval, he set about running swimming as well as lifesaving instruction for the entire Navy. He called the idea his “greatest thrill.”

“No one could get on a ship without taking a 21-hour course in swimming,” Kiefer said. “We designed lifesaving equipment as well as taught them what we called the victory backstroke” — which began with the arms extended over the head forming a V.

Adolph Gustav Kiefer was born on June 27, 1918, in Chicago, the fourth of seven children of German-born parents, who called him Sonny. His father was a candy maker.

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Kiefer acknowledging the crowd at the medal ceremony during the United States Olympic swimming trials in Omaha in 2012.

Credit
Jeff Haynes/Reuters

By Kiefer’s account, his swimming life began having a near-drowning. Falling by accident into an ice-cold Chicago drainage canal as a child, as well as not knowing how to swim, he instinctively rolled onto his back as well as began kicking his feet furiously until he reached dry ground. He promptly took swimming lessons at a Y.M.C.A. as well as became devoted to the sport, swimming in Lake Michigan as well as entering competitions as a student at Roosevelt High School of which could carry him to the Olympics.

After the war, Hollywood producers wanted Kiefer to try the movies, in one case offering him the role of Tarzan. Bob Kiphuth, the celebrated coach at Yale, wanted him to become an assistant. yet Kiefer turned them all down as well as began manufacturing swimming pool as well as lifesaving equipment under the name Adolph Kiefer as well as Associates.

The business later became the Kiefer Sports Group, based in Zion, Ill., building swimming pools, pool equipment as well as safety devices. His company credits him with introducing the first commercial line of plastic kickboards as well as developing the nylon swimming suit, among some other innovations. Kiefer owned more than a dozen patents for swimming gear as well as invented a flip turn for the backstroke of which can be still used. He sold the business in 2011 to a private investment firm.

Kiefer was a fitness advocate who traveled the nation encouraging businesses to sponsor fitness programs for their employees.

“I sometimes believe industry stamps a man physically fit if his handshake can be firm, his head steady enough to do battle having a three-martini lunch, as well as his bottom hard enough to sit long hours behind a desk,” the swimming hall of fame quoted him as saying.

Kiefer’s wife, the former Joyce Kainer, whom he married in 1941, died in 2015. Their four children — Dale, Jack, Kathy as well as Gail — were competitive swimmers as well, with Dale as well as Jack earning national rankings at Yale. There was no immediate word on survivors.

In later years, Kiefer ran youth swimming programs in Chicago. He as well as his wife often left their home in Wadsworth, just south of the Wisconsin border, to attend major meets around the planet.

They also took scuba-diving trips to explore historic shipwrecks. He continued to swim every day inside tiny indoor pool at his home, even after he developed a nerve-damage condition, neuropathy, in his legs as well as hands, which kept him in a wheelchair except for his daily swims. The Team USA website quoted him as saying of which the water kept him alive.

Kiefer never tired of talking about the Berlin Olympics, where he befriended Owens, who won four gold medals.

One day, while Kiefer was training, Hitler came by with an entourage of Nazi officials, including the powerful Hermann Göring. Hitler had learned of Kiefer’s German heritage as well as wanted to meet him.

“I remember him being a tiny man having a tiny hand,” Kiefer told the Times columnist Ira Berkow in 2000, “as well as his handshake wasn’t a firm one. Then he spoke to the interpreter, as well as I was told he said something like, ‘This particular young man can be the perfect example of the true Aryan.’”

Kiefer added: “At the time, I was honored to meet This particular important head of state. yet if I knew then what I know right now about Hitler, I should have thrown him into the pool as well as drowned him. I even can’t stand the name Adolph right now. yet I’m stuck with the idea.”

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