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Buster Crabbe Second from left, with Duke P. Kahanamoku, far left , Harold "Stubby" Kruger, far right, and an unidentified Red Cross boy scout, at the Olympic tryouts, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Crabbe, Buster (07 February 1908–23 April 1983), athlete and motion picture actor, was born Clarence Linden Crabbe in Oakland, California, the son of Edward Crabbe and Agnes McNamara. When Crabbe was two, the family moved to Hawaii, where his father was overseer of a pineapple plantation. There Crabbe’s natural abilities in many sports brought him the lifelong nickname of “Buster.” He earned sixteen sports letters in high school, set thirty-five national and sixteen world swimming records during his years in sports competition, and was a member of the U.S. swimming team for the Olympics of 1928 (Amsterdam) and 1932 (Los Angeles). He received a B.A. from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1932. In the Olympics that same year he crowned his athletic career by winning the gold medal for the 400-meter freestyle event, coming in first by one-tenth of a second. “That one-tenth of a second changed my life,” he said ( ...

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Daniels, Charles Meldrum (24 March 1885–09 August 1973), swimmer, was born in Dayton, Ohio. Nothing is known of his parentage or early education. His Olympic career began at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Missouri, where he won three gold, one silver, and one bronze medal. The gold medals came for his performances in the 220-yard freestyle, the 440-yard freestyle, and on the winning 4 ×  50-yard freestyle relay team; the silver medal was won in the 100-yard freestyle, behind Hungary’s Zoltán von Halmay; and the bronze was earned in the 50-yard freestyle behind von Halmay and the American J. Scott Leary. Daniels also competed in the Intercalated Olympics of 1906 in Athens, where he won the 100-meter freestyle. He defended that title at the 1908 Olympics in London and added another bronze medal in the 4 ×  200-meter freestyle relay....

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Ederle, Gertrude (23 October 1905–30 November 2003), swimmer, was born in New York City, the daughter of Henry Ederle (pronounced EDD-ur-lee, with the accent on the first syllable) and Gertrude Hazerstroh. Both parents were German immigrants. At the age of five Gertrude, known as Trudy, was stricken with a severe case of measles that left her hearing impaired. The Ederles owned a butcher shop on the West Side of Manhattan; as she grew older Trudy worked in the shop after school and during the summer along with her five siblings....

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Duke Kahanamoku. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115293).

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Kahanamoku, Duke Paoa (24 August 1890–22 January 1968), Olympic swimming champion and world-recognized surfer, was born and raised in the old Kalia District of Honolulu near the present location of the Hawaiian Village Hotel, the son of Halapu Kahanamoku, a police officer, and Paakonia Lonokahikini Paoa, or Julia. He was named after his father, who had been christened “Duke” by Princess Bernice ...

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Kealoha, Warren Daniels (03 March 1904–08 September 1972), Olympic gold medal swimmer, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, then a territory of the United States, and was adopted by Kaio and Kaai Kealoha, who were relatives of his Hawaiian mother. His father was a foreigner or “haole,” surnamed Daniels. Kealoha attended St. Louis and Punahou Schools and learned to swim in a pond known as “Blue Pool.” Some biographies have erroneously referred to him as the brother of Pua Kealoha, also a gold medal swimmer from Hawaii in the 1920 Olympic Games, but the two were not related....

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Annette Kellerman Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91616).

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Kellerman, Annette (06 July 1887–05 November 1975), swimming, vaudeville, and film star, was born in Sydney, Australia, the daughter of Frederick Kellerman, a musician, and Alice Charbonnet, a concert pianist. A weak child, Kellerman began swimming as physical therapy for a mild case of polio. Feeling more graceful in water than on land in her leg braces, swimming literally became her life. As the strength in her legs increased, she also learned to dive. In 1902 she won her first title as Swim Champion of New South Wales and set a world record of 78 seconds for 100 yards using the newly introduced racing technique of the double-over arm crawl and scissors kick. By her own admission, she also reigned as the champion girl diver of Australia the same year. The next year, she set a world record for the mile at 32:29 minutes, subsequently lowering it to 28:00 minutes. Her first of many record-setting distance swims covered 10 miles in Australia’s Yarrow River. She began professional swimming and diving exhibitions in Sydney, then toured Melbourne and Adelaide....

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Kiphuth, Robert John Herman (17 November 1890–07 January 1967), swimming coach and athletic director, was born in Tonawanda, New York, the son of John Kiphuth, a mill hand, and Mary Benin. After graduating from Tonawanda High School in 1909, he became physical education director at the Tonawanda Young Men’s Christian Association. He studied physical education at Harvard in the summer of 1912....

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Kurtz, Frank (1911–31 October 1996), athlete, military aviator, was born Frank Allen Kurtz in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Frank Kurtz, Sr., an insurance salesman, and Dora Kurtz (maiden name unknown). His parents divorced shortly after he was born. Kurtz ran away from home at the age of twelve to hawk newspapers in Kansas City, Missouri. Possessed of youthful dynamism, he was soon featured in the ...

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Madison, Helene Emma (19 June 1913–25 November 1970), swimmer, was born in South Bend, Washington, the daughter of Charles William Madison and Cecilia Helene Ensby. During her childhood the family moved to Seattle, Washington, where her father operated a dry-cleaning business. At age five Helene learned to swim the dog paddle and then the crawl in Green Lake. In 1927 she won her first race, a 50-yard sidestroke event, at a Seattle Parks meet. Switching her practice sessions from Green Lake to Seattle’s Crystal Pool, she improved her abilities gradually. She finished second in a 100-yard freestyle competition at the 1928 state championships. Impressed by Helene’s potential, Ray Daughters, the swim coach at Crystal Pool, began teaching her the six-beat crawl stroke and other techniques that shortly transformed her into a champion....

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Norelius, Martha (20 January 1910–23 September 1955), swimmer, was born in Stockholm, Sweden, the daughter of Charles Norelius, a swimmer; her mother’s name is unknown. Norelius was originally coached by her father, who swam for Sweden in the 1906 Olympics. After the Norelius family emigrated to the United States, however, Louis de Breda Handley took over as her coach, and Norelius soon made an impact in U.S. swimming circles as the top U.S. swimmer from 1924 to 1929, with her fame resting primarily on her Olympic accomplishments. She won the 400-meter freestyle event in 1924 at Paris, leading an American sweep in an Olympic record time of 6:02.2. In 1928 she defended that Olympic championship at Amsterdam, winning the final with a world record of 5:42.8. The mark broke the world record of 5:45.4, which she had set in winning her heat at the 1928 Olympics. Her 15-second victory margin in 1928 has remained the most dominant Olympic swim victory, as she was the only woman to have defended the 400-meter event at the Olympics. At the 1928 Olympics, Norelius won her third gold medal by participating on the 4 × 100-meter freestyle relay team....

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Rawls, Katherine Louise (14 June 1917–08 April 1982), swimmer and diver, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the daughter of William Jennings Bryan Rawls and Sadie Rebecca McDonald, farmers. The family moved to Florida and lived in St. Augustine, Tampa, Hollywood, and Coral Gables, eventually settling in Fort Lauderdale in 1932. While still small, “Katy” contracted rheumatism. When swimming was suggested as a remedy, she took to the water readily and quickly developed natural aquatic skills, as did her younger siblings. The children became known locally as “the water babies.”...

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Johnny Weissmuller Renewing his Red Cross Life Saving Corps membership, with Marian Levin of the Chicago Chapter of the Red Cross at left, and Weissmuller's coach, William Bachrach, at right, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113058).

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Weissmuller, Johnny (02 June 1904–20 January 1984), swimmer and actor, was born Janos Weissmuller in Freidorf, Romania (then Austria-Hungary), the son of Peter Weissmuller, a miner, and Elizabeth Kersh, a cook. The Weissmullers immigrated to the United States with seven-month-old Janos, renaming him Johann. After a short time in Windber, Pennsylvania, the family moved to Chicago. When Weissmuller qualified for the 1924 U.S. Olympic team, Illinois congressman Henry Rathbone questioned his citizenship. Using his brother’s Pennsylvania baptismal records, the champion swimmer obtained his American passport under the name Peter John Weissmuller. His given name and European birth remained largely unknown until after his death....